You know how vital play is for your child’s healthy development. Did you know that science says it’s important for parents, too? Downtime helps our minds as well as our bodies. Think how it feels when you’re active, get to blow off steam, hang out with those you love, daydream, or act silly. Ultimately, the benefits of that playful parenting make us better parents—happier and better able to weather the ups and downs that life with a young child brings.
Play Therapy for Parents
A growing body of research has shown that humans of all ages need the downtime and freedom of play. Among the benefits to adults:
- Stress release. At the most basic level, play is the opposite of work. We relax, unwind, and recharge.
- Relationship-building. People strengthen ties and improve communication when they relax together. Parents improve relationships spending this kind of no-agenda, just-being time with each other, as well as one-on-one time with their kids.
- Stronger brain function and creativity. Just as for children, when your mind is free to wander, you’re more likely to experiment, invent, and look at things in fresh ways.
Redefining Play as a Grown-up
You don’t need to swing from the monkey bars to get these benefits. Play can mean many different things. Among the types of play for adults:
- Physically active play. Doing sports, running, tumbling with your kids, or walking with mom friends all count.
- Mentally absorbing play. Hobbies are a form of play for many grown-ups.
- Playing with kids. Whether one-on-one or in a group, children benefit from interacting with adults, and you get a firsthand reminder of what spontaneous, silly play is all about. And because play is key to children’s development of motor skills, social skills, language, and learning, the more you play together with a toddler, the better. Let go of worries about mess and have fun. Just take care to follow your child’s lead and switch gears when he’s tired and no longer having fun.
How to Make Way for More Play
Some ideas for cutting loose:
- Give yourself permission to play. It’s an important attitude change to realize that not every moment of the day needs to be productive in society’s terms.
- Don’t try too hard. Play is about being open to adventure, whimsy, and spur-of-the-moment fun. You shouldn’t have to work at it; avoid too much planning, organization, or control. Let it become play therapy for parents.
- Think about how you played in the past. What activities have been fun for you over the years, going back to your childhood? Which hobbies or sports have you enjoyed? What could you recreate today?
- Start by adding more playtime with your child. Jump in and give that time together your full attention. Kids are one of the greatest inspirations, and good excuses, for play ever.