Life is busy! We have obligations that fill our calendars and consume our energy. We spend countless hours building careers that bring in enough money to adequately provide for our families. We push ourselves to earn enough for the best house, the best car, the best electronics, vacations, clothes, and foods that our money can get for us.
Here is the hard truth.
If you devote all your time toward building a legacy for your kids, but forget to build a relationship with kids, that legacy no longer has any value. In fact, the amount of money you may need to spend to repair the damage made to that relationship could be astounding. The cost of psychological damage alone may be staggering. If you don’t take the time to play with my children, you are making a very costly mistake.
Consider your relationship with your parents. Is it strong? Or strained? Do you freely discuss your lives and things that are important to you? Can you count on them for emotional support when you hit hard moments or want to celebrate successes? I see so many adults who do not have a strong relationship with their parents. They have awkward moments on holidays or obligatory phone calls that feel forced.
It is far easier to create a life in which our kids are constantly busy with extracurricular activities rather than spending time together as a family. When quiet moments occur, it is much easier to hand the child a tablet or phone to pacify them rather than engaging in conversation with them. Playing with our kids takes time, and it takes effort. Unfortunately, not making the time to play with our children creates a major problem for us. The relationships we build with our children must be strong in order for them to be well-balanced, healthy adults one day. Our children depend on us to build those relationships and give them everything they need to develop socially and emotionally.
What will happen if we don’t play with our children?
1. Our children risk lacking in emotional understanding and empathy.
They may not be as resilient as they need to be. They may replace your influence in their lives with the influence of others. Playing with our children also creates a sense of safety and comfort that they will miss.
2. Playing with our children gives them a chance to watch us identify and manage our emotions.
We can help them practice the same. Playing together gives us the opportunity to work through big feelings with them and talk about how to calm down when they are upset or overly excited.
3. Children must also learn empathy.
A five-year-old does not naturally understand the emotions of others. We must teach them that our actions affect others. Without time for interaction, our children cannot learn a sense of empathy from us. It is possible that they will become adults who never learn to empathize with others.
4. Resiliency allows us to deal with stress in our lives.
Those of use with high resiliency can handle much more stress without it affecting our health and our relationships with others. While we cannot protect our children from ever having stress in their lives, we can teach them to be resilient. Creative play, games, and cooperative play help us model resilience and perseverance. If we don’t spend time playing with our children, we lose our best situations to build resiliency.
5. Another major problem with not making time to play with our kids, is that we will lose the amount of influence we have on our children and their decisions.
Kids need to bounce ideas off of others. They need to weigh options and think through outcomes. If we are not the ones present when our children are making decisions and making their mark on the world, they will turn to others. In some cases, this will work out fine. However, it is more likely that they will turn to peers who also have a narrow view of the world.
6. Playing with our children fosters a sense of safety, as well.
When we play games, pretend, and create crafts or projects together, we create a safe environment where our children can make mistakes, test new ideas, and fail in a safe space. When they know they can fail without criticism, they are more likely to explore new ideas. Children who feel safe enough to take risks, are far healthier and far more likely to be bold leaders as adults.
Imagine a world where you are free to spend 30 minutes of uninterrupted time with each of your children every single day. How would 30 minutes help you connect? What would you do with 30 minutes?
Many parents have never considered what they could do with undivided time with each child. It is so rare that we set aside that time because of our busy lives or simply because we do not understand the importance of making that time happen.
In fact, there are many barriers that we need to overcome.
For some parents, time is the major issue.
Keep in mind, though, that the time together doesn’t have to bring a screeching halt to the day’s plans. A child can play while folding laundry, mopping the floors, and cooking. Yes, the involvement of a child can slow down the effectiveness and efficiency you are accustomed to, but the time your child needs can fit into your already established routine.
Another barrier some parents have is simply knowing what to do with their children.
So here are 3 types of play in which we can engage. Children need a combination of creative play, constructive play, and pretend play.
- Creative play provides an opportunity for children and parents to make something they can admire for days or even weeks. These creations can last so that children and parents can revisit the project later and discuss the memories they created together. Some examples include art projects, crafts, and photography. The key to the creative play is a final product.
- Constructive play may be very temporary. For example, building with blocks is a great activity. However, the structure is temporary. This type of play focuses on having fun during the process, but not on the lasting capabilities of the product.
