Playful Parenting - Engaging Your Child's Sense of Play and Rediscovering Your Own
Playful parenting is about much more than having fun. In this fast-paced, information-packed society, we often forget that play is essential to the development of creativity and the kind of intelligence that can change the world through unique and visionary innovation. Although child psychologists have long recognized the value of play and equated it with children's work, the ability to play is equally important for adults. If you've lost your sense of playfulness, you've lost your creativity and a direct line to your soul. In this article, you'll learn how to recover your love of play and use it to create deep bonds with your children. You'll discover why playfulness is essential to creating a joyful life and helping your children reach their full potential.
The word play means to amuse oneself or engage in recreation. It comes from the Old English word pleyen which means to leap for joy, to dance or rejoice. We've all been witness to a child's joy in play—cascades of giggles that deepen into belly laughs, squeals of delight, the expression of exhilaration on a toddler's face as he takes his first unassisted step. This is play as physical discovery and its resulting joy is contagious, even for those who are merely looking on. For young children, then, play is an active, rather than a passive endeavor—it is a state of "be"-ing.
What Play is Not (There are No Excuses in the Realm of Playful Parenting)
Activities that involve watching or reacting to images (such as watching t.v. or playing video games) hardly qualify as play. Physical play (in conjunction with imagination) engages body, mind and spirit in an activity that requires focus, creativity, engagement, responsiveness and spontaneity. Play requires interacting with other people, other beings (such as pets), the mind and its environment, whether real or imagined.
Although some adults argue that playing a video game qualifies as play, it does not fit with our definition. At most, it is passive play because the content is pre-imagined. Even though a child may leap from the couch in victory after winning a video game, It does not equate with the flood of feelings and feel-good endorphins that are created through active play and earned successes in the world. Although playing video games requires hand-eye coordination, hitting a home run in a video game is not the same thing as hitting one on a baseball field.
Adult Play - The Basis for Playful Parenting
When we think of play, we associate it with children, but there are many adults who play at their profession. Conceptual play—the act of imagining—has great value when translated into something real. Think of the author who plays with a concept until she uncovers its subtleties and insights that lead her to write an article that inspires others by turning a concept on its head or presenting it in a new light.
Or consider the actress who imagines the life experiences that would lead a character to say and do the things in a writer's script. She plays with ideas, beliefs, intentions and imagined experiences until she can make the character come to life, not just to herself, but to others. Her performance is so convincing that we suspend disbelief and even though we know that she is an actress, for the duration of the movie, we believe that she is the character she plays.
Or contemplate the runner who visualizes his fear as just another competitor that he can catch up to and push past. Once on the track, he uses his mind to beat it at its own game and discovers the strength and confidence that lead him to new heights of physical mastery.
Each of these is an example of adult play which translates naturally into playful parenting. Play, coupled with self-reflection, makes life meaningful, fuels our sense of purpose and helps us discover who we are.
Play as Child's Work
Play works in a similar way for children. As children play, they learn about themselves and the world. Play teaches them about relationships, the politics of power and how roles determine how we interact. Imaginative play fosters curiosity, the courage to ask "why" and "what if" and reveals the mind's ability to innovate, reinvent and turn the world around. Physical play revitalizes the body and spirit, releasing tension and soothing jangled nerves. In fact, in many ways, play is like meditation because in order to play, you must be present. Play teaches children to follow their imagination, trust their senses and develop and challenge their physical abilities.
Rules of Engagement for Playful Parenting
The number one rule of playful parenting is that by definition, play is productive. Even if it seems silly, such as having an tea party with your five-year old and her dolls and stuffed animals, it has value because it's about engaging with others, forming relationships, discovering and defining and re-defining the self by role playing in various imaginary situations.
For instance, when my eldest son was three, he loved the t.v. show The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. We watched the shows together, sang the theme song whenever it popped into our heads, read books and practiced our kicks, spins and jumps together.
At night, after dinner, we'd go outside in the front yard and battle the imaginary villains from the show. It was a guided visualization with my son, Dakotah, at the helm, narrating all the action. "Blue ranger," he'd command, "Watch out! Lord Zed is right behind you!"
