Does play with your child feel like an impossible thing to do? Does your child prefer to just fly solo all the time and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get them to share their attention with you in play or ever…so over time, your play attempts are punished and to try playing less and less? Don’t give up! There is hope!! If this is your experience of play with your child, it is likely due to one of the following:

1. Your child does not yet understand the value of reciprocal interactions with others

2. Your child has limited interests and the play you are proposing is too novel or difficult

3. You have not yet figured out how to make what your child is playing with, more exciting with you than without you.

Do Not Give Up Hope!!

While this list may feel daunting, like where do you even begin?! There are ways you can start to teach these things today, but first you have to be ready to jump back in the saddle and try again and again! The most important thing is that you do not give up! Play is foundational to learning and your child needs you. Before I dive into the things you can do today, I want you to reframe your view on play. Think of play like a delicate dance between two partners. It relies on continuous feedback to flow smoothly, and since your child is likely not listening to your feedback yet, you need to adjust to theirs. What do I mean by this? When you are attempting to play with your child, pay attention to their body language, facial expressions, and tone.

Are they shifting eye gaze in your direction to acknowledge you or check out what you are doing?

Are they smiling, whining, or crying?

Are they moving toward you, staying in place, or moving away from you?

Treat these as communicative play responses in your play approach decision making. If they are not acknowledging you with eye gaze shifts, if they are crying, whining, or moving away from you, then take this as a message that the play you are attempting is not motivating to them, too novel, or too hard and try something different. Then read these signs again. If you are getting interest in the form of eye gaze shifting, a smile, continued presence then keep going. Each time you add something, or try something knew pay attention to the communicative signals. Sometimes you will move ahead too quickly and you will need to go back, that is ok. Sometimes things will get old and you will need to try something different. That is ok too. The key in the beginning is to increase the length of these positive interactions, because in essence what you are teaching is the value of reciprocal interactions! You are teaching that being social is fun.

In order to maximize success and attempts, opt to try things your child enjoys doing already, instead of trying new things. If your child enjoys colors start with colorful blocks, crayons, scarves, balls, and share the fun over everything color related before trying to expand. You’ll know you can introduce something new, or challenge your child a bit more in play when they begin to seek you out for play by:

Playing near you

Shifting their eye gaze from you to toys and back

Pulling you over to the toys or play area

Requesting for play items from you

Requesting for play actions from you

Celebrate these success and never give up! Happy playing!!

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About the Author

Justyna Balzar, M.Ed. BCBA LBA (CT) Co-Founder & CEO

Justyna Balzar, M. Ed. BCBA, has a Masters in Curriculum and Education in Applied Behavior Analysis from Arizona State University. She has experience working with individuals with Autism and related disabilities in a variety of settings that include private school, public school, and home programs ranging in age from 3-18 years old. She is constantly seeking avenues to disseminate Behavior Analysis in conversation, presentations, and sharing Behavior Analytic content through her BehaviorChik Facebook page. She enjoys learning and discussing the boundless applications of ABA as they relate to all problems that involve behavior.