Listen to Episode 04 here

What should we do when we find play boring as adults? This simple play principle will help you take the passenger seat while you let the child drive. Parent becomes the student and the child becomes the teacher! In this session we explore the first principle of Treasure Time which is ‘let the child lead’.

About our hosts:

Sophia Giblin

A creative entrepreneur who focuses on ways to tackle the root of children’s mental health through play and secure relationships. Due to her own challenging experiences in childhood, Sophia went on to establish a thriving Play & Creative Arts Therapy charity to support other children who have experienced trauma. Her focus is on helping therapists, businesses and charities have more of an impact for children and families that they work with through coaching, strategy, fundraising and mentoring.

Nicole McDonnell

Nicole is a mum to two young boys, who also has over 20 years of brand marketing experience. She is a previous Chair Trustee at Clear Sky Charity and has past experience on the Ella’s Kitchen board.  Her roles have included Marketing Director, Head of Ella’s-ness, Global Brand Director with responsibility of creating and building one brand inside and out – including the wellbeing and culture of the team. Nicole was instrumental in growing Ella’s into a multi-million pound international business, driven by the mission of creating healthy children.

About Treasure Time

Our vision is to drive connected, happy parent-child relationships, for the benefit of the whole family. Our mission and passion is to educate parents in how to become happy, mindful and confident in connecting with their own children through play.


Treasure Time digital course

Visit @treasuretimeuk on Instagram and Facebook!

Value bombs and tweetables:

1. “I know I used to find play sometimes a bit dull and I’m naturally a pretty playful person.  What I’ve noticed since I started Treasure Time is that my relationship with play has really changed.” Nicole McDonnell

2. “Once you realise that play is more about the relationship between yourself and your child it becomes more interesting” Sophia Giblin

3. “The play became a tool to become closer to each other and this has been like magic fairy dust to our relationship!” Nicole McDonnell

4. “In play the aim should be to allow the child to become the teacher” Sophia Giblin


Sophia Giblin  

Hey, it’s Sophia and Nicole. Welcome to the Treasure Time Podcast, growing up happy.

Today’s podcast is all about playing when you actually find play times quite boring or maybe a bit repetitive or kind of dull.

Nicole, how has this episode come about?

Nicole McDonnell  

Well, there’s so much out there at the moment on how to spend time playing with your child. People have been really, really generous. There’s loads of free ideas on what to do and lots of group sharing ideas which is absolutely fantastic.

I think a lot of parents already know that they should be playing with their children and in reality, it’s about finding the time or managing priorities that can be hard for us all. That there is actually time that we can now carve out for our children’s play that we maybe didn’t have in our really busy, incredibly scheduled lives before.

I know that I used to find playing games a bit dull, and I’m naturally a pretty playful person! What I’ve noticed since starting Treasure Time is that it’s my relationship with the play that’s really changed.

What advice do you have for parents about what they can do when they just find the play boring or repetitive or they feel a bit lost about what to do?

Sophia Giblin  

It’s quite normal to find children’s play a bit boring because children like to do things at the level of at the most advanced level that they’re at, which is obviously not as advanced as the level that we’re at.

They might also do things over and over again, the same things, and it might become quite repetitive.

Once you realise that play is more about the relationship between yourself and the child, it becomes more interesting. So it is a subtle mindset shift from being involved or looking at what it is they’re doing, to being more involved in how it is that you’re relating with each other and also how your child is related to the play.

Once you can understand some of the reasoning behind it, it becomes more interesting because we can become a little bit more curious about the child. Something that I learned early on as a play therapist, is it being a therapist has so much to do with the relationship between yourself and the child and the relationship between the child and the play.

Nicole McDonnell  

Yeah, I totally relate to that having learnt to be a Treasure Time parent I often found that when I was into the play, it very quickly became teaching really quickly or really easily, I couldn’t help myself. It was like this especially when the boys were younger. For example, little teaching challenges cropped up, like, let’s group all the race cars together, let’s count all the race colour cars.

So when it became really about the outcome of what we were playing rather than the play itself, so listening to you it’s really clear that my default mode as an adult relating to play is different to how children play.

And I basically run out of ideas pretty quickly to keep them in teams, and I get bored and I think, oh, lets stop and have a snack but I definitely was approaching it about the game not the relationship.

Sophia Giblin  

Yeah, and I think that’s really normal because that’s how we relate to play. I think that’s something that we all do when we think about play, that it’s something that children do, that they enjoy, doesn’t necessarily involve us to be honest a lot of the time. But there are ways that we can get involved in the play. And also play is designed to be focused on sorry, play is not designed to be focused on the outcome, but is actually purely for enjoyment.

The actual definition of play is something that you engage in, for no set purpose. So as adults, we like to structure things we like to become the teacher, but in play, the aim should be to allow the child to become the teacher. For them to show you and then you become the student and your role is much more passive and less active.

Nicole McDonnell  

I really like that, it’s a totally different. It’s really subtle, but it’s a completely different mindset shift. You said this is when the play gets much more interesting, when it’s about the relationship. What exactly do you mean by that, Sophia?

Sophia Giblin  

We have to recognise that our role in the play is to sit on our hands. It’s not about getting involved and being the leader, which is often quite hard for us as adults, because we’re so used to being the leader, the teacher, the person in charge, but actually in play, we should just sit back, and sit on our hands.