- Finally, pretend play is a necessary part of normal development for children. This occurs when children imitate the adults around them, pretend to care for baby dolls, explore the backyard pretending to be palaeontologists, or play school with their stuffed animals.
A final barrier is being intentional about the time spent playing with children.
Sometimes, it simply slips our minds. We get caught up in the day to day activity and forget to focus on building the relationship with have with our children. We must be intentional and plan to play with our kids. If we do not make it a priority, it will fall through the cracks.
Now imagine these barriers disappear. We suddenly have plenty of time. We feel confident in our ability to create play situations for our children that support their natural development, and we intentionally plan for our time playing with our kids. In this situation, we see our children feeling secure, confident in themselves, free to explore the world around them, and feeling a strong connection to us, the parents.
Here is what Max, father of three revealed when started to play with his children.
“I never really saw the importance of playing with my children before. I am the father of three, and they play together all the time. I provide for my family financially. I make sure we have a great house. I help the two that are in school with their homework. I keep them involved. I even have coached their sports’ teams. I didn't realize that I also needed to play with them. Once I started spending time just playing, I realized that they needed my help when learning to solve problems. They needed me to talk through how to move forward when something went wrong. Spending time playing with my kids allows me to really get to know them, and it lets them get to know me.”
Debbie, the mother of two has her strategy on her own.
“I am so busy that it is hard to find time to spend with each child on their own. I work full time, manage my household, and I struggled to play with my kids. My husband and I worked hard to schedule time with our two kids every single day. Some days it is only fifteen minutes. Other days, we split our kids, and each take one for an hour. During that time, the kids choose activities to do with us. We let them guide the way. It has changed the way we parent. The kids feel connected to us. They know that I cannot spend every minute devoting my attention to them, but they know they will get their chance to hold my attention.”
Parenting takes time, it is tough. A few out there may make it look easy, but we all know how difficult it can be to balance everything on our plates. As we try to make more time to play with our kids, many parents make the same mistakes or the same wrong assumptions.
The TOP 3 mistakes or misunderstandings parents have.
- I just can’t find the time. So many parents struggle to find the time. You can do it! Carve out 10 or 15 minutes here or there to really engage with your children. Put away social media, let the laundry wait another day, and focus on your kids.
- Playdates with peers are enough. Some get comfortable with the belief that their children have plenty of opportunities to play, so playing with a parent is not necessary. You, the parent, can provide much-needed opportunities to grow emotionally. A peer cannot guide as well as you can. Children need their parents to teach them social interactions and how to solve problems.
- Hands-off parenting creates independent children. Parenting in a way that does not create a strong bond between you and your child will not create an independent child. It creates a child who is constantly searching for validation, because he or she never got it at home. Hands-off parenting creates an atmosphere of tension and instability.
There are 6 things you can change now that will help you spend undivided time with your children.
- Play games that don’t have a winner. Instead of competition, play games in which you work together to accomplish a goal.
- Take turns choosing how to spend your time together. Parent-directed activity can introduce children to new ideas and projects. Child chosen activities allow the child some choice and freedom over one small area of their lives.
- Read or sing together. Research shows that singing together or reading together creates a lasting emotional bond between people. Use this time to bond and grow together.
- Create something out of recyclable materials. There is beauty in creating a product from discarded materials. This sense of creation provided stability for a child’s emotional development.
- Construct something.Build a sand castle. Build a tower or something completely innovative. And make it big and impressive. This is where big building blocks, like GIGI comes handy (www.gigbloks.com).
- Ask new questions. Instead of “How was your day?”, try questions that get to more details. Try asking, “What was one part of your day that you wish you could have changed?” You could try a question like, “What happened today that made you really happy?” These questions lead children into a greater conversation.
- Spend some time before bedtime. I find it that my kid becomes so opened and trustful at that time. I will never learn about my daughter thoughts and feelings in the daytime. But she opens up before bedtime.
Setting aside time play with your children is necessary. It doesn’t just help the child. It also helps you to feel connected to your kids. Parents who feel good about their parenting are more likely to respond calmly in a disciplinary situation. They appear less stressed. They report higher levels of happiness.
If you are looking for a way to join together to focus upon playing with our children, the International Playdate Day is on the 21st of January (http://www.internationalplaydateday.com). On this day, every child can have a screen free day and spend quality time with their parents.
Yes, life is busy! However, we cannot miss out on the chance to play with our kids.
photo by @begemotfoto