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Play, It's Exhausting!

Imaginative play doesn’t come with instructions. My world of imagination is different from yours, and that’s okay! Have you ever shared an idea with a friend and then had it spiral into something amazing?

For example, my daughter likes to be a helper in the kitchen. She loved squeezing lemons when I made lemon tart so I figured - let’s make lemonade!

lemons → lemonade stand → turned into restaurant play

lemonade graphic - paradigm behavior-02.png


How did you get from one idea to the next? Can you pinpoint the exact moments when it “spiraled”?

It starts with an idea, which then turns into a shared interest.

Well, how do you know the other person’s interested? There are some social cues that tell you “Hey, I think they like it!” Can you describe what this looks like?

So, you start with an idea, and the other person:

  • Turns their head and body towards you, or

  • Adds a comment like “Oooo” or “That’s cool!”, or

  • Adds (value) to the conversation, like “you can do this too,” or “what about this idea?”, or

  • Takes the toy or activity from you, and

  • … the list goes on

Go a little further and figure out what exactly made them turn their head.

In my lemonade example, it wasn’t the lemons that led us to playing restaurant, it was the exchange between the server and the customer. We drank lemonade and played games (sidewalk chalk, hopscotch) to keep us occupied, but it wasn’t until a customer came when my daughter jumped up with excitement and was ready to pour this person a drink.

If you need ideas, get some inspiration from my Playroom. It’s got a list of toys with Play Scripts and videos that may spark your creativity.

Here’s a sample: Markers. 


Yes, you can color with them, but did you know you can also:

  • Stand them up on the table and blow them down?

  • Connect them together to have a silly sword fight?

  • Have marker races between different colors by rolling them down a ramp?

These are ideas you can introduce and see if it sparks interest. 


So, it’s definitely nice to have an idea become a shared interest, but what happens when the other person doesn’t find your idea interesting?

Say this word with me: “Noted!

Don’t feel defeated just because the idea didn’t stick (yet). Take this opportunity, turn it into something positive, and take note it’s just something they aren’t interested in right now.

I’m sure you can name something you felt “meh” about before but find interesting now. For example, if you told me years ago that I’d be a woodworker and have a collection of power tools, I wouldn’t have believed you.


Play is exhausting when you’re trying out many ideas. If you see even a glimmer of interest, figure out what exactly it was (e.g. things falling down, silly voices, fast moving objects) and see if you can do more of it somehow.


Once you find something of interest, add more to it using the same strategies introduced here. Work together and let it spiral into something amazing. 



Christina Conner (she/her) is a board certified behavior analyst and has years of experience providing services in skill acquisition and behavior reduction in both clinical and home-based settings. She’s also the owner of Paradigm Behavior designing simple, friendly resources to download, for professionals and families. Visit her website at paradigmbehavior.com/products
Pinterest: @ParadigmABA