Since my car was parked on the street in the front of the house and obscured the view of our front yard, I knew that my neighbors saw me out there, leaping through the air and doing karate kicks, but because of his size, they probably couldn't see my son. I didn't mind if they thought that I'd gone crazy because I knew intuitively the value of playful parenting and what it was creating for my son and I. I knew this before I'd read a single word about the benefits of playful parenting. I didn't need some ivory tower theorist pointing out the obvious.
You see, playful parenting is about connection and engagement—it is has little to do with theory. Play is active meditation because it puts you in the here and now and then heightens it with the magic of imagination. By sharing in my son's active fantasies, I became privy to his inner world. Through play he communicated his needs, fears, frustrations, and shared his hopes and dreams. Play was his attempt to make sense of a confusing world in which children have little power.
And so, I played with him and as I did, I discovered what he need to feel safe, to grow, to expand his self-perceptions and his little-kid, black-and-white view of the world. Play became his metaphor, his language—a two-way communication. Through play, I accompanied my son on the journey to answering the questions he couldn't put into words, filling his deepest needs, and helping him discover the joy and power of a healthy and fully functioning body, heart and mind.
What I haven't mentioned about playful parenting were the benefits to me. That passionate little three-year old boy with his chubby pointing finger and take-charge attitude reminded me how to play. After thirty years of striving to become a mature adult, someone had finally reminded me of the value of play and wonder that accompanies it. The beauty of this simple gift is so profound that even as I write this some ten year later, I blink back tears.
What makes me sad is that so many parents miss out on this, but it's not that their children do not try. They tug their parent's hand and say, as my kids still do, "Mommy, will you come be with me?" God, I love that question. There's so much in it. Will you be with me, connect with me, see me? Will you enter into my world? Unfortunately, many parents turn down the invitation to engage in playful parenting because they fail to see that play has inherent value and that is creates lasting connections between parent and chld.
Believe me, I know—the dishes need doing, the laundry is piling up and the bills are insurmountable—so who has time to play some silly little kid game? You do. If you value your relationship with your child, then engage him with playful parenting and let him help you rediscover your joyful side. When play is over, I guarantee you'll return to your tasks with more energy and enthusiasm.
Playful Parenting Tips
- Next time your child asks you to play, be spontaneous and graciously and enthusiastically accept the invitation. Even if you don't feel all that enthusiastic, discover what it feels like to be willing to be child-led and let your child direct you and what happens during play.
- Focus on what you're doing. Every time you find yourself thinking about your to-do list, catch yourself and choose to be in the moment with your child. Notice those moments in which you play with abandon. How does this feel to you?
- Notice any resistance to playful parenting. Pay attention to any agitation you feel—that's just your indoctrination. You've been trained by society to value doing (in this case, your own to-do list and agenda) over be-ing in the moment. Let your child remind you of what it means to be fully present—this is one area where children truly are our teachers.
- Reflect on the value of your play together. Remember that children play to have fun, but also to make sense of the world and to communicate what they can't put into words.
For instance, one parent told me that she was playing dolls with her daughter when she watched her daughter role play a mother-child interaction. The doll that was the mother was using harsh tones and being brusque with the doll that was the child. In that moment, the woman saw herself and the way she often treats her child. Playful parenting led to a realization that transformed her and her relationship with her daughter.
Playful parenting is a wonder-filled way to see who your child is, what she needs from you and how she views the world. The benefits to parent and child are immeasurable. Playing with your child forges strong parent-child bonds and creates a bridge of communication that transcends words.
About the author: Laura Ramirez is the author of the award-winning parenting book, Keepers of the Children. The book uses a combination of developmental pscyhology and native ideas (such as stewardship and good medicine) to teach parents how to raise children to act from integrity and strength.
Laura Ramirez is available for interview and has done numerous radio and t.v. shows. To contact her or to inquire about the possibility of publishing her articles on your site, use the Contact Us link to the right.
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Playful Parenting - Child Development
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