Parents learning the joy of play with children

Last updated 05:00 19/01/2014

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Too many parents have forgotten how to play with their children, and are having to relearn the skill, experts say.

Most parents will admit to using the telly or tablet to keep the kids occupied and a Waikato parenting group says people's increasingly busy lives mean the time available to spend with children is diminishing.

The group, Life Community Services, runs The Incredible Years course to help parents capture playtime skills.

Mother-of-two Melanie Watt said she was far more hands-on since completing the course last year.

"We all get so wrapped up in the busy-ness of our lives we forget to stop and take in the small things. The biggest thing you can spend on your child is time.

"The benefit is seeing smiles on their faces and the reactions you get. It's really positive and that makes it worth it."

A third of British parents admitted they were too busy to join their kids on the floor for playtime, according to recent research by toymaker Playmobil, and one in six fathers said they didn't know how to play with their children.

Life Community Services chief executive Jane Bisset said New Zealand parents were also losing the ability to play.

"It's a skill people aren't aware of the depth or importance of."

Demand for the parenting course has shot up in the past few years as more parents seek help.

Bisset said new gadgets, busy working lives and the breakdown of relationships had cut into playtime.

"Parents work, so the time they have with children is shortened . . . but you actually need to spend more time playing," Bisset said.

And it was not just spending time playing, but learning to let the child take charge, she said.

"Parents are surprised by how much they automatically control the play. It is so easy to control it because you can see how to make it with the Lego."

The parenting course set tasks for parents to do at home, such as a craft activity.

"Parents learn to listen to their child and realise the power of using play to coach a child."

This led to a child's behaviour improving, she said.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield said child play was vital for brain development.

"I'm a parent of three kids and I find it's an easy strategy to chuck an iPad at them or turn on the TV." He advised parents to "turn it off".

"I moved the television and gadgetry to the garage. It's draughty in there and when it rains it comes through.

"It's moved that main screen out of being the centrepiece of the house."

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