Introverts Can Play Too
I asked whether my followers on Instagram would be interested in this topic and the response was absolutely overwhelming! So many of you sent me messages saying that they often worry about whether they are up to the job, whether they are 'enough' for their kids, in this respect. So here I am, talking you through a specific strain of imposter syndrome that can be so hindering to families. I talk daily about the need for play in children's lives, and the benefits of using play as a vehicle for learning skills and independence. Emma from @the_playful_den speaks brilliantly about the adult need for play too, but how do we go about this when we worry that we are not playful, or 'fun' enough within ourselves?
Childhood play is often a noisy, physical and emotional affair, so if we are not noisy, physical and emotional adults it can be quite intimidating to make an attempt to infiltrate this playfulness into your day to day. Here's the thing: play time does not have to be these things! Play can also be quiet, mindful, sensitive, slow, still and remain a fun, positive experience.
I'm a conservative dresser, I don't speak up unless I have something to say, and nobody is more surprised than I am that I have a public Instagram account! So, some days I feel the imposter syndrome inner critic speaking more loudly and with more clarity: WHO ARE YOU TO ADVISE OTHERS ABOUT PLAY? My answer? I am someone who is passionate about play, someone who fiercely believes that children should have access to play as often as possible, and someone who has the professional experience to think outside the box when it comes to learning and education.
On days that I don't actively play, I facilitate it. I provide opportunities throughout the day to play, and to explore new ideas and concepts in a safe environment. If you can do this too, then you ARE playful. You can just as effectively communicate fun and playfulness with some encouragement, eye contact, join in their laughter, by asking a silly question or doing something ridiculous and unexpected. You don't have to be dressed head to toe in neon colours, whilst jumping on the sofas and singing karaoke. By stepping back and observing your child play, you are not taking over, or steering them, you are being child-led and a witness to their imaginative and developmental progress. You are on hand to assist if need be, and you are encouraging a slow and steady but importantly secure pathway to independent play. You are giving your child a huge gift whenever you participate in OR facilitate play. So every time that you do, please notice and allow yourself to feel happiness and satisfaction in that moment. Play does not have to be elaborate or some huge event. I hope that those of you who have followed me for a while know that this is a core belief of mine. By bringing a little fun to daily life, it becomes play. Washing the dishes can be great play for children, reading a story using silly voices for each character, providing cups and bowls during bath time. It all counts, it's all worthy and it is all valid.
I often get asked how to fit in play if you are working full time. My answer is, don't feel pressure to carve out time that doesn't exist - that will only cause stress. Instead try to think of ways that you can turn the tasks that you already need to do (bath and bedtime) into more playful occasions. Practical suggestions: for bath time why not try bubble beards, blowing bubbles, pouring and scooping using ladles and cups, colour themed baths, add a drop or two of food colouring to the water, add glow sticks to the baths and turn off the lights, add bath crayons, crazy sculpting soap, add some food colouring to some shaving foam to give your child with a paintbrush to paint the tiles, play some calming spa music from your phone, add a drop of essential oil to the bath water? At bedtime read a bedtime story under the covers with a torch, use silly voices, make up a story each saying a sentence (warning, this gets silly, quickly!), have a massage, ask your child to tell you their first memory, sing a song together, look outside and see if you can play a quick game of pee-po with the moon and clouds (thanks to gorgeous Fay for that idea, it's become a firm favourite in this house!)
I hope that this has given you the encouragement and reassurance that you needed. Navigating the very basics of day to day life now is monumentally hard at the moment, do not add to the stress by allowing guilt or a sense of inadequacy creep in. Those feelings are not valid, you are doing a truly wonderful job already! If you ever have any questions please do email me, I'm always happy to have a chat and more often than not the solution is much simpler than we first think!