Play Better #13: Strengthening Family Relationships Through Play

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Parent-child play is profoundly meaningful and has more value than we may be aware of.

Play allows us to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence and connection. It is a safe environment in which our children consciously choose to reveal themselves to us; and the more we join them in their world, the more cooperative they will be when we take them along to ours. By keeping parent-child play alive throughout childhood, parents can foster an ongoing connection that transcends the initial years and continues into adulthood, forming a solid foundation for a lifelong relationship that will stand the test of time.

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On a shorter-term outlook, playing together is a great way to find out the ins and outs of our children’s lives. When role-playing or play-pretending, little ones often draw on real-life situations that they have either witnessed or experienced. If we keep our eyes, ears and mind open, it is not difficult to string together the interactions they have had, things they have done, new words, actions, or expressions they have picked up. This is especially helpful if your child are not verbal sharers, or do not know how to fully express themselves yet.

When we play with our children, we are not just connecting and engaging them in quality time, but also sending a strong message that we are genuinely interested to know them as individuals. This contributes to their overall sense of emotional security as they grow older, helping them gain the right confidence, esteem, and fortitude to be well-grounded, emotionally balanced adults.

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How should parents engage or bond with their children through toys?

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Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, we lose the joy of playing. Work, stress and the demands of daily life replace playtime. The more serious we have to be at work, the harder it can be to loosen up and play with the freedom and abandon that our children love. Sometimes, even mustering up the enthusiasm can be work – especially when we find the activity boring or unexciting. Some of us may even feel awkward about pretending to slurp up a non-existent meal, while some just don’t know how to be animals or vehicles. Whatever it is, we all have our individual hesitations, and sometimes they get in the way of uninhibited play.

The key here, then, is to reframe our thoughts and focus on the real purpose. Why are we doing this? Is it really to enjoy the play activity that we have been made to sit through, or is it to establish one-on-one quality time with our children?
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Give yourself permission to admit that child’s play can sometimes be un-engaging for us as adults. And after you’ve done that, transition, refocus, and stretch. The joys of playing can sometimes be rediscovered with time if we put in enough practice. Our goal first and foremost, is to reach out to our children and enter their comfort zones, to get to know them and understand what makes them tick. And this can be done by allocating blocks of play time where they get 100% of our attention – no phone calls, no electronic devices, no TV, no distractions.

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8 Quick Ideas…

Still stumped? Here are 8 ways to get started!

1. Recognize the importance of play in your child’s education and give it priority.

2. Understand that you don’t have to devote hours to play. Even short spurts of 15 minutes at a time are enough.

3. Build playtime into your daily schedule in the same way you schedule mealtime, naptime and story time into a day.

 photo HABA 8_zpsobmc9hzu.jpg4. Figure out what you may enjoy playing with. Did you have a childhood penchant for trains, or perhaps cooking? Some games or jigsaw puzzles also require skills like strategic thinking or problem solving, and can be challenging fun even for adults.

5. Turn to outdoor play. There is no way frolicking outdoors in the sandbox or water or won’t lift your spirits.

6. Introduce your child to some of the games of your youth. Classic games have a way of triggering happy memories from your own childhood, and make for excellent bonding material as you introduce your own child to a secret world that was once yours.

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7. Turn story time into playtime by acting out the stories with gestures and funny voices. It’ll make reading that one story for the umpteenth time a little more enjoyable for you. As your child becomes more familiar with the story, they can act out parts too.

8. Be aware. Remember that time flies and soon your children will be older and will involve you less and less in their activities and daily routines. This is precious time, so revel in it while it lasts.

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