“Mommy, you promised we could play Candy Land today.” “Dad, can we shoot some hoops later on?”
“Hey Mom, I just got a great idea for something we can make!” “C’mon Pop, let’s have some fun; show me your stuff.”
Kids and play. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Fish and water. Sun and shine. But kids, play, AND parents?
Play is Work for Kids
Play is one of the key ways kids learn – about themselves and their world. Through a wide variety of play experiences, they learn important information about their bodies and how they function. They use their five senses to discover new textures and tastes, scents and sounds, faces and places. School-age children gain valuable practice in sharing, compromise, and cooperation through interactive play. Just as parents have a “job” they must do, play is the “work” of childhood. It fuels the developmental process of growing.
Parents also “play” a valuable role in this “work.” Putting aside your own priorities and focusing solely on playing with your child sends him vital life messages. To a child, time with you equals love. Focusing your attention and being directly involved in an activity with him says, without words: “I care.” “You are special.” “I value you.” “You are worth my time and attention.” These messages help to form the core of a child’s self-esteem.
“Genuine Encounter” (*)
Children thrive when they are given your full attention. But giving full attention isn’t always easy. Parents often get so preoccupied with their tasks that they give only “partial” encounter – if any at all. Not only does “genuine encounter” directly impact a child’s self-esteem, but it also serves to build up and strengthen the parent-child relationship that most hope will last a lifetime. Dad and Josh learn about each other and themselves as they play catch, wrestle on the floor, bake cookies, or read a story together. Regular play times can unite you and your children, free you from stress, and enable you to truly love and appreciate each other.
Obstacles to Genuine Encounter
It can be incredibly difficult to provide these “encounters” while your “to-do” lists scream for their own attention. Where does Mom fit in Candy Land with Megan and still find time to get dinner on the table in time to get Will to his piano lesson? A second obstacle may be that play may not come easily. You may not know how to play. During your growing-up years, opportunities for play may not have been provided or your parents may have placed a low value on playing with you. As an adult, you may hold the belief that “play is frivolous.” As a result, you may feel awkward or unproductive and thus avoid situations where you might be forced to play.
Established patterns of interacting can be tough to change. Even when you know your kids need you to have fun with them, you may shy away (and return to your “to-do” list in order to get things done), hoping siblings, friends, or other relatives will play with them. And what about all those toys you bought them to play with? Shouldn’t those occupy the kids and provide hours of independent play?
Other issues arise once your kids aren’t little anymore. Playing with older kids means letting go of the past, when they were younger and could be entertained by endless rounds of Old MacDonald. Sharing good times with older kids usually entails finding new ways to connect, which is often on their time schedule.
Bonuses for Parents
Yet there seem to be additional bonuses for parents who play with their children. Read the testimonials that follow from moms, dads, and even grandparents who were asked, “What are the benefits for you personally when you play with your children?”
Deb: It’s an opportunity to have fun again. I don’t often make the time for fun. When I play with my kids, I find out more about them – who they are.
Donna: So much of our work as a parent is structured. Play develops a whole other side. The more positive interactions we have with our kids, the more able they are to tolerate and comply with discipline.
Gary: Playing with the kids helps me to relax. It keeps me fit. It brings out my creativity. Most importantly, play strengthens the bond between me and my children.
Audrey: Playing with my kids raises my self-esteem because of the connection we develop. It lightens my mood. Makes me see life from a lighter perspective and develops my fun side.
Brady: Playing with my 6-month–old daughter is a major stress release. I receive feelings of love and appreciation.
Deanna: I feel rejuvenated if I can let go of my mental lists! (That takes effort!) I love to see the joy in the kids’ eyes. And I see the details – her eyelashes, the color of his hair, his expressions, the way she laughs….
Meg: Playing helps me rediscover my childhood. I experience unabashed laughter and giggles that just doesn’t happen often with adults.
Tom & Maxine: Playing provides an environment where you can grow closer to your grandchildren and at the same time gain recognition, personal satisfaction, new viewpoints, surprises…..and have a good time while being assured of repeat business!!!
By Pam Nicholson, Certified Parenting Educator
*Term coined by Dorothy Corkille Briggs in her book Your Child’s Self-Esteem
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