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Active Attention Playtime

Active attention playtime (for young children ages 2-8 years) is a therapeutic technique the parent uses to (1) nurture greater emotional security in the child, (2) enhance the parent-child relationship, and (3) promote compliant behavior in the child.

Active attention playtime is time a parent spends with his child and provides the child with focused nonjudgmental attention, consisting of 15-20 minutes of time per day (or as often as feasible).  During the time the parent attends to the child’s free play, with no directives or evaluative feedback, and with expression of interest in the child’s activity. The child chooses the activity, within reason. The parent’s role is to be warm and interested, and to observe and narrate (describe the details of) the child’s play.

The parent should give no directions, advice, or quiz-type questions but, instead, should grant the child full control over the play. But there is something important for the parent to do: Communicate positive attention to the child by verbalizing a moment-to-moment awareness of what he or she is doing.

The analogy used to explain this type of narration is that of a sportscaster describing a game; the idea is to verbalize, with interest and occasionally some excitement, the details of the action. For example: “Oh, you’re having the girl dinosaur jump up and down. Now the mother dinosaur comes over and gives a big roar—look at that!”

Let your child choose the play activity for him or herself. During active attention play time, the parent accompanies the child in play activities that the child chooses. The parent lets the child play freely, watches what the child does, shows interest in the activity, and makes supportive comments. That’s all there is to it. Active attention playtime is a simple activity, but it can be a bit tricky at first, so here are some pointers to follow:

“You’re getting the baby doll dressed.”

“Those giraffes sure are jumping around!”

“This looks like it’s going to be a big building.”


“Oh, you’re drawing a picture of a family playing a game.”

“This is nice, playing together like this.”

“You’re doing a good job of taking care of the baby lion.”


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