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Playing with you

Young children find it hard to play alone. They need attention from someone who can play with them. Gradually they’ll learn to entertain themselves for some of the time, but first they need to learn how to do that.

In the meantime, you can’t spend all your time playing. You’ve other things to do and other people to attend to. Fortunately, children learn from everything that’s going on around them, and everything they do. When you’re washing up, your toddler can stand next to you on a chair and wash the saucepan lids; when you cook, make sure your baby can see and talk to you as you work.

The times when they’re not learning much are the times when they’re bored. That’s as true for babies as of older children.

So what really matters?

  • Find a lot of different things for your child to look at, think about, and do (see Ideas for play).

  • Make what you’re doing fun and interesting for your child, so you can get it done.
  • Make some time to give all your attention to what your child wants to do.
  • Talk about anything and everything, even about the washing-up or what to put on the shopping list, so that you share as much as possible.
  • Find a place and time when your child can learn how to use his or her body by running, jumping and climbing. This is especially important if you don’t have much room at home.
  • Find other people who can spend time with your child at those times when you really do need to attend to something else.

Toy safety

  • It is best to buy toys that carry the British Standard kitemark or the Lion mark, or CE mark, as these conform to safety standards.
  • Take care if you buy toys from car boot sales, market stalls or secondhand toys as these may not conform to safety standards and could be dangerous.
  • Take safety measures such as ‘Not suitable for a child under 36 months’ seriously (0–3 sign). This sign warns that a toy is unsuitable for a child under three because of small parts.
  • Check that the toy has no sharp edges that could hurt your child, or small parts that your child could put in his or her mouth and choke on.

Toys for children with special needs

Toys for children with special needs should match his or her mental age and ability. They should be brightly coloured and offer sound and action. If a toy made for a younger child is used by an older child, the strength of the toy should be taken into account.

Children who have a visual impairment will need toys with different textures to explore with their hands and mouth. A child who has a hearing impairment will need toys to stimulate language.

Making time

Some things do have to happen at certain times, and your child does slowly have to learn about that. But when you’re with your child try not to work to a strict timetable. Your child is unlikely to fit in with it and then you’ll both get frustrated. A lot of things can be pushed around to suit the mood of you and your child. There’s no rule that says the washing-up has to be done before you go to the playground, especially if the sun’s shining and your child’s bursting with energy.

Keep your child fit

Children want to use their bodies to crawl, walk, run, jump and climb. The more opportunity you can give them, the happier they’ll be, and you’ll probably find that they sleep better and are more cheerful and easy going when they’ve had the opportunity to run off some energy. At the same time you’ll be helping their muscle development and general fitness and, if they start to see outdoor activities and sports as a part of their lives, you’ll be laying down the habits that will keep them fitter as adults. Make time for your children to exercise.

  • Allow your baby to lie and kick his or her legs.
  • Make your floor a safe place for a crawler to move around.
  • Make time for your toddler to walk with you rather than using the buggy.
  • Take toddlers and young children to the park to try climbing and swinging or just so that they have a safe space to run.
  • Find out what’s on for parents and babies at the local leisure centre.
  • Take your baby swimming. There is no need to wait until your child has had his or her immunisations.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.