For some reason the topic of playing with children has come to my attention quite frequently lately. In just the past two weeks I’ve had 2 different friends, who happen to be young mothers with young children, comment that they seem to be ‘play-challenged’… meaning they just don’t really know how to actively ‘play’ with their children. And I heard the same conversation going on while listening to the women of CBS’s daytime show The Talk.
I can empathize… at least to a point. For whatever reasons, and I suspect there are several, I find it quite easy and natural to play with kids. However, there certainly are times I simply don’t feel like it. And I wonder if parents who think they don’t know how to play with their kids might be confusing ‘being comfortably able to play’ with ‘feeling the desire to play with a child at any given moment’.
Of course, if you’re one of those who find it challenging to play with your child, it’s quite possible that you’ve allowed the playful aspects of your imagination to atrophy. (Here I caution you… don’t make the mistake of thinking you have no imagination at all… in fact, if you have so much as one single ‘worry’ (like, “why can’t I play with my kid?”), it’s powerful evidence that you indeed have a very vivid imagination!)
I have a few thoughts about all of this (big surprise :)) so I’m going to share a few of those thoughts over a small series over the next few days. Let’s take a look first of all at what play is, then consider some options about how you can enjoy more of it.
Step 1: I accept that Playing with My Child(ren) is time well spent
You don’t need me to beat you over the head with the reminder that time seems to accelerate once you have children in your life. And perhaps you do need a reminder that the number of years these children are available to you for the playing is limited. After all, why on earth did you agree to bring them into your life and raise them if you weren’t at least slightly convinced that hanging out with them for the next 18 years could be fun and rewarding?
Yes, it requires an investment. An investment of your time and attention that you might be having trouble prioritizing. Every giggle, cough, pout, hug, tantrum, bruise, defiant stare and game of tag only happen for so long and then they’re gone. Looking at the big picture will help you remember that playing with your child is time well spent.
Kids asking us to play are NOT asking us to do anything unnatural. From where you’re standing today it might not be normal for you… but I promise you the need to play is quite natural to all of us throughout our entire lives. You may have created a habit of thought that keeps you focused on what you consider ‘serious’ stuff, and therefore not games but I say “Hogwash!”
Any task can be approached as a game. It’s simply a matter of using our imagination to let more joy in. And letting more joy in does NOT mean you take life less seriously. It just means you enjoy life more.
I’ll take a brief moment here to address the ‘work’ issue. Yes, if you spend all of your time with your child you will not have any money. Okay. Yet giving your job time to the point that you’re spending no time with your child is a good indication you’re missing the point and the big picture.
Play not only helps a young mind grow, studies have shown it helps an old mind rejuvenate! A minute of engaged play can provide a minute of learning that closeness and laughter are possible in this world. It can even teach us, through focused attention, how the physical world around us works as we watch a toy dump truck filled with sand speed down a ramp into a pit, for example.
Honestly… play teaches every conceivable subject… science, math, history, language, politics, economics, law and rules… it all comes as natural lessons of playing all sorts of games as well as from the themes of specific games themselves.
Whether playing a game you’ve made up on the fly, a game of ‘pretend’, or playing a game designed by someone else, play means learning about the real world. By it’s very nature it involves distinguishing what’s ‘in the game’ and what’s out; it call on us to pay attention, meet challenges, seek fairness, incorporate pattern building, and when it’s done with others it teaches social connection.
Do you realize that it’s PLAY that is the gateway to imaging something that doesn’t yet exist into existence? Through play we build our capacity for abstract thinking and possibilities… and as we get older the space we play in expands, and the tools we have available for experimentation increases and before you know we have things like Velcro and Post-it’s in our ‘real world’!
And how about trust? Play builds trust as we learn about ourselves and other people and their feelings. What it means to hurt, what it means to play fair, what makes us suspicious, what makes us laugh. How to deal with our own emotions and how to not inflict our emotions on other people.
In other words, with wise grownups around guiding us, play teaches us to deal with the consequences of our own actions, It can help toughen us against failures and obstacles as well as help us build resolve and fortitude.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the benefits of play… and you can step more firmly into the statement - “I accept that playing with my child is time well spent.”
Watch for Friday’s post where I’ll talk about Knowing Your Child and their play style.
In the meantime… feel free to share what makes it easy… or challenging… for you to play with your child.