by Barbara J Smyly – Copyright Protected

Child’s play is important to all families. In this the age of the expert, there seems to be a solution to every problem we as adults can muster up. If we feel stress, we exercise more; if our spouse is being critical, we express ourselves, if our kids are getting on our nerves, we schedule a play date. What if our kids were the experts? What if the solution to most of our day to day challenges was to schedule a play date? How often throughout the day do our kids say, ” Wanna play”? Since the answer is obviously, “No, because I have to …..” we feel more stress at not giving our young ones what they have asked for.

“Parents are so pressured today, ” says Margaret Sheridan, Ph.D., chair of the Child Development Department at Connecticut College. “It is seldom that people remember parenting can be great fun, not just a race with the clock and a dash with the car pool!”

We as parents often judge those we leave in charge of our children by how much playtime they spend with our kids. Do they play games with them, do they get on the floor and crawl around with them, do our kids have fun, do our kids like being with this person? Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves the same questions and hold ourselves to the same standards not only for our children’s sake but for ours as well.

The importance of Child’s Play and learning to play together cannot be over stressed.

What keeps kids going, I am convinced, is not that God made a mistake by giving so much energy to the young while ignoring those of us who really need that burst of energy after dinner; but the fact that kids are always thinking what can I play now? Playing is a child’s way of tuning out reality and creating a perfect world where there is no bedtime, candy is freely given and all requests are answered with an emphatic “Yes!”

We as adults could use a bit more fantasy and fun. Our imaginations could use a jump start by learning from our children how important daily play in our schedule really is. Play can reduce stress, give us exercise, improve creativity, restore our sense of humor, inspire patience, teach us gratitude, to be in the moment with ourselves and our children and boost our self esteem. Imagine if after dinner instead of baths, homework, dishes, laundry, work brought home, phone calls and correspondence to return, we had playtime scheduled! We would have a burst of energy too!

We have all had the experience of getting three days work done in a day just prior to leaving on vacation. Why? Because we are going to go and do something we enjoy and our energy knows no bounds when we are excited.

I can already hear the objections and perhaps this article is producing more stress. I don’t have time to play! I have important things to do which have to be done and a limited amount of time to do them in. I wish I could.

Let us consider for a moment the therapeutic effects of play on our children and ourselves as a way to inspire us to have playing be a priority.

Most would agree that children learn the most through the use of their imagination, modeling and manipulative’s (toys). Playing can teach children logic, creativity, discipline, humor, social skills, self respect, sharing and conflict resolution skills. It is well known that children model themselves after people whom they respect. All parents hope to be that one who is respected. Taking time to play with our children daily gives them the knowledge that they too are important, that you not only love them but that you can enjoy them as people. It raises their self esteem and makes them more likely to be cooperative during the times it is important for us to have a cooperative child. It is a way of sharing our playfulness with them on their turf.

I know many parents who have every moment of every day scheduled for their children thus themselves; sports, dance, theater, riding lessons, music lessons, tutorials, etc. The concern for these families is that people who are over scheduled as children become over scheduled workaholics as adults. These are those of us who have to work 60 hour weeks in order to justify a two week paid vacation; who wake up one day with a teenager we don’t even know; who feel guilty that they had children and missed the day to day enjoyment of raising that child. All our children want from us is to hear us laugh, watch us enjoy them for a few moments each day. Have us listen to their silly riddles and to their “ridiculous conclusions” about how life really is. They want us to play with them.

Most of us as adults have forgotten how to just play. We justify what playing we do as a need for exercise as in sports, or as a hobby through bowling or painting or for stress management. We seem embarrassed to be enjoying the moment of play. Play is important in daily life as a way to leave behind the to do lists and goals and free ourselves from the daily pressures of being responsible adults. Enjoying our life through play can free our creativity, give us a different perspective on a problem, build our self esteem as parents, teach us to prioritize not to mention reduce our blood pressure, increase our energy level and give us an overall sense of well being. It is essential to free the “spirit” within us all.

Playing is an attitude, it does not take a lot of time. If we look to our role models, those who have the most energy, the most fun and usually the most success, we will find people who love to play; for whom life is one big playground. These are people who never seem to age, who always have an upbeat attitude, who appreciate the little things in life. They have had for the most part the same challenges daily as we have and yet the way they deal with the problems are different. Take the CEO who goes to the park to skip rocks when a major decision has to be made; the chef who comes home to play with play doh and magically figures out a new menu and color schemes; the grandmom who rides a motorcycle in the rain to volunteer at the hospital; the mom who decides if she can’t beat them, join them and sings opera at the top of her lungs to her screaming two year old; these are people who know the importance of playing on their own mental and physical health.

The stress that comes with taking ourselves and our daily duties too seriously has many of us yearning to simplify our lives, live in the moment, go with the flow and have more fun in life. Where to begin? Should we sell our home, cut our expenses, find a less stressful job, hire a nanny or a housekeeper? May I suggest before making such critical decisions we sit down with our children or our friends and make a play date? Perhaps that decision could be better made after time at the bowling alley, pool hall, park, dance studio, playground or lake. Maybe a bike ride along the river would clear it up for us or a day of fishing or a BBQ. Whatever the play date, you are assured to have a more clear understanding of what is really missing…..learning again how to play as an adult as if the quality of our life depended on it, which it does.

The first thing we need to know about learning to play as an adult is that our permission to ourselves is needed. Permission to feel foolish, to be uncomfortable with where our imagination takes us, to let go of structure for a moment to discover what is in the moment, to laugh until our sides hurt, to be a sentimental fool if the mood strikes. Permission to be fun and silly. Our children can teach us the rest. Just give them the chance.

Let’s learn from our kids the values of living and enjoying now. The next time a child asks us, “Will you play with me?” do yourself and that child a favor and just say “Yes”.