‘Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. The purpose is not to change the people we love, but to give them what they need to thrive. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny, but to help them shape their own. It isn’t to show them the way, but to help them find a path for themselves, even if the path they take isn’t the one we would choose ourselves, or even one we would choose for them.

The purpose of loving children, in particular, is to give those helpless young human beings a rich, stable, safe environment – an environment in which variation, innovation, and novelty can blossom.’

I came across this whilst reading a book by Alison Gopnik titled; The Gardener and The Carpenter. The emphasis is that parents should not get too caught up with trying to shape their children in specific ways and should not focus too hard on what or who their child will become. Instead the focus should be on what is happening with their child now, on the present experience.

I believe that many parents tend to miss out on simply being with their child.

What does this mean?

It means that most of the time parents feel a lot of pressure. They feel pressure from society and even from within them. The pressure of expectations, of measuring up, of providing the best opportunities for their children. The pressure of not making the same mistakes that their parents did with them or avoiding the same social traumas that may have affected them in the past. The pressure of implementing discipline measures but also being responsive to their children and understanding. The pressure to perform and produce and do something.

No wonder it feels unnatural to spend periods of time where you are not doing anything in particular with your child; simply following their lead and pace, being present with them and receptive to whatever they are bringing up. Apart from the insane schedules many parents have, simply joining your child in play led by him/herself may not appear to have value.

However, play is very valuable for children, it is their medium to explore the world, to learn new things and test out different ideas. If they are enjoying something and finding it stimulating, they will take interest in it. Learning through play will increase their chances to memorise, recall, explore, try it out confidently and succeed!

Play is also the way they express themselves and form an idea of who they are. At a point it becomes very social and children enjoy the interactions with other children and even adults who participate in play with them.  

How can I play with my child?

  1. Find some time during the day that makes sense to you, a time when you are calm and you can focus solely on your child without any distractions.
  2. Set a realistic time and decide on the frequency of these ‘play-times’, if your schedule is too tight, something that can be maintained and doesn’t add extra stress on you.
  3. Follow your child’s lead; what is your child interested in? What does your child enjoy doing? Depending on their age, you may ask them and give them the freedom to decide what they would like to do.
  4. It’s OK to get messy and physical (hugging, tickling, rough housing). With regards to the latter it is a good idea to explain beforehand that they have the right to stop the game if they feel it is too much and as an adult it is important to respect these boundaries.
  5. Remember, this is a relationship, the more you invest in its quality, the better your chances for it to be a positive experience!
  6. Show them you love them and say it.
  7. With young children it is a good idea to verbalise their actions and what is happening during play in order to encourage their language development.


Gopnik, A. 2017. The Gardener and the Carpenter.  Vintage: UK

Abigail Church is a Humanistic Integrative Counsellor who works with adults and children through counselling with Willingness. She can be contacted on abigail@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.