The Beauty of Play
Tania Johnson | September 25, 2020

Play is a child’s language and it is through the magic of non-directed play that a child is often able to work through fears, develop mastery, and build confidence. Play with a peer, a parent, or alone all fulfill different facets of a child’s psychological world. This blog post is going to look at how powerful play can be between a child and a parent.

When parents are able to commit to present, attuned play with their children – so phones down, tv’s off, the never ending list of chores put on hold – it unequivocally conveys to the child that they are seen, heard and valued. Play is a child’s language and when we engage, it gives them the experience of having someone fully invested and engaged. Fast forward 20 years for this child – we want them to be able to stand in front of a boardroom, a classroom, a group of friends – and have the confidence that others will join them in their trials and tribulations. This experience begins with play. When we put our phones down, when our eyes light up, when we are fully present in our child’s world – it gives them a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Joining your child in play also nurtures a secure attachment. There are four types of attachment secure, avoidant, ambivalent and disorganized. A child who is securely attached believes that they are loved, loveable and that the world is a caring place. Secure attachments also have the best psychological outcomes for children. Children who are securely attached tend to play well by themselves and with others. They believe that their ideas have merit and that their inner worlds are worth exploring. Isn’t this the type of anchor we all want to create for our child?

So – given that play is essential for almost all areas of healthy development, how do we REALLY play in a non-directed way with a child? Here are the essential steps:

  1. Set aside time every day that you can be fully present with your child. If it helps, set a timer.
  2. Get down on your child’s level (on the floor).
  3. Make eye contact and let your face and voice mirror your child’s.
  4. Let your child lead the play.
  5. You can track what they are doing with objects “it’s flying up, up, up”, repeat what they say she’s scared to be so high in the sky”, and summarize stories “that flight was fun and now it’s done.”
  6. If you are unsure on how to join a child’s play, you can use the whisper technique…. “what should I do now?”
  7. Above all else, convey warmth, joy, and connection

Your child is only little for a while – get down on the floor and play – and let their love cups be filled.


Tania Johnson, M.C., R.Psychologist., RPT
Co-Founder: Institute of Child Psychology



Join us for our upcoming annual Children’s Mental Health Conference via online format airing November 20-22, 2020!


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