Updated: Aug 21
Why is Play Good for Parents?
Parents are often so overloaded that we are too tired for the perfect antidote to our stressful lives: play. Play is essential for adults as well as for children. And it is especially good for busy parents whose minds and bodies are in overdrive. Play is the pixie dust that makes our lives feel lighter. Creating more space to be playful gives parents room to breathe, to relax, to laugh a little more (and shout a little less) and enjoy being a part of our family.
When you watch children playing, it is impossible not to be struck by how completely absorbed they are by what they are doing. Being truly playful involves stepping into the moment and being totally engaged in the present. It is what psychologists call a state of ‘flow’ in which we lose our self-consciousness and immerse ourselves in the moment. Activities that induce flow are consistently linked to reduced stress and to improved mental and emotional wellbeing. Play not only fuels children’s development, it is great for parents too. Play can help us de-stress, connect with our children and boost our wellbeing.
Playfulness is mindful
Creating time for play in family life is more than just putting a tick in the Fun Mum/Dad box. Real playfulness involves being 100% in the moment and going with the flow. It is the epitome of mindfulness and the perfect antidote to stress.
I’m not talking about the type of play where the parent is in charge, where you tell your child what to do or control the activity. I mean joint and reciprocal play where you are both equal play partners and build on each other’s ideas. Like children do together. The type of play where you tune into each other, suspend your typical roles and have real fun.
It might be running around play, or dressing up role-play, or building something together. Or a game of Snap! or a car racing game on the console – it doesn’t really matter, and it doesn’t have to take long. What matters is that you are both engaged and enjoying it. Immersed in play, we are totally mindful and absorbed in the moment in a way that boosts everyone’s wellbeing like a shot of Vitamin C.
Play makes you feel like you are getting it right
Play not only makes parenting more enjoyable, it also makes you feel like a better parent. It gives a greater meaning to everything you do as a parent.
A busy ‘To Do’ list approach to family life will always leave you feeling like you could be doing better, because there will always be something left on the list that you haven’t accomplished. But when we enter into a joint spirit of playfulness with our children, we hit that sweet zone where the whole point of children illuminates. This is what childhood is about. This is what we became parents for. And that sense of meaning and joy create a greater sense of competence, that we are somehow on a deeper level getting it right as parents.
And, in a world where parents are so often wracked with doubt and guilt about doing the right thing, those moments when we really feel like we are getting it right are truly precious.
Playing with children strengthens your connection
Relationships thrive on joint positive experiences. When we are really enjoying ourselves, we communicate that in all our facial expressions and body language.
Playing with children strengthens your connection with them and deepens your understanding of them. When children play together in imaginative play, they are simultaneously engaged in their own play but also alert and open to their play partners. They read each other’s subtle signals and build on each other’s ideas. If you can suspend your adult self and be that equal play partner with your child, even for short bursts, it brings huge rewards in terms of building a strong relationship with your child.
Because joint playfulness requires you to tune in to your child, to read their mood and intentions. It requires trust and creates a better understanding of each other. Being playful with children conveys acceptance – that you like them and enjoy them exactly the way they are, which is fantastic for building children’s self-esteem. And parents receive the same love and validation in return.
So, go ahead, forget you’re a grown up! Find fifteen minutes to immerse yourself fully in play. To hell with the washing up, those dinosaurs need rescuing from the evil sheep! Horse around. Kick a ball. Lie on a blanket and find pictures in the stars. Tune into play, be in the moment and let your mind and body rejuvenate.
Anita Cleare MA AdvDip is a parenting speaker, writer and coach and Director of the Positive Parenting Project. Her new book (aff link) The Work/Parent Switch: How to parent smarter not harder is full of practical tips to help working parents create a happy family life which is low on conflict, high in warmth and good for children’s development, available to buy at (aff link) Amazon, Waterstones and Penguin.