Playful and…parenting. Do those two words actually go together? In your home, if they don’t go together, they really need to. How often have your kids been loud and boisterous? And was your response some version of, “Okay. That’s enough. All of y’all just go outside and play.” If so, you just missed a very teachable moment. Instead of shushing them and getting them out of your hair, consider joining them in some playful parenting.
Educator and author Ravi Mishra brought this to mind in one of his recent LinkedIn posts. He notes, “As parents, we play a crucial role in shaping our children’s experiences and helping them grow into well-rounded individuals. One incredibly effective way to do this is through playful parenting.”
So, what is playful parenting? It involves infusing joy, creativity, and imagination into everyday interactions with our children. It's about engaging with them on their level, joining them in their world of make-believe, and creating opportunities for fun and laughter. Play is the language children understand best; let's speak it fluently and watch them thrive.
Playful parenting is most critical in your child’s formative years, from birth to age 5. That’s also the time where 80% of their personality is formed, primarily from your interactions with them and from your influence. However, it’s important to match your playful parenting to your child’s life stage. Elementary school, tweenage years, adolescence, and adulthood all offer opportunities for teachable moments with your children.
To be a meaningful part of your child’s play activity, your parenting stimulates five qualities of playful experiences. Your time with them is joyful, actively engaging, socially interactive, meaningful, and iterative. Let them take the lead in activity. Encourage their curiosity. Include their friends. As your child grows into the next stages of development, adjust your play activity to include team sports, and their interests in other activities, such as gymnastics, ballet, art, scouting, robotics, animatronics, gaming, and the like.
Benefits abound in the process of playful parenting. For your child, they gain cognitive, physical, emotional, and social benefits. For parents, you find yourself developing greater emotional bonding, more secure attachment, and greater trust between you and your child. You also gain insight into child development through your observations.
Finally, your sense of personal well-being grows from this positive interaction with your child.
Depending on your child’s age, you don't need fancy toys or expensive gadgets to embrace playful parenting. Everyday objects and your active presence are more than enough to create meaningful play experiences. Even the leftover boxes and crates of home purchases can be turned into robots, forts, and the like.
You are the most important part of your child's life. The greatest things you can offer are your time, attention, and imagination. Make time in your busy schedules for playful parenting with your children.
In my world of mental health, resilience is the new “it” word. Lots of research on it. Lots of focus on it in the healing process. So, now I’m passing it on to you. Then, you can pass it on to your kids.
When you are being resilient, something in your life has happened and you don’t like it. However, you make the best of the bad situation. What a great way to avoid conflict?
When I was in the 7th grade, my science teacher assigned projects. I chose to use paper mâché to construct a model airplane. Of course, I put the project off to the last minute, the last night before I was to turn it in. My project was a bust. I didn’t get the paste consistency right. I couldn’t create anything that remotely resembled an airplane. I got frustrated and had a full-blown meltdown, being sure I was going to fail the project the next day.
My dad stepped in. With a calming voice and clear direction, he joined me in creating a poster presentation of 5 simple science experiments, with attending demonstration materials. We planned it all that night and he let me stay home from school the following day and helped me put it all together. I got a lower grade for turning it in late, but it wasn’t the “F” I was expecting.
That was my dad’s lesson for me in being resilient. What did I learn? First, when your child’s melting down, model for him deeper breathing, to help him get his feelings under control. Use your active listening to help him get out the bad stuff that’s rumbling inside him. Ask teachable questions of him, once he’s calmer. Such as, is it all really as bad as you are making it out to be? Is there anything else you can do to repair the situation?
People who are stuck oftentimes see their situation as totally out of their control. They also catastrophize the situation, making it worse than it actually is.
Your child learns resilience when you help them calm down, focus on what is in their control, look at the circumstances realistically, and redirect their efforts.
At 8 years old, little Travis was getting ready to go off on his 12-year-old big sister, Heather who was hogging the game station. He was working on a verbal rant, huffing and puffing, and getting all stressed out because she wouldn’t let him have his turn. “You snooze, you lose, little man,” she goaded him, and then returned to her gaming.
Instead of going off on his sister, with mom in the kitchen overhearing the exchange and ready to intervene, Travis showed resilience. He calmed his breathing, steadied himself, and declared, “Fine. Play your game. I’ve got other, more important things to do.” He then stomped off. Mom folded her arms and smiled at him as he went outside to play.
Another old adage that defines resilience is this. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. You may be stuck, with no viable alternatives, but your bad situation is defined by your perspective. You may not be able to escape or change the bad situation, but you can change your perspective. If your child were being bullied or taken advantage of, after helping him calm down, you can redirect his perspective with these questions. How can you deal with this without letting the situation get to you? Isn’t this really more about him than it is about you? Can you feel sorry for him? What’s the blessing in disguise here?
Resilience strengthens both you and your child to manage the worst of times in your lives.