“Play (is) a flexible state of mind in which you are presently engaged in some freely chosen and potentially purposeless (or purposeful) activity that you find interesting, enjoyable, and satisfying.” Uncovering Happiness, Elisha Goldstein
I remember making blanket forts with my kids in the living room. I remember swimming with my kids on hot summer nights. I remember trying to get kites flying, and then losing them to the wind.
And my kids remember these things too.
In those moments of play and spontaneity, we were and still are open and connected to each other. In this state of play that we have with our children, we benefit in so many different ways. Noted scientist Jaak Panskepp describes the ability to play as a major contributor to social bonding, cooperation and communication. Good connection with my kids and better communication and cooperation? Sign me up!
How does play work?
When we play, it activates what is known as the Ventral Vagal System. This system is the part of our nervous system that stimulates both our ability to soothe and stay in relationship with others. When this system is in control, it helps reduce stress. When our stress is reduced, we are better able to interact with others and listen to what the other has to say. When we hear what each other has to say, communication is open, and when communication is open, we are able to learn, and we are more likely to collaborate and cooperate. When we have the opposite of this, what is known as poor vagal tone, we are less likely to socially engage, and less likely to cooperate. Playing with our children more seems like a no-brainer. Why don't we do this more often?
Parents sometimes feel that their job is a serious one. They are charged with an important stewardship—raising their children to become good adults and good human beings. There is the instinct to teach, to lecture, to lead. So many parents often say they would run through walls for their children. But to be honest, our children don’t always need us to run through walls. What children often need is our presence. When we read them books, when we build their Legos with them, they understand that we are there.
When children understand that their parents are present, they are less likely to act out as a way to fill their need for attention from their parents.
Yes, it’s important for parents to teach. But it’s equally important for parents to enjoy being with their children. And what better way to do that then to sit down on the floor with them and race Hot Wheels?
In short, playing with our kids can help to induce more cooperative behaviors from our children.
Those times that I spent doing things with my kids, listening to what they were saying and thinking, not only gave me valuable insight into who they are as people, but developed a history of good feelings between us. They may not always do what I ask, or listen to everything I have to say. But I can say they have been much more open to taking out the trash or cleaning their room because of the relationship we had already established when we played.
Curious about how to incorporate play into your family life? Call me for a consult or schedule an appointment.
Sherry Alamdari, M.A., Registered Marriage and Family Therapy Intern
Under the Supervision of Bonnie Goldstein, PhD.
Sherry Alamdari is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapy Intern. As a therapist and as a mom, she is a firm believer in helping families establish good relationships. Our family relationships are the foundation for who we are as human beings. Shoring up these relationships helps establish a good sense of well-being, and the ability to function well in our lives. Sherry has worked in Community Mental Health and in schools to help develop this sense of well-being in her clients. She is currently in process for certification in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and works with Individuals, Families and Groups.