Last night in my yoga class, the instructor asked us to dedicate our practice to being more playful. That got me to thinking about the power of playfulness in parenting. When I got home, I went to the Joyful Parenting Website and searched “play.” Twenty blogs came up in which I mention the power of play and being a playful parent. That tells me what an important role I think play plays (ha ha, pun intended) for happy children and a happy home life. That being said, I realize I’ve never devoted an entire blog to the Importance of Play.
Kids Do Not Get Enough Time to Play
The truth is, parents didn’t used to have to pay so much attention to play. They didn’t even have to play with their kids that often. That’s because kids had enough time to play with each other. Today that just is not the case. Kids are spending longer hours at school and yet have less time for recess (or even P.E.). After school and on weekends, kids are scheduled into hours of activities. The result is very little time when there are groups of kids with just each other for company and the freedom to figure out what they want to do to entertain themselves. Even our playdates in today’s world are often organized activities like a baking project or science experiment, supervised by an attentive parent. That does not count in the same way.
The Social, Emotional and Cognitive Benefits of Play
Play benefits kids’ cognitive and neurological development as well as their social-emotional development. (It is also associated with many health benefits that I am not even going to go into.)
To read about The Benefits of Play…. wait until next week! I promise to give you a full run-down on the research. In the meantime…
Games You Can Use to Bring More Playfulness to Your Parenting Despite Hectic Days and Busy Schedules
One of the biggest gifts to my teaching was a class in using my voice, body and imagination to engage my students. Yes, well behaved students will dutifully do as you ask no matter how dull and boring you are. But most students are not so disciplined, nor so patient: They give you their attention when you are engaging. Using ideas from the class, I worked on developing a number of technique to step out of “teacher” mode. By the time I had my own child, I had named some of these playful practices in my head. I want to share a couple with you to give you an idea of how you might get inspired in your own home with your own version.
Remember Bugs Bunny cartoons making fun of opera singers with their funny facial expressions? Get into opera singer mode by clearing your throat, massaging your face, scrunching it up and pulling it out, and sticking out your tongue. Then do some exaggerated vocal warm ups (the more off key the better). Finally in your most robust major demo voice (or to the tune of your favorite aria), make a big announcement. It might be time to pick up and wash hands for supper or to bring the groceries in from the car. It doesn’t matter what. This is an anticipator. By setting the stage with your dramatics, you have gotten your kids’ attention and put them in a light-hearted mood before you ask them to do a less-than-loved task. Extra points the more embarrassing you can be.
Make It Bigger
This game comes from the world of improv. Make It Bigger is a great game for when kids don’t want to do an ordinary task like brushing their teeth. Start by nonverbally miming a simple task like pouring a glass of water. This is a great way to give a sneaky command. If your child does not get up to fill the water glasses for dinner, then Make It Bigger! This time mime pouring a HUGE glass of water (like a 7-11 Big Gulp). The next glass you fill, mime filling a bucket and hauling it to the table. This game works because it makes the routine feel like something new and gets your kids into a different head space. As soon as your kids are imagining filling a small pool and bringing it to the table, they are no longer thinking No, I don’t want to. Or Wait, I have to finish this level. Wouldn’t you agree that it is much more fun to brush your teeth with a brush as big as a baseball bat? The game does not have to played silently. It is a great way to empower your kid with a choice: Look at them with your most serious expression an ask, "Do you want to brush your teeth with a mouse's tooth brush or an elephant’s tooth brush?
Fun, Silliness and Laughter Are Marvelous Connectors
These are just a couple of the games I reach for when I sense that my kids are tired or impatient or generally not in the mood to cooperate. By engaging their imaginations—and by whole heartedly entering into the fun myself—I shift their mood and their attention before I have to give them a direct command.
Sometimes parents ask me why they have to put on a show or be entertaining. I always respond that while they don’t have to, why not? Our kids are in “adult” mode most of the day, responding to our barrage of commands (wash your hands, sit down, focus on your food, buckle up, line up, raise your hand, etc.,). Does it really cost so much for us to get into “kid” mode? To be silly? To be fun? Yes, we have to get our kids through their morning and evening routines, but does it have to be a battle? When we are in power mode, that makes our kids feel disconnected from us just as they are about to separate from us for the day or for a night’s sleep. Why not help them feel safe, secure and connected with some giggles and gaffaws? My bet is it will make you feel better, too!
I hope you will give these a try. And then let me know how it went.
Or do you have some great games you use in your house? Share the wealth! Let me know about them, and I’ll pass them on.
Joyful Parenting Coaching