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How to Follow Your Child's Lead.

Following Your Child’s Lead

What does it mean to follow your child’s lead when engaging in play?

Although the concept is easy to understand, the practical application is difficult. We have many “schemas” or play plans already completed in our minds. We know what we can do with Legos or blocks or how to place the animals in the zoo or barn. We have had past experience with these toys and feel competent at completing our game plan. Our children however, still enjoy experimenting and randomly placing a variety of toys in many different areas and seeing how it looks or feels. When we interfere with this experimentation the child looses his motivation and creativity. In other words, we spoil their fun. Do that too many times and they don’t want to play with you or worse, they think YOUR way is the only way.

When playing with your child, allow them to begin the sequence of play and then follow what they have started, add language or a movement, but don’t change the plan or move from the original idea even if it doesn’t fit with your comfort zone. Jean Piaget, child psychologist, reminds us that children 0-2 are in the sensorimotor stage and learn by physically exploring their environment. Later when the child is 2-3 he enters the preoperational stage that Piaget explains is characterized by the use of symbols. A block may become a remote control or a telephone and a box may become a spaceship or train. Parents need to stand back and observe what type of play their child is engaged in and enter it cautiously. Many of our children who have disability or delay, have trouble with functional play, so observing what they enjoy or how the explore will help you shape the environment and build on what motivates them. Look through the eyes of your child then get down and play! If a child is building a block tower and then knocks it down over and over again for the pleasure of that experience; let them. If after a time you want to add to that experience, add a animal that sits atop the tower or use that animal to knock down a tower. You can also comment on what he is doing or ask questions to illicit language and help him decide on the next action. As a parent you can learn a lot from your child’s play. When he is learning about the world around him you are learning about how your child interacts with the world.

Following your Child’s Lead in Play Includes:

  1. Standing back and observing the play

  2. Entering it by imitating your child’s actions or adding just one other idea into the play

  3. Commenting or offering words to use as the play unfolds

  4. Putting yourself into your child’s perspective and “see” their play as they do

  5. Accepting their play, and shaping the environment to encourage development.

Sharing and the World of Mine!

Sharing and the World of “MINE”

Kathie Sarles M.Ed.

As parents we want to raise our children to be respectful of others and learn how to be social. We try to model many social norms like greetings, being polite and sharing. We expect that once our child interacts with others that he/ she will begin to follow that model while interacting. Toddlers and preschoolers will fall short of this expectation, and that is due to their social / emotional development. These toddlers are egocentric, which means they feel they are the center of the world and no other perspective is valid.

Ego-centrism is when one thinks about himself, and only cares about his own need, desire and view….. Between the ages of 2 and 7, egocentric behavior raises its head in children, and it subsides gradually as the child grows older. Ego-centrism has effects on the child’s perception. An egocentric person finds it difficult to absorb or acknowledge others perspective or in simple terms we can say he fails to see other’s view.” (

As Jean Piaget says, “The egocentric child assumes that other people hear, see and feel exactly the same as the child does.”

Just like any other acquired skill, sharing is learned through play and repetition. Babies begin this process when they make cooing sounds to their parents and their parents coo back. Several months later your baby may give you a toy, but expect it back right away. He feels secure through your positive interactions over time that you will give it back. If another child takes that block however, it may be grabbed back, or held tight. If your toddler has a few words you might hear a loud, “Mine”, as he takes that toy back. Although parents rush to help with this situation, it is typical and developmentally appropriate for a baby or toddler to think everything is his. He sees it, he wants it, it is his/hers. He is developing his sense of identity and autonomy which is what we want our children to do. They begin to have strong feelings of ownership of themselves and their possessions.

When can we expect our children to share? Sharing happens slowly and within the context of play with others .Children with a developmental delay may have a more difficult time with this than others, so it is important to know your child’s abilities and take that into account. Also,If your child has had no structured play time with other children then it might take a bit longer. You can be their “play partner” for some of the day however, and take turns playing with a toy that is motivating. Encourage an older sibling to play using with their brother or sister including turn taking in that play. Using the words, “my turn”, and “your turn”, can help with cueing that it is time to share the toy or activity. If your child has a specific toy that is his “lovey” or special toy, respect that and do not expect any sharing. Keep it in a safe place away from other children and do not ask your child to share that toy. If we respect their possessions they will be more willing to do the same with ours and eventually with other children’s. Remember to be patient and model what is appropriate. Leaving children alone to play and share when they are not ready to do so will only cause aggressive behavior and apprehension around playing with other children. Be present or have two of the same toy out if you are not able to help with the play.

Learning to share is a very gradual process. First the toddler must have positive feelings of ownership and consistent relationships with loving adults. Then she must understand the objects are permanent, that they continue to exist even when they are out of sight and that they return unchanged. Finally, feelings of empathy develop as the 2 year old becomes more aware of other people’s feelings. Only then can she experience the pleasure of sharing with friends can bring.” ( Carla Poole , Early Childhood Today)

Although it may be difficult to hear your child scream “MINE” or see her snatch a toy away from another child, it is typical in the early years. Knowing what to expect and then modeling and repeating the appropriate actions will help both you and your child get through it. Expectations need to be developmentally appropriate; sharing is not a skill that is usually mastered until children enter Kindergarten.

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