I recently asked a friend what she had been up to and she answered, “Not much. I’ve just been playing with my kids.”
I asked her to restate her answer without “Not much” and without the word “just.” With a quizzical look, she obliged. I then asked her, “Didn’t that feel better?” She agreed that it did.
You might be surprised at the power of play. Even when we’re busy—and who isn’t busy—play can be a priority for our children and us. “I’ve been playing with my kids” is a goal to set and meet.
What do you think of when you think back to your childhood? Many of us think of the many “little” things that made up quality family time. Some big things will make the list. For me, being shocked with the gift of a viola when I was 12 is on my list. After renting one for a while, my parents knew I was serious about learning how to play and improving my skill. Buying me my own viola communicated their belief in me. That was more valuable to me than the gift itself.
Children Should Play NowMany children, regardless of age, haven’t been able to live as children during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve had to learn online, isolated from friends. They’ve had to work at home, rather than play at home. In addition to typical chores, many cared for siblings and helped their parents, who were distracted and extra busy working from home. Having parents close-at-hand but unavailable can be confusing for a child.
Play With ChildrenOne of my saddest encounters with a child occurred when I researched how children believe parents’ phones affect them. At a park play area, a young boy’s countenance changed from happy-go-lucky to sad as he shared, “I wish my mom played with me instead of taking pictures of me playing.” I’ve heard this echoed by many, many children throughout the years.
Some people have said, “Love is spelled T-I-M-E.” To a large extent, that’s true. “Like” is also spelled T-I-M-E. Children frequently tell me, “My parents have to love me. I wish they liked me.” They follow this with, “My dad sometimes plays with me, but I don’t think he wants to play my game with me. I wish he wanted to,” and, “My mom tells me to ‘go play,’ but I like playing best with her. She’s always busy. If she liked me more, maybe she’d want to spend time with me.”
I respect that you’re busy. I fully recognize you had to think about whether you had the time to read this article. Every minute matters to busy parents. That’s why saying “yes” to our children encourages them deeply. Playing with them communicates both love and like!
When children invite us to play with them, they notice when we stop working, reading our book, or visiting with a friend to say “yes.” When we initiate play without them asking, they notice. When we prioritize them, they feel loved. They know they’re loved. But it goes deeper than that. They also feel liked.
What’s the value of your children knowing you like them? They’ll feel known, which is the heart’s desire for everyone. They’ll feel wanted, which meets a need we all have. Because they’re known and wanted, they’ll feel safe with you. This makes everything more positive. Children’s behavior will be more consistent. Security also increases cooperation, confidence, and obedience. But there’s still more.
Play for the HeartThrough play, parent-child relationships can again be defined by joy and togetherness rather than disappointment and separation. In addition, by simply prioritizing play, frustration, fatigue, and anger can decrease. The mental health benefits are real.
Playing to take a break from technology and the intensity of work is good for everyone. It leads to more rest. Stress lifts and confusion dies out. Contentment and clarity result. Loneliness and isolation are replaced by renewed relationships and fellowship.
Character can grow. When children only play games by themselves on their devices, they can quit games they might lose, develop pride when they win, and get angry when they don’t.
When children play with others, they’re more likely to develop self-control and learn humility when they win and patience and teachability when they lose. They can learn sacrifice, selflessness, and respect for others as they let siblings choose what outdoor game to play, help younger siblings learn new board games, and celebrate someone else’s victory.
Learning resiliency, helping children to bounce back quickly from disappointment and defeat, might be among the best reasons to prioritize play this summer and beyond. Our children have experienced a lot of loss. Negativity and fear are common. We can’t allow children to be so overwhelmed by it all that they’re defined by loss.