I was inspired to write this blog in response to the blog “I Hate Playing With My Children” One would think as a play therapist, I would find this upsetting and be judgemental, but I actually LOVE it. It is a brave statement that is true and authetic. First let me speak to you as a parent who knows how you feel. Lives are busy and there never seems to be enough hours in the day. As you are trying to cook, do laundry and emails, your child walks in and says “Play with me.” Ugh, play? In your mind your thinking, “Why me?” “Why can’t she just play by herself?” “Not another lego creation.” You then, with a deep breath, drop what your doing to “play.” You will sacrifice the dishes or even time to finsih that book you've wanted to read to spend time with your child and then everything seems to go wrong. The play turns into a power struggle and no one is having any fun. You begin to resent your child for being the boss and you try to somehow teach a lesson in the midst of it. The more you try to direct the more rigid your child becomes and this special parent/child playdate is a trainwreck. You love your child more than anything in the world but this play thing is just not for you. I get it.
Now, let me put on my play therapy hat. Many adults do not know how to play and when they do try to play with their child, things go awry. I hear parents say that “I try to play with my child but when I do, they tell me "I’m doing everyting wrong and they just want to be in control.” Stuart Brown, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul defines play as “purposeless, all-consuming, and fun.” We have all seen our children engaged in this happy place of play where they are relaxed, humming, singing and in a place of pure joy. Adults have these times too. Think about when you are at play and at your happiest. When was the last time you felt that way? When was the last time you were dancing around the kitchen or rocking out as you blast the music in your car. When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt?
Play is a child’s language and it is critical for social and emotional development. If children are communicating through play, and you can’t speak their language (or don’t want to learn it), watch out, because acting out behaviors will occur. Children want to be understood and heard. They want you to engage in their play and follow their lead. They want to feel that sense of control. When parents understand how to play with their child anything is possible. Check out the article that I wrote on Liana Lowensteins’s site on How to play with your child.” It gives you a format to follow on engaging your child in play without obstructing it. If you can let go and fully be present (no phone, tv, computer) amazing things will happen. You will feel more connected to your child then you ever have before. Children have plenty of stressors and rules, so when they are given child centered time to play and they can make the rules, it is empowering and alleviates stress. It is a time where they get to decide and you give them permission to be in control of their play. They are speaking to you through their stories and world of make believe. Enjoy the ride and be a part of it. It does get easier with practice. I’m sure many of you would feel it is more necessary to sit and help your child with homework than play with them. Well, I’m going to stress the importance of this play time. The American Academy of Pediatrics fought on the importance of play stating ,"Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children."
Check out this video guide that Beth Richey and I created to teach Special Playtime.
You may not be having “purposeless, all-consuming fun,” but your child is and they are figuring out the world around them. They are expressing their internal world and giving you an opportunity to get a glimpse of it. By finding special scheduled play time and undrerstanding how to play with your child, you will find more pleasure and less pain. Also make time for adult play. There are so many benefits of play and the more joy and play you bring into your life, the more you will bring into the family life. As Bernard George Shaw said "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing."
Shout out to Scary Mommy for being real!