Play with your kids. It’s good for you


It happens through all kinds of games, including family-wide charades, pretend plants can talk, and impromptu lip-sync and dance parties.

Parents, the same could be true for you.

There are a lot of bad reasons to play with your kids. It shouldn’t be about honing skills or achieving a particular outcome, which isn’t really a game anyway. Or because you feel obligated to be a perfect parent and a perfect parent regularly plays with their children. Or because they asked you to and you feel guilty for saying “no”. Or because your kids can’t have fun without you. If so, maybe don’t play with your kids until they’ve mastered the art of independent or sibling play.

But there are also the good reasons, often overlooked in the phobic leisure culture. Parent-child play, when it truly appeals to the parent and fits their schedule, can do a lot of good for adults.

Define “play”

Gambling is not a particular activity, but rather a “state of being,” explained psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown, founder and president of the National Institute for Play and author of “Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. “It engages us deeply and gives us pleasure, changes our sense of time and place, and the experience counts more than the result.

“Nature designed us to play in different ways,” he said. “We are built at play and are built through to play.”

Playing with children can take many forms. It can be easily identifiable and include Legos, simulations, costumes, sports, video games, board games, or puzzles. Or it can be a playful approach to an activity that isn’t always seen as fun: cooking, gardening, watering plants, or washing dogs. Or it’s spontaneous: making up fun songs in the car or having a pillow fight in bed on a Sunday morning.

It is all highly personal. The parent-child relationship is made up of two individuals with a distinct set of personality traits and desires. The type of play and the frequency of play that works in one family will likely be different from those that work in another family.

Right now each of my sons has their favorite way to play with me.

My 4 year old likes to imagine he is the father and I the baby. I lay down on the couch – yeah! I don’t need to move – and he’s pretending to do the dishes. Every now and then I interrupt her with a problem that I, the baby, have. I like to create problems, which range from the sad to the absurd. (“I’m afraid Daddy’s coming home from work.” “I think a glittering monster is going to cover me in slime.”) Even more, I love hearing what solutions he offers to solve my problems. (“Don’t worry, baby, the glitter monster is really cool and will give you some slime to play with. If it falls on you, you can take a bath!”)

My 8 year old son and I love to make up stories together which we sometimes do while walking the dog. We also recently started roller skating as a family, which apart from my former hockey player husband involves a lot of goofy trial and error.

As children get older, play can feel more like adventures together.

For those who desire more play, children can become the best teacher.

When Laurel Snyder’s children were younger, she played with them in more traditional and identifiable ways: Legos, sports, and crafts. But now that they’re teenagers, the play is less structured and more about cultivating shared experiences of surprise and wonder.

“Last summer, during lockdown, we started walking around late at night. We would go out at midnight and go down to a park near our house, explore and listen to the cicadas,” Snyder said, an author of children’s books who believes that the game is good for the creative process. Recently, she extolled the virtues of play for the creative process in a lecture for other authors of children’s books.

“Without the pandemic we would never have done this, but time has been taken out of our lives,” she said. “Once the lockdown was over, and we were able to walk around at a normal time, we found out that we like to take midnight walks. The world is different at night.”

Adults need more play

Many adults have an unhealthy relationship over time. Our collective obsession with productivity, work and self-optimization has left us with this relentless feeling that we are always behind the ball, never doing enough. Worse, many of us are convinced that this is the result of a character flaw rather than a societal or structural flaw.

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We have forgotten the life-changing magic of recreation and play.

“Gambling forces us to ask ourselves: who am I when I’m not playing or winning? What is my brain doing? Snyder said. “It’s the opposite of market well-being. It’s what helps you log off, jump off the treadmill, and can help stop shaming yourself for not being productive. For me, that’s what. It’s about tapping into that 8-year-old brain, because it’s the last time, I didn’t care that I wasn’t productive enough. “

Need another reason to play? Turns out it’s good for you: Researchers have found that gambling can offset some of our never enough anxiety. The game can help us deal with stress and improve our general well-being.

“Adult play is absolutely necessary if you want to have a sense of optimism for the future and maintain an elevation in mood for a difficult and demanding life,” said Brown, adding that like sleep deprivation, the gambling deprivation has negative long-term consequences.

“I have studied gambling extensively for years and think this should be understood as a necessary public health mandate for children and adults,” Brown said. “It’s in our nature, preserved through evolution over time, and has a lot to do with our social survival as a species.” Play helps us feel connected to our communities and learn to cooperate with each other. “

Brown believes it’s possible for parents to unleash their long-suppressed playful sides by playing with their children – with a few caveats.

Parents may want to create time for adult play, which will help them “identify with their own nature of play, be free, and make room for the chaos and variety that are a part of the game. important part of the game “.

They may also want to make sure that their children have the freedom and free time to ensure that their children learn to play on their own terms. It should happen without any harsh direction, anxiety, or expectations on the part of parents or guardians.

Children play well

For those who desire more play, but just can’t shake their efficiency demons, a child can become the best teacher.

Psychologist Alison Gopnik is a child development expert who has written extensively on the serious business of play. “Play is the signature of childhood,” she writes in her book.The philosophical baby. “” It is a living and visible manifestation of imagination and learning in action. ”
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As they play, kids compete with top scientists in their ability to generate hypothesis after hypothesis about, say, what can be done with a rubber ball. These little brains are plastic and hungry, eager to understand the possibilities around them.

Gopnik further explores this idea in a 2020 academic document. She argues that children are better explorers, or more likely to try out new ideas, while adults are better exploiters, or use their knowledge and experience to make the best decision.

“Adults who are faced with a changing social or physical environment may be willing to make only small local changes to representations they have already learned and which support their actions and plans,” she wrote. . “Young children of the next generation, on the other hand, may be more willing to consider a variety of high-level patterns to explain the data they see, potentially allowing them to make broader and more accurate predictions.”

This journey from childhood ineffectiveness to adult effectiveness has its benefits, but something can get lost in the process. Efficiency is how we spend the day, but it’s also how we get stuck in the day, the weeks, the years. This is how we begin to feel that we are not living life, but life is living us.

Efficiency is also what our contemporary culture is obsessed with, which makes it all the more difficult to liberate and return to our free, open-minded and explorer selves.

Will playing with your kids solve all of this? Probably not. But it may remind us that there is a part of us adults that is capable of exploration, that feels like messing around, and does not view time exclusively as something that can easily be “wasted.” .

Play with your kids and you will remember that life is full of possibilities. It’s a delight, but only if we can, really do, let everything else – egos, worries and agendas – go.

Need help getting started? Get inspired by the summer season to start playing or be specific with our 100 ways to play this summer.

Elissa strauss is a regular contributor to CNN, where she writes on the politics and culture of parenthood.


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