Contributed by Jody McVittie, MD
What comes to your mind when you think of play? Do you have childhood memories of moments of joy and reckless abandon with friends or family? Memories of giggling so hard it hurt? Or getting “carried away” jointly plotting something creative (but perhaps unrealistic). What is play anyway?
Greenspan and Wieder in their book, The Child with Special Needs, define play as: “(to) connect, to share the pleasure of doing something together, to experience mutual joy” (without forcing interaction). Another way of saying that is simply “to have fun together.” The purpose is not to “win” but to enjoy something together.
Interestingly, though children play quite naturally, without the practice of play, they begin to lose their skills. Children need to practice having fun, and they need to practice the skills that are needed to be able to have fun with others. In schools we see many children who can “entertain themselves” (which they are good at, especially using electronics) but struggle to be able to engage in the give and take that is necessary to have fun with others. They are good at individual play in groups (we call it parallel play) but not so good at really working together and having fun in the process.
If you are a family that is good at playing – invite other families to join you. Our community needs to build this skill and you can be a model. If playing isn’t your strong suit here are some ideas or challenges that you can “play” with.
Family games that aren’t competitive. Play is not about winning or losing – it is about having fun together. Keep them simple and short. Shooting hoops (no scoring). Bananagrams (no scoring). Charades.
Going exploring. What happens when you go into the world with curiosity and wonder together? It can be in the woods or in the neighborhood. It can be learning about family history together. Can we find tadpoles today? Can we learn together about how Grandma came to live in Seattle?
Be willing to be silly and/or messy. What kind of fun family rituals can you develop? A backwards day where dinner is for breakfast and….? Can you take advantage of April Fools Day and have some silly rituals? Is it fun to finger paint on the table with shaving cream? What kind of wild and crazy ideas do you have?
Plan together. Not all play needs to be spontaneous. At your family meeting plan a fun activity for the week.
Join with others. Invite other families to join you for a game night or an expedition of some kind. Sometimes that can ease some of the patterns of tension between sibs.
Let go of “teaching.” Not every moment has to be a “learning opportunity.” Step out of the role of parent=teacher. Let go and have fun too.
Have the courage to be imperfect. Not all planned play will be fun. Sometimes things just go amiss. Sometimes it just goes differently than planned. Hold it lightly. Forgive yourself and others and – try again.
Do you have games or activities that your family enjoys? Share them with us (and others) on Facebook or here on our blog.
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