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Playing - It Is Important!

By Jodie Lynn

Parents can get pretty busy. Our world is a whirlwind filled with schedules and constant deadlines. Make sure you are taking time out for a simple but important pleasure with your kids: PLAYING. This doesn't mean you have to always entertain them or even have company over for them everyday. Just take a breather here and there to monitor their playtime and implement unscheduled time for them to just be a "kid."

Playing With Others

If you are wondering if it's OK for your child to be perfectly happy playing with play dough by herself, don't fret. It's not a big deal. In fact, it's perfectly normal to stand back and watch others interact. Most toddlers aren't into social behavior until the age of two or three. Check out this handy checklist and relax.

(Birth to age 15 months) - Repetition play helps the child to learn about her world. Dropping an object is one of the most common games. Even a six-month old will drop something and watch to see if someone will pick it up. If it does get picked up, it delivers pure delight when she gets to drop it over and over until someone stops picking it up. While it may drive many of us nuts, it is an excellent way to help the child gain control over her immediate environment while mastering a new skill.

(Age 15 months to 2 years) - Observing others but not participating is often referred to as the onlooker stage. This is common among all children. Playing by themselves is called solitary play. Here they just play by themselves. While older kids do this as well, it is not as popular as actually engaging in activities unless the child is reserved (which most parents refer to as being "shy.") Whether observing or playing, both helps the child learn how to get along with others, building social skills while exposing them to language.

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(Ages 2 to 3 years) - Most older toddlers play side by side but are not really playing. This is called parallel play. There may not be any real interaction but it still provides a perfect chance to begin learning what belongs to whom...but mostly "mine." As they watch others and maybe dress up while pretending to pour and serve a drink, they are experiencing their first taste to role-playing. All of this helps develop gross motor skills as well as some fine motor skills.

(Ages 4 to 4 1/2 years) - This age group displays very unstructured organized play called associative play. An example of this would be when children are all sharing a box of action figures, but may all be playing different things with their own figures. Another example would be where children decide to play with a common aspiration in mind, like entertaining each other by singing a song for a pretend audience. The more interaction children have with other children, the better understood the rules of getting along will become. Playing with others teaches how to share, encourages language and the introduction of being fair. This age group can become quite creative and gain great self-esteem (especially if parents let go of the perfect child syndrome).

School-aged children (age 5 and up) - Here is when things begin to turn into clear competition. While younger children often feel frustrated with rules of winning, the positive side is that games and rules offer the chance to build character and close friends with a couple of others. As they grow older, they will enjoy being part of a group (some like large groups while others prefer small groups) which will help them become aware of different children and different ideas.

All in all, if your child is not into other kids, don't push too hard. She will come around when she is ready. For now, give her the space she may need to become more independent while still being there when she needs you.

© Jodie Lynn
Jodie Lynn is an award-winning internationally syndicated family/health columnist and radio personality. Her syndicated column Parent to Parent has been successful for over 10 years and appears in newspapers, magazines, newsletters and throughout the Internet. She is a regular contributor to several sites including,,,,, and Lynn has written four books and contributed to three others, one of which was on Oprah and has appeared on NBC in a three month parenting segment. Her latest books are "Mom CEO (Chief Everything Officer) - Having, Doing and Surviving It All!" (June 2006) and "Syndication Secrets - What No One Will Tell You!" (March 2006).
Please visit for details on her new radio talk show, Inside Parenting Success.


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