While there’s no recipe in a parenting handbook that will answer all the  questions, there is one key ingredient that will spice up your life and strengthen  the bond you have with your child for a lifetime. The secret sauce lost in the  back of the cupboard for far too long is… P-L-A-Y. Playing with children is a  profoundly loving activity that strengthens bonds while transferring our morals  and values. Our homes are far too hungry for the delicious fruits that accompany  fun and play. Not only does incorporating play build trust and help build  unforgettable memories, but it’s also the magical concoction for sound health  both mentally and physically.

The National Institute for Play founder, Stuart Brown M.D., says, “The opposite  of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression.” Its importance is so  great that the lack of it, especially in our homes, he says, should be treated like  malnutrition. It’s a health risk to both your body and mind. When it comes to  playing, many of us start strong when our children are young and in their primary  years, but somewhere along the line, life gets busy. School and daily to-do lists  take the forefront leaving out any time for play. The truth is playing is part of  what makes life joyous and worth waking up. Teaching our kids that it’s essential  to enjoy their days is a skill that takes practice yet it is one of the most loving  actions we can gift to our kids. It’s time to get your game face on and add back  the most delicious ingredient life has to offer. Below are tips and ideas on how  to add play to the mix at every age.

Infancy – Toddler (infant – five years old)

During these years, parents, it’s time to remember how to be silly. This means to  bring out your best monkey impersonations, A-B-C singing voices, and bear  crawling chase games. Also, on the top of the list is peek-a-boo, pots and pans  music jam (means taking out anything you have and making noise), and dancing.  Not only does this type of play result in laughter and exercise there are also  many unseen benefits. Playing with your child will help develop social and self control skill sets that will last them throughout their lives.

Early Childhood (three – eight years old)

Everything can be made into a game. From timing your children to see how fast  they can pick up their toys or clean their rooms to turning up the jams in the  house and having dance contests. This is also a great time to start having fun in  the kitchen and throughout the house. Cooking is another area that can be  turned into a joyous time if you allow your kids to get a little messy. Cleaning up  can be just as fun when you add music and dance to the mix. Role-playing  games are also great. For example, let your child pretend to take on adult roles  such as a veterinarian or firefighter. Playing dress-up and puppet theatre are  another top go-to’s for this age. These years set the stage for teaching your child  that fun lurks in all areas.

Middle Childhood (nine – eleven years old)

During these years, children start developing strong bonds with their peers.  However, this does not mean that play should stop between you and your child.  It’s needed more than ever. Children’s schedules fill up with planned activities.  Many start joining clubs, athletic teams, or other extracurricular activities. While  these planned activities are wonderful entries in teaching kids how to work  together in groups and safely interact with their peers outside of school, free  play is still needed. A great way to continue to play with your child is by getting  active yourself. Find your inner athlete by playing ball, taking a walk, riding a  bike or jumping into a pool with them. Let your child be the boss one night a  week by letting them pick a board game, decide what’s for dinner or teach you  how to play a video game they love. Find your inner artist and create art  together. This is a critical time for children to gain a sense of responsibility along  with their growing independence.

Adolescence or Teenage (twelve – eighteen years old)

During the teenage years, it gets even harder to find time for pure fun.  Schedules get busier and your teen will want to be around their friends more.  However, setting aside time to play with your teen is crucial in sustaining a  healthy relationship and helping your teen set up for success later in life. A great way to bond with your teen is to go exploring. You can check out different  restaurants, get tickets to concerts or see a theater performance. You can also  take it up a notch and plan a vacation together. Like to read? Read the same  book and discuss it. Teens need to recognize the importance of responsibilities  and to get good grades, but equally as important, is to teach them how to  balance and let them rejoice in play.

When we let go of everything we “NEED” to do, we give ourselves and our  children room to play. We can build unforgettable memories and teach them  and ourselves how to find enjoyment in all areas of life. While the way and how  we play change throughout every growth stage it’s a necessary component in  every parent-child relationship. Playing helps us rediscover the world and  appreciate the magic all around us. It is where creativity resides, and where  work, family, and life become joyous. Get ready, get set… go P-L-A-Y!

Carolina Droze is is a freelance writer, copywriter, educator and substance abuse  prevention speaker. She is also a mom, wife, surfer, nature enthusiast and a lover of  loud music and dancing like she just don’t care.