Whenever I remember to build some playfulness in our daily life, the things that aren’t necessarily fun but need to get done happen in a way that keeps everyone happier and smoothes the path for the rest of the day.
The trick for me is to remember. Sometimes I feel too mentally or physically drained (or both) to make a little extra effort to see some humour or irony in a task or situation even though I usually feel more energized when I do. I guess it’s because I’m making it more fun for myself and also being more creative.
I have this moment of eureka every once in a while – the last time while watching my son gleefully running in an open space. I remembered that if I incorporate running into almost anything, it instantly becomes more fun for him – and despite my fatigue – more fun for me. My son has two speeds – dawdling and running. And when I run along with him or chase him, even if I don’t do it for long, it seems to be enough to make him feel I am with him in his playful movement.
So I thought this would be a good time to talk about a book I read a couple of years ago called Playful Parenting: An exciting new approach to raising children that will help you nurture close connections; solve behaviour problems; and encourage confidence, written by Lawrence J. Cohen.
My own parents, though loving, didn’t really have time to play with us much. However, they both had a healthy dose of playfulness in and between them, and a penchant for the ridiculous and the ironic which came out in their daily lives.
I don’t remember yearning for my parents to play with me, but luckily for me, they were intuitively being playful no matter what we are doing. Whether it was chores, homework, travelling, or even being disciplined there was usually some joking going on – something Cohen encourages parents to strive for.
I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s always easy to make light of daily life and struggle or that the family I grew up with was happy and rosy all the time, but I do acknowledge that my parents gave us a mostly happy home and that has been a blessing in my life.
Cohen, a psychologist and family therapist says “When we join children in their world of play we unlock the door to their inner lives and meet them heart-to-heart”. He calls play “the bridge back to a deep emotional bond”.
Those are pretty powerful and touching statements about the value of carving out some playtime with our children.
But play is not always easy for adults we often find childrens’ activities boring and repetitive – and apparently unproductive. This, it turns out, is far from the truth.
Play for children is a place of magic and imagination but also meaningful and complex. It is their main way of communicating, allows for the sifting and sorting of a multitude of information, and helps them manage stress.
Yet somewhere around the time of adolescence we start to lose the knack for playing, both from lack of practice and from becoming preoccupied with adult worries.
Cohen says this loss gets in the way of having meaningful interactions with children but that we have to take the initiative, especially in times when children need us most – not surprisingly when we have the least time, patience, and attentiveness. When we ourselves are irritable, busy, or preoccupied they pick up our stress and act out and become irritated (and irritating?) as well.
Isn’t that always the way?
But take heart! Cohen says we don’t have to move into the world of children. They also need to play away from adults – but that we do need to play with them some of the time.
And for that we need to have time. Time enough to spend playng and not playing together. Time for us as parents so we are able to give it back to them. And time for our children to feel free to process their lives, dream their dreams, and come to a place of calm and happiness.
As I write this I am thinking about the work of former Canadian olympian Silken Laumann and the writings of David Elkind, specifically his book, the Hurried Child.
Silken Laumann’s work and book, Child’s Play “is a call for action, an inspirational guide to reconnecting with our kids, and an introduction to inspiring examples for building safe, supportive communities and healthy schools.”
And the Hurried Child, and other work by David Elkind in a nutshell, says that we need to give children more time to play and have the freedom to explore who they are instead of rushing them through an arbitary checklist of skills and accomplishments.
Next time, I’m going to tell you some of the ways we try to make parenting more playful in our house. I hope you will add to the list so we can all keep these ideas handy
But in the meantime, try not to worry – and get out and play!