The Family That Plays Together
From the infectious fun of side-splitting laughter to the exuberance of an impromptu pillow fight, infusing a spirit of joy and playfulness into your home nurtures your family like little else.
Playing together is an almost magical way to build connection. It’s one of the fastest ways to heal bad moods and minor relationship stress. It brings the family into sync. It creates a happy feeling in your home. Sometimes it's the only way to convince a toddler or preschooler to cooperate with your agenda. And given how hard life can be at times, my opinion is that we need to seize all the joy, silliness, fun and humor we can get.
Research shows that humor is an invaluable part of smoothing over the rough spots of life, from royal goofs on our part to simple bad luck. Couples who can use affectionate humor to deflate anger have happier relationships. And children whose parents use silliness to keep the day flowing smoothly are lucky indeed.
Some parents say that unless they make instructions to their younger kids into a game, their children are so engrossed in play that don't even notice them. Which is likely to work better, "Little Gorilla, it's time for breakfast, come eat your bugs and bananas!" and "Don't you think your steam shovel wants to get in the car now so he can see the construction site on the way to the store?" or "Eat your breakfast now!" and "Get in the car!"
Create fun traditions for your family to enjoy and look forward to. Not all rituals need to be serious or spiritually joyous, some of the best are silly. But don't wait for special times; any part of daily life can be made into a game.
Use funny voices. Trade roles at the dinner table so that each family member acts as someone else (kids’ portrayals of adults can be hilarious). Have a race to get dressed and in bed for storytime. Compete at making baskets with the dirty laundry while doing household cleanup together. Write funny song lyrics in the car. Gentle physical rough housing with some kids as they wake up in the morning can put everyone in a good mood for the day. My own personal favorite is a competition to take off each other’s socks! And when you're feeling a bit dispirited and want to shift the mood and reconnect, why not start a pillow fight?
A few caveats for games:
1. Don’t make light of serious situations or emotions. Start by empathizing. When she’s gotten past her upset over how unfair her science teacher was today, you can start to mimic the science teacher if you think it’s appropriate. (Once she's vented, getting her laughing about it may be the most healing thing you can do!)
2. Be sure opponents are well matched. This can be accomplished by handicapping adults and older siblings, for instance.
3. Be sure the environment is safe. Needless to say, a family tickle match where there are breakables or sharp objects is almost guaranteed to end in disaster.
4. Competition in itself is not bad, but valuing winning above the game is. For many children -- and even some fathers and sons -- noncompetitive games work best.
"Play is children's main way of communicating. .... Playing is connection. ... Boys especially need empathy and emotional connection. You can't communicate to them that what they want to play is stupid and violent and antisocial, and then expect them to talk to you about their inner feelings." -- Lawrence Cohen.
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