by Krystal White
As the days get longer and the temperature rises, many of us get in the spirit of playing more. Too often our busy schedules and overwhelming to-do lists prevent us from doing what matters most: connecting with each other. There’s something about spring, however, that entices us toward fun. This is where play comes in.
Play is a critical part of a family’s health. Developmental Pediatrician Maj. Lynne Kramer encourages parents to spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day just playing with each of their children.
“Play gives kids and parents a chance to bond. We know that this important activity boosts language, social skills, creativity and thinking skills,” she said.
Kramer specializes in developmental delays at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and points out that play is crucial for learning.
Play bonds families together. How you decide to have fun together as a family, from visiting castles to going on a hike to playing card games, reveals your family values, culture and identity. Play can be the antidote to conflict as well. It allows our brains and bodies to relax, think clearly, solve problems, sleep better, eat better, breathe efficiently and feel more grateful.
For our children, the act of fun time with other people is social skills training. Children learn best in play, learning to listen to directions, cope with setbacks, manage feelings and communicate clearly. Play is crucial for growth. It is practice for developing knowledge, creativity, self-confidence and problem solving skills. Adults need to play with their children to create a supportive environment and help them benefit from it the most.
You think it would be easy to just play with your children. But often it’s not. Kids are cranky, or adults are cranky. Attention spans are short, or we don’t have “enough time.” But play doesn’t have to be complicated or a big fuss. Take 20 minutes a few times a week to spend with your child without the distraction of electronics. The goal is to enjoy each other. When family members play, they are building positive feelings and bonding, which is required for us to tolerate being told what to do later on!
We all need fun and relaxation time in order to effectively work and be productive. All too often, the only fun time we make for ourselves and our children seems to be TV/video time, extracurricular activities or playing on the computer. In order to build healthy habits, and decrease arguments, follow the simple rule of three.
Every month, mark your calendar with three dates and times for the next month. This scheduling (not just saying it) makes children feel special and important.
• Parent Date Night. Arrange a sitter, take advantage of the child development center on a weekend, or swap with a friend. Spend two to three hours child-free (no running errands) just going for a walk or out to coffee.
• Dad & Me, Mom & Me Dates. Schedule two hours one on one for each child with each parent once a month. Give them a choice between two activities to do together.
• Family Night. Once a month, spend a night or afternoon interacting (not watching TV). Go bowling, play games, go to a museum, go on a hike, go bike riding or visit a castle.
Here are some other general guidelines for play with young children
• It is better to play with unstructured toys, such as blocks, trucks, dolls, etc.
• Some adults find it helpful to play at the same time every day.
• Put away the phone (this says that spending together is important).
• If there is more than one child in the family, try to play with each child separately, if possible. It is difficult to go back and forth between two or more children effectively, plus, everyone loves one on one attention.
• Follow your child’s lead and interests.
• Pace at your child’s level.
• Don’t “teach” during “play” — just focus on having fun!
• Don’t criticize.
• Be creative and make-believe with your child.
• Try not to ask questions (“what color is that?”) but describe their actions (“you’ve got the red one!”).
• Don’t over-help in order to encourage your child’s problem-solving.
• Reward quiet play with your attention.
• Don’t compete (until they are older).
Dr. Krystal White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center who specializes in community assets and developmental disorders.