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.