Melanie Tavares is a child-focused psychologist who is passionate about life and has the superpower to always focus on the positives, even during hard times.
By Lara Franco Gomes
Illustration Amy Vann @av_typography
As a child, she had a traumatic experience which left her feeling misunderstood. She realised that, often, parents do not know how to do everything by themselves, even though they are now much more aware of mental health issues. So she decided she wanted to offer this kind of support to anyone who needed it.
Although she loves working with children, they weren’t always the focus of her career. Nevertheless, over time, her path eventually led her in this direction..
Regardless of her job, children are her greatest passion. She has a real way with them, respecting them in their uniqueness, without ever letting them get the better of her. She loves kids who are able to challenge and stand up to her in a good way.
Melanie has one son, a wonderful boy with special needs. She loves kids and if it were possible, she would have had more.
LEMON Magazine [LEMON] – Why is playing so important for children’s development?
MELANIE TAVARES [M.T.] – Playing is very important for children because it improves their physical skills and their cognitive development. It is very important for them to grow up healthy. For example, jumping on one foot or riding a bike can be mechanisms that benefit language development. That’s why playing is a universal language. Children of different nationalities are able to play with one another.
LEMON – Is it important for children to play alone?
M.T. – Of course it is. That’s how they learn to manage their personal space, their solitude, to call more on their imagination. It is important for them to have some control over their games, not only for leisure but also for whatever needs they might have.
LEMON – What is the best type of game a parent can play with a child?
M.T. – It is very important that parents give some personal space to their children and listen to their needs and wants. They mustn’t stipulate or impose games. They must let themselves be seduced by their children’s games. However, board games have always been very useful and nowadays, because of the pandemic, this concept has made a huge comeback.
Also, never forget about traditional games, they are very good at making children realise that their parents were also kids once. Knowing and learning how and what they played with is something that fascinates them.
LEMON – What do you think about children who have imaginary friends?
M.T. – Imaginary friends are very important and are part of children’s development, as long as they do not persist into adulthood.
LEMON – Can you recommend games for social development, emotional development and cognitive development?
M.T. – Ok, so let’s start with social development: all those in which several children gather to play, where they learn to follow rules, wait their turn, learn to lose, etc.
Cognitive development: let’s break the rules a little bit here. We talk a lot about how phones and tablets can be bad for our children, but, in my opinion, everything should be done in moderation and there are many games on these new devices that benefit cognitive development.
Emotional development: although books are not a game, a bedtime story told by a family member can develop children’s emotional skills and help them to overcome certain fears along the way.
LEMON – Why do children love to play make-believe?
M.T. – Precisely because make-believe is kids’ first experience with the social life “of the future”. They can be mothers at 5 years old or doctors at 6 years old. It helps them to position themselves socially and also lets them position themselves in gender roles. It is important to let a boy play with a doll and a girl play with a ball. Experiencing gender roles is in no way going to influence your gender identity, your sexual identity or your gender role, and it is very important that parents and educators understand this.
LEMON – What is the best way to develop a child’s reasoning and attention?
M.T. – Paying attention to the child and trying to focus on their interests and, again, games can help a lot. If we give something to a child that does not interest them, we will not be able to keep their attention. We have to seduce them.
LEMON – How do you deal with a child who is a bad loser?
M.T. – When a child is a bad loser, it is an indication of intolerance to frustration. This is an indication of something that has already happened, which may be fostered at school or at home. We have to let them experience loss and explain to them that it is a part of life and that no one will never be the best at everything.
We mustn’t educate our children to believe that they are great at everything. One day it can come as a shock to the child when they are confronted with the real world. Nobody is good at everything they do and this is normal.
LEMON – Some ideas to play at home?
M.T. – You don’t have to invent much. Boxes, paper, different textures: just look around. You can even give them a broom to sweep with you. Just be there for them and they will guide you.
LEMON – Do you think that children will give more value to small things after the global pandemic?
M.T. – I think children are a reflection of adults, and I feel that, at least in Portugal, our behaviour has radically returned to normal since lockdown. It’s almost as if we were never confined. So no, I don’t think so.
LEMON – There are children who were away from school and friends for a long time. What do you think about what these children may have felt and how it affected them?
M.T. – That was one of the worst things that happened to children. The separation of friends and grandparents.
Returning to school now is a balance between physical health and mental health. It is very important for children to have a relationship with their peers.
LEMON – Should a parent “force” the learning of an extra-curricular activity, such as a new language or an instrument?
M.T. – A parent must always value a child’s skills and encourage them to learn and never give up, but not force them to do something they really don’t want to. Always pay attention, respect their wishes and try to understand the reasons behind their choices.
LEMON – What can parents do with a violent child?
M.T. – I think we have to be guided by our common sense here. It’s normal to play around with a sword killing imaginary bad guys. It even helps them to learn to fight their fears. But if a child hits their grandfather with the sword out of malice, we have to understand what is behind this behaviour.
Take time to have a serious conversation with the child and perhaps seek help from a professional if the situation does not change.
LEMON – Should a child’s parents be their best friends?
M.T. – The best parents are the ones that are always there for their children, helping and guiding them. But they should never put themselves in the role of a best friend. Friends are complicit in the mistakes they make! Parents should love unconditionally but also establish boundaries.
LEMON – Should parents create a routine with a specific time to play?
M.T. – It is important to have routines for everything. It is through routines that children become organised, but there does not have to be a right time to play. They should just know that their parents always find a way to make time for them.
LEMON – Toys as a reward for good behaviour, yes or no?
M.T. – The issue here is how easy it is to get toys. It is normal to reward a child when they behave, but the path to get there is important. Children should experience frustration and also a sense of achievement.
LEMON – Can it cause anxiety in a child when parents are separated and have very different lifestyles?
M.T. – Parents must realise that the separation belongs to the couple and is not a parental separation. It is distressing for the child to have to assume different roles to please both sides. Often, they are not mature enough to have this ability to adapt and they feel that they are disappointing or cheating somebody. It is difficult to have to deal with this because children love their parents unconditionally.
LEMON – Is playing a kind of love?
M.T. – Yes, it is a way of delivering love. Not when it is done out of obligation, but in a way that you want to let yourself be free and let yourself be seduced, offering your time and your patience just to see a happy child.