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Charting a Course to Holiday Joy: Nurturing Kids Through the Compass of Play"

In the world of parenting during the holiday season, one thing is crystal clear: children need playtime like a ship needs its compass. It's their way of decompressing, of navigating the vast sea of emotions, and of communicating in a language uniquely their own. Play is their sanctuary, their emotional release valve, and their secret laboratory where they concoct solutions to life's myriad puzzles. Their ability to play is how they know where to go and what to do next.

During the holiday season, expectations and multiple events often lead families to very stressful times. Increased conflicts, yelling, emotional outbursts, and complete meltdowns for both child and parent are way too common. Using the power of play and lowering expectations by slowing things down a bit can put some scaffolding around this season of stress and joy.

Now, let's talk about two vital categories in the playtime universe: structured play and unstructured play. Think of structured play as the board games, the puzzles, and those organized sports where rules reign supreme. It's where our little ones learn the art of emotional control, taking turns, and the thrill of both success and frustration.

On the flip side, there's unstructured play, the free play. It's the wild, untamed terrain where children roam without adult GPS. Here, there are no predefined goals or predetermined outcomes. It's a realm of boundless imagination where kids flex their creative muscles and build resilience. Free play provides the necessary rest and relaxation children today are missing so much of.

Unstructured play is like the canvas, and your child is the artist, free to paint their own masterpiece.

Dear parents, how can you make the most of this uncharted playtime territory?

Here are some tips to embark on this adventure:

1. Get on their level: Picture yourself as an explorer stepping into your child's world. Sit down, be at their eye level, and let them know that this is their "special playtime with you." It's an expedition into their domain, and you're their fellow adventurer.

2. Allow the child to lead: In this world of unstructured play, let your child be the captain. When they ask what to play, respond with, "You get to decide what we play today." It's their ship, and you're the first mate following their lead.

3. Show interest: Be an enthusiastic observer. Describe what you see without judgment or evaluation. "You're playing with the doll," "You're coloring that red," or echo their words and emotions. "Cars go fast," "Yellow is your sister's favorite color," and so on. This is how you show your engagement without hijacking their play.

4. Set limits and boundaries: While it's their world, there are still some rules on this playtime voyage. If their play takes a destructive or harmful turn, step in gently. Validate their feelings, but provide alternative options. "You're angry right now, but people aren't for hitting. You can hit the stuffed animal instead."

5. Be consistent: Like a compass guiding your ship, consistency is key. Dedicate a weekly 30-minute "special playtime" and use a timer to signal the journey's end. This ritual should stand firm, a lighthouse beacon regardless of behavior, never to be used as a punishment or reward.

So, set sail on the uncharted waters of play, dear parents.

Let your children's imagination be the North Star, and together, you'll explore new horizons during this holiday season.



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