The Importance of Play (for Parents!)

A Carnival of Play is going on at PhD in Parenting right now and it got me thinking about how important play is — not for children (we already know that!) but for parents.

Parenthood can be hard work.  It can be exhausting, it can be challenging and it can wear us down.  One of the best ways to combat that and really enjoy parenthood is to learn how to be playful again. 

Most parents already play with their children, but it’s often in action only.  I’m not talking about getting down on the floor and playing Candyland for the 85th time or dutifully agreeing to play the part of Sparkle Pony (unless you really love Candyland and My Little Ponies).  Those things are wonderful for children, but they don’t do a whole lot for us.

The sort of playing that we need more of is the sort that makes us happy, too. 

We need to be present when we’redoing things with our kids, and find a way to do things to make it joyful for us at the same time.

One easy way to do this is to do things with our children that we love to do.  If we love gardening, we can introduce our kids to gardening.  If we love doing crafts, we can do them side by side.  If we love baseball, we can take our kids to games and volunteer as coaches for Little League.

We need to take it farther than that, though.  Those are hobbies and they’re enjoyable, but they are different from the world of play that children naturally gravitate towards.  If we join them in the truly magical play of childhood, it can do something magical for us as well.

When’s the last time you ran barefoot in the grass with your child?  When’s the last time you jumped in a puddle?  When’s the last time you squished your toes in the mud or built a sand castle?  Hopefully just this week!  If not, why not?  These things are fun!

There’s even a bit of science behind the importance of play for all of us.  Playing outside gets us more sun exposure, which gives us more Vitamin D (deficiencies are linked to everything from lowered immune function to depression) and sunlight is also a natural mood lifter.  Physical exercise releases endorphins, which boost feelings of happiness and fight pain.  Sensory activities help ground us and redirect our attention from stressors.  Some movements that kids typically use in play (such as spinning, jumping and swinging) are even helpful for stabilizing our emotions and helping us focus later.  And laughing… well, that helps us in an infinite number of ways.
Here’s some more ways to play today….

  • Go to the park and swing on the swings and use the equipment with your kids.  Put a child on your lap or playfully chase her around if you need a good excuse for using the stuff.
  • Fly kites.
  • Blow bubbles.
  • Get Hyper Dash and play it with the kids.  You’ll all get exercise and I’ve never met a person (of 4 or 40) who didn’t have a blast playing it.  (No kickbacks, incentives or even lovely thank you notes were offered for this recommendation)
  • If it’s warm enough, go run in the sprinkler together.
  • Get down on the floor with your baby or toddler and try to laugh together.  Try to make him laugh and then see how contagious it is.  Laugh together, as much as you can.
  • Be randomly silly.
  • Do puzzles, paper dolls or something else that you miss from your childhood.
  • Go rollerskating or rollerblading.
  • Get a big group game of frisbee or volleyball going.
  • Invest in some family games that really are fun for the whole family.  One that we like is the Scrambled States of America card game.  It happens to be educational but I have as much fun as the kids when we play it.  Twister is a classic, too, and we love to play Hyper Slide.  (Again, no kickbacks, just honest recommendations!)
  • Climb trees together.
  • Jump on the trampoline (or bed!).
  • Play tug of war.  To make it even, put all the kids against you or play one-handed.
  • Take your dog (or borrow a friend’s) to the park with the kids and wear everybody out playing fetch or something similar.
  • Buy a pack of rocket balloons and find a wide open space to shoot them off.  Try to catch them before they hit the ground on the way back down.  (Note: we get ours for $1 or $2 without pumps at discount stores.  We’re always sure to retrieve all the balloons and any scraps of popped ones afterwards so wildlife isn’t harmed, too.)
  • Have a water balloon fight.  Aim for legs unless people ask to be hit higher so the little ones aren’t terrorized.  🙂
  • Play the alphabet balloon game inside.  Blow up a balloon and take turns bopping it with the kids.  The catch?  You have to say a word that starts with whatever letter you’ve chosen before you can hit it.  Older kids need to say 2 syllable words and grown ups need to say 3 (or even 4) syllable words. 
  • Play a video game together.
  • Shoot hoops in the driveway or park.
  • Play a nighttime game of hide-and-seek or flashlight tag in the back yard.
  • Find a big mountain of dirt and climb it together.
  • Play Marco Polo and other water games in the pool.
  • Play marbles.
  • Hula hoop.  I bet it’ll be harder than you remember!  🙂

Whatever it is, just try to get messy, get active, get goofy and have fun!

Parenthood can be hard work, but it can also be a lot of fun if we let it.  It is also so much more fun for kids when we are truly having a blast along with them. 

We parents need magical moments, too.

Have you had your fun today? 

1 Comment

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One response to “The Importance of Play (for Parents!)

  1. Anonymous

    hi, thanks for this post..i was feeling guilty that i did not Want to do anything fun with the kids anymore.. thanks for the ideas.

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