family play is important

Why Play is Even More Important Right Now

If your child is begging you to play more lately, it’s not just because they are missing their friends. And, if you can play along with play, you may find yourself a happier parent too, says Hand in Hand Instructor Stacy Wilson.

In our household tensions were rising and fighting among the children was becoming more common. We live in a mixed household made up of 4 children and 3 adults (cousins, siblings, sibling-in-laws), and are now 10 months into the pandemic with a fairly tight local quarantine.

Just this past week one of my children decided she wanted to plan a party. 

My heart sank. 

Unfortunately we had just been moved into a second wave of a full force “stay at home order”, so inviting anyone outside of our household was not an option. Still she trudged forward with her plans. 

She busied herself and others in the preparations. Banners, tickets, signs directing people to the living room, snacks, activities, and games were all prepared. 

Then they counted down the hours until the appointed start time.

When the time came to begin her party everyone gathered in the living room. Tickets were handed in and the activities began. There were coloring pages, board games, and snacks to start. 

After some time the kids declared a “snow ball fight” of kids vs adults. We used some play mats to set up two opposing bases and the snowball fight began. 

The three younger children giggled as they ran around attacking the adults with the fake indoor snowballs and even attracted the tween of the house into the play. 

As adults we feigned and hollered when hit with the balls and tried our darndest to keep up. There were fort takeovers, sneak attacks, and by the end full on anarchy of any “rules”. It was fun for all and the laughter from everyone was a welcome refuge from the world outside of our home. 

Since then, the children have been more cooperative all around, the adults more at ease, and everything is feeling just a tiny bit lighter than before. 

Play is such a powerful tool to connect us with one another. It takes very little outside resources and mostly requires the power of attention and a little creativity. 

As parents, it can be hard to embrace play. We have lots to do. More now than ever, juggling the meal prep and chores, changing schedules, navigating new rules and guidelines. We are also at the centre of our children’s world, and there are not many friends close by to buffer us against their endless desire to play. That all adds up to exhaustion!

But play does more than double duty for kids. Play nurtures. It lets kids control an element of their lives. It builds their intellect and judgment. If you have been worried about them “missing out,” on their education, or socially, fear not, play fills the gap. 

And play also connects, providing comfort and security. If you have noticed your child is clingier than usual, or demands to play more, they may not be merely seeking a friend replacement. Rather, they could be looking for your closeness and reassurance that, despite everything happening in the world right now, they still have your connection and protection. Yes, play is an ideal antidote to pandemic stress and anxiety. 

The good news is that, with this added connection in place, tensions can be laughed or played away. In fact, laughter is a fantastic indicator that your child is making the best of their play. When tensions fade, other offtrack behaviors, the sibling squabbles, fighting and defiance, happens less too. 

That kind of connection boosts everyone's mood, adults and kids alike.

On this particular day, it provided our entire household with a uniting and connecting force that was much needed in these trying and stressful times. 

8 ways to play and boost your child's well-being

Do You Find Play Exhausting? These 8 Ideas Make Play Less Painful

Play can be hard at the best of times, even without the stress of a pandemic. So don’t feel too bad if you find yourself avoiding play. You will find that, if you can make play a regular part of your day, those days will be less tense and more joyful. 

Try these eight ideas to make play happen—with less effort on your part. 

  1. Set aside time each day where you WILL play, and tell your child when that is. It can be for 2, 5, 10 or more minutes depending on what you can stand, but do your very best to make it happen. 
  2. Take the idea above but call it Special Time or Yes time, and set a timer. During this time, put away any distractions, tell your child they can play whatever they’d like, and  follow your child in what they choose. Try your best to let them make up rules, direct you, and laud their power over you. This play is transformative for building close connection and security, and will shift tension and bad feeling. There’s a free guide to Special Time here if you are new to it.
  3. Devote an hour or half hour before bed for physical family play. Chase, hide, laugh, run, throw balls, or, like we did, “snowballs” (Balled up socks work great for this). What really helps is to act incompetent—so you are the one chasing and falling, you are the one getting nerf-gunned in the butt. This way your kids go to bed on a high note, happy and tuckered out.
  4. Set up stations where they can play while you get chores done. If you are doing laundry have them pair socks, or throw them in the basket. Turn the basket into a car. If you are chopping veggies, give them a few to try (or use play dough if they are too young for cutlery). This boosts their sense of connection, without intense play. 
  5. When you need some me time, move the toys! Put usual toys in new positions, or pretend to tidy a cupboard and have them decide what to throw away. Nine times out of ten they will find a new “favorite” toy to get busy with, while you get mindful with a cup of coffee. 
  6. Schedule in your own Listening Time and complain about what and how often your kids want to play. This is a great outlet for you to shift your own stress, without offending them or losing it. Parents say they go back to their kids more willing to play too.
  7. Offer “mini-connections” throughout the day. Play is often a big call for you once your child’s cup is empty, if you can keep it fuller for longer, they will be more content to play independently in between. So, start the day with a snuggle, ruffle their hair when they start their lessons, blow a kiss over a snack. Say hi to lunch with a hug before you eat, and send them back on their way in the afternoon with a piggyback or playful pat on the back. Race them to the bathroom. Bet they cannot push you off the couch before you snuggle up and read. 
  8. Use Instructor Megha Mawandia’s “Connection rule of three,” to keep your child’s cup filled with connection. Megha says to start the day with connection, like a hug, a snuggle or a play, then include some Special Time in the middle of the day, and plan some physical play in the late afternoon. Parents she works with note increased ease, with their kids happier to eat dinner and settle to bed. 

These parents can’t believe, she says, that they actually get more time to themselves, once they set up those three daily playtimes. 

How do you feel about play in the pandemic? Is your child asking to play more? Have you noticed the difference when you do play?

 

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