Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Playing With Your Children Can Change How Your Family Functions.

Throughout my years as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I often get calls or questions from acquaintances regarding many different topics. Since I am also a Play Therapist, I am also asked about "normal" child behavior and what parents can do to decrease "this" or "that" problem. The answer I give tends to surprise most people. Now, new research seems to support the notion that simply playing with your child in a specific way, can not only dramatically reduce child behavior problems, but also change the entire family for the better.

Nick Cornett of John Brown University and Sue Bratton from the University of North Texas recently published an article in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (2013), finding evidence for family changes resulting from a specific play therapy program called Child-Parent Relationship Therapy. Child-Parent Relationship Therapy (Landreth and Bratton, 2006) is a 10 week program that teaches parents how to use non-directive play with their children as a relationship building intervention. Previous research has supported the notion that Child-Parent Relationship Therapy reduces child behavior problems, reduces parental stress, and increases empathy from parent to child. Cornett and Bratton (2013) found evidence of increased family satisfaction, greater cohesion (agreement, commitment, and relationship strength), increased family flexibility, and better family communication.

While Child-Parent Relationship Therapy is a rigid program, that requires supervision from a professional who is trained in non-directive play therapy, everyone can benefit from changing small things about their play with their child. Below are important principles regarding non-directive play with children that if used, may yield similar changes:

  • Set aside 30 minutes per week to play one-on-one, uninterrupted, with your child. 
  • Be the sports announcer of your child's play. Try not to correct, teach, or lead their play.
  • Play with them, as they direct. 
  • Stay attuned to them and their play, no distractions.
  • Give them lead time warnings before ending the play (5, 3, and 1 minute warnings work best).
  • When the play is over with, let them leave, while you clean up. 
Many parents have a hard time with non-directive play. If you need a good example of how to do non-directive play I highly recommend the movie, Imagine That. If you ignore the story-line about a magical blanket, and pay particular attention to the story-line of being a playful, attentive parent, it is a very good movie. See the trailer below: 


Cornett, N. and Bratton, S. C. (2013), Examining the Impact of Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) on Family Functioning. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. doi: 10.1111/jmft.12014

Landreth, G. L., & Bratton, S. C. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT): A 10-session filial therapy model. New York, NY: Routledge.

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