Loud chatter filled the room as children walked in with their parents and started playing with toys. Clinical Counselor and Disability Services Coordinator Leilani Auna gathered the families in a circle and started the Parenting thru Play group with a prayer. Parenting thru Play, sponsored by Counseling and Disability Services, promotes parent child interaction and routines for children. The group meets every Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Living and Learning Resource Center.
Auna, a licensed clinical social worker who has five grandchildren under the age of five, runs the program with the help of two student interns, Jennifer Tam from Hong Kong and Schad Veerothai from Thailand. She stressed how the group is a safe place where parents can come receive advice without fear of judgement, knowing what they say in the group is going to stay in the group.
Accounting for the noise, Auna explained, “We’re pretty family friendly. It’s all informal. We want to teach children how we can interact with them. It will never be proper with little kids.
“The purpose of the group is to give children a routine and help them make healthy connections with their parents. Our purpose of Parenting thru Play is to promote positive parent child interaction through lessons and activities designed to increase early development and constructive parent child relationships.”
She said the group is not a place for parents to come take a break while their children play. “It’s not a drop off. We really encourage parents to interact with their child. It’s very highly interactive. We’re teaching you how to play. Research show that ages 0 to 3 is a very important time for attachment. You need to form this attachment with you child so they can have good, positive attachment.”
The morning of Jan. 25, the children and their parents sang songs and read stories before having snacks and playtime. This is a routine that Auna said the children will adjust to, and will help them have better behavior as they grow up.
“We’re going to be teaching parent child interaction. We have an agenda. We’re going to be keeping a routine for kids. When you have routines for children, their behavior problems decrease. The first few times they will be making a lot of noise, but after a while they will adjust to the routine.”
Courtney Ibarra, a junior from Utah majoring in business, said she heard about the group through a flyer on her door. She explained how the group, “Is really structured. There is a schedule to the two hours we have. We start off by singing songs, then we’ll read a book, and then there will be snack time. After that they’ll have playtime, and then we end with another song and a book.”
She described how the routine has been helpful for her son. “Within those two hours he knows what to expect. He is more excited and anticipates what is coming, so it’s really fun for him. He loves the songs and things we do. We have a nighttime routine already, but [the group] has opened my eyes to the importance of a routine throughout the day, not just at night. That’s probably what will be the biggest impact.”
Jennifer Tam, a senior from Hong Kong majoring in social work, explained the group is helpful because it allows children to get their energy out while they bond with their parents. She said children are super energized when they come to the group, but the activities help calm them down.
Auna also said she will be demonstrating how to handle discipline and social interaction with the children. If children are throwing fits, or hitting other children, she will show parents how to handle the situation without being angry and yelling at the children. She said the children don’t know and parents are the ones training them how to handle those situations. Parents are able to ask any questions.
Ibarra said of her experience in the group, “It’s been good. He’s learned lots of songs and other stuff while we’ve been there. Everyone is super nice and friendly. It’s the same group of people we see. Consistency is nice with the kids because they all know each other. I would totally tell anyone to do it. It’s awesome. It’s been really helpful for him, and it’s a fun thing we get to do together.”
The group will have various activities and excursions throughout the semester. Upon completing the group in April, the parents and children will receive a certificate of completion.
Tam explained she is doing this internship as part of her social work degree, but she chose to work with the Parenting thru Play group because, “I don’t have any children, so I don’t have a lot of experience with children or big groups. This internship lets me have experience with big groups. I want to work with kids in the future.”