We should not get overly involved, and let the child lead. And what you can start to do when you’re in that position of being more passive (so being in the passenger seat and not the driver seat), is that we can start to notice our children and tune into them, how they’re behaving, what are they doing? What are their emotions when they’re playing? It becomes more interesting, because we can actually be a bit more present.

We don’t have to be thinking or guiding or leading or entertaining either that that’s not the point of play, children will entertain themselves. They don’t need us to do that for them. They will.

What we can do is sit back and just just notice and become curious and watch and wonder. What happens is that we become then a bit more absorbed in the wonder of our own child and see them through new eyes, rather than focusing on the play all the time.

Something that you might notice when you play with your child is where your eyes are. If your eyes are more often what on what they’re creating, I challenge you to put your eyes on your child, and actually don’t look at what they’re creating, because it’s not what it’s about. Put your eyes on the child and see what they’re doing.

Notice the subtle little facial movements or their smiles or the way they flick their hair and, and you can feed that back to them as well. What it says to them is that I’ve noticed you, I see you and I care about you. They’re the types of messages that you want to be communicating in your play. Not “I see what you’re playing and that’s really good and well done. And I really like what you’ve done.” That’s not the role that that we should really be taking in the play. So it’s it is a subtle mindset shift.

Nicole McDonnell  

I love the way you’ve just described it because that is great. Actually what I found when doing Treasure Time with my boys and it was such a quick change and it suddenly wasn’t about what we were playing at all. It wasn’t about how to win the game, how to play the game, how to complete the puzzle, or how much detail so they put on a piece of paper.

I gradually was able to see Calum more and more for who he was. And what then was really magic was that we both found so much calmness and comfort in the play times together because we felt closer and closer and closer. And it was almost like we were seeing this relationship for the first time as a two way thing. And that seems almost totally ridiculous.

But the play became a tool to become closer to each other and this has been like magic fairy dust for our relationship!

Sophia Giblin  

Yes, there’s something that’s really useful to look at actually, when thinking about how to make play a little bit more interesting is to look at our seven principles of Treasure Time.

We’ve actually put these together as a little Instagram series that you can have a look at if you go over to our Instagram at @treasuretimeuk. And what we were doing is posting these principles as seven tips for calmer, happier children during lockdown.

Let’s talk just about the first principle which is letting the child lead. Now this is the most important principle because it sets the foundation for being a Treasure Time Parent and doing Treasure Time play. When we let the child lead, they can show us exactly how they want to do it. They can be in charge, and we don’t have to always be in charge and entertaining them. And when we allow them to do that it gives them a sense of control. It helps them to express themselves as they are as an individual. It helps them to feel develop a better sense of self. They think “what is it I like? What do I want to do? I get to choose”. In this sense, we take that more passive passenger seat role and let the child be the driver and let the child be the active one. And actually, it’s exhausting trying to be in charge all the time as parents, right.?

Nicole McDonnell  

I definitely agree with you there. Letting the child lead was something that I did really struggle with. And I like to be in control. I thought as a parent, it was my role to be in control and and it’s been a little bit of a minefield of unravelling what are the grown up responsibilities I definitely should have, and where I should let the boys lead you know, and I found that everything else flows more easily when I became this sort of more passive parent. I was so surprised it sounds crazy. But I was like, ‘wow, I’m trying so much less’, and I mean I am less involved in the play. I describe it as more of an ‘attentive companion’. And my enjoyment of the play became richer and richer, and I suddenly just love treasure time, I looked forward to it as much as the boys did!

And the magic again came when I got better and better at doing that in Treasure Times. Then I let it spill into the rest of our day to day life. And that that is really it was beautiful to see how things that were a struggle just stopped being so much of a struggle. It was like things just work. There was this lovely flow between me and the boys in a way that just didn’t exist before.

Sophia Giblin  

Yeah, I think there’s goings to be this, as you described it, need to be in charge or maybe the feeling of, ‘well, that’s my job as a parent to be in charge and to look after the boys and make sure that they’re learning and developing’. And that control that we have or perceived that we need can feel really hard to let go of.

But as soon as you give children the space and capacity to take charge and to be in the lead, if it feels so much better for them, and it feels so much better for us, it is the natural way things are supposed to be in play.

This is a really wonderful way of practising actually allowing children to be in charge, and allowing them to lead the play. We just follow, they’re the teacher where the student for a little bit, we can take a backseat, we can sit on our hands.

Something that I recommend that you do next time you’re playing with your child, even if you’re playing a game with rules (and we’ll talk about rules in a further session) but let the child be the person who’s teaching you so you just sit on your hands and you play. You don’t have all of the answers and you let the child teach you. So that’s the top tip from from Principle number one of Treasure Time, which is letting the child lead.

Nicole McDonnell  

Oh, thank you so much Sophia. So if any of our listeners can try out letting your child lead this week, try the first principle and post your experiences on Instagram, tag us @treasuretimeuk and you’ll be entered into draw to win the Treasure Time course and a year’s worth of membership to the exclusive Facebook community where you can access a weekly Q&A with Sophia. Don’t forget to add #TreasureTime and we can’t wait to hear how your experience goes.

Sophia Giblin  

Thank you so much for listening. Tune in for our next episode, where we will be covering the next principles from the Treasure Time sessions. So we’ll be going through all of the seven principles and these will also help you to have calmer, happier children during lockdown with some top tips.

Nicole McDonnell  

Thank you so much. Thanks listening. See you next episode!

Key Words

Play children parents playing time relationships lockdown connection teaching