The Family that Plays Together ... Is Much Healthier!

by Linda Kondracki

In Confident Kids parents' group one night, a single mom reported, "I feel so guilty today." When asked why, she said. "Life has been so stressful for us lately, and we've all been on edge. So yesterday morning, when we were all rushing around yelling at each other, I finally said 'Stop everyone! You know what this family needs? A day at the beach!' So we canceled everything we were supposed to do and spent the day at the beach."
"Did it help?" I asked. "We had a wonderful time! It was our best day since my husband left. But I can't stop thinking that maybe I taught the kids that it's okay to flake out on their responsibilities. We had a lot of things we were supposed to do yesterday."

I assured this mom that she had made a great choice, and then noticed many other parents seemed uncomfortable with my response. So we spent the rest of the hour talking about the value of play to healthy family life. The whole discussion reminded me that many adults have very little ability to play, and even less understanding of how vitally important play is to the overall health of their family's life!

Barriers to Play
Adults give many reasons why they are uncomfortable with play. We hear statements like:

  • "I never played much as a child - and my parents never played with us kids."
  • "I feel silly."
  • "Playing is a waste of time."
  • "I just don't have the time or energy."
  • "Kids play -- adults work. That's the way things are."
  • "Life is so heavy right now, I just don't feel playful."

Benefits of Play
Dolores Curran, in her book Traits of a Healthy Family, lists the "enjoyment of shared leisure time" as an important source of family health. Most importantly:

  • Laughter and shared play creates a strong bond with our children.
  • The best memories I have from my childhood are the times the adults played with us kids. I remember playing games around the table, swimming together at the lake, and long conversations about what life was like for the adults when they were kids - all filled with uproarious laughter! There was lots of pain in my childhood, but the times of shared play gave me a sense of renewal and closeness that I did not have in any other way.
  • Play relieves tension and gives us a break from the heaviness of life.
  • It is okay to take a rest from dealing with our recovery and other stressful points of life. God has created us to be renewed by play and laughter. Taking time to play will give you renewed strength to keep going with the heavier issues of life.

But I don't know how to play ...
If play is hard for you as an adult, you're not alone. In recovery, we learn lots of new healthy living skills - many of them deeply painful and difficult incorporate into our lives. Here's one that is fun! As with any skill, start small and keep at it even if you feel ackward and uncomfortable at first.

  • If your kids are young, start now!
  • Playing "Pat-A-Cake" with a baby, or building blocks with a toddler are the first steps toward bonding through play. The preschool years are a particularly rich time, because it is through play that young kids learn about what life is like in the world. Laughing and playing with adults gives kids a sense of security and a belief that the world is a good place.
  • If your kids are older, ask them for input.
  • What would your kids like you to do with them? Roller blade? Play a board game? Let them tell you what they would like you do with them.
  • Make time for play.
  • Play is often considered something we do when we have nothing better to do with our time. Rather, make play a priority in your family life. It can be planned ahead of time, such as a vacation or an outing; or it can be spontaneous, as our single mom who dropped everything to spend a day at the beach.
  • Make play a part of your life, too.
  • Take time for friends who make you laugh; go to Disneyland with all adults; enjoy a hot fudge sundae; join a square dancing club. Find things that you can enjoy, and give yourself a break to relax and have fun!

ACTIVITY: Plan for Family Play Time

Grab a calendar and sit down with your kids to plan a monthly family fun time. Let each person in the family choose a favorite activity. Here are some ideas to get you started thinking:

  • Game night. Play board games together.
  • Movie night. Can you find a few extra dollars to spring for popcorn?
  • Craft night. There are lots of craft books in stores or the library. Holidays are great times for making decorations or gifts.
  • Go to the park. Play on the playground, roller skate, invite another family and play baseball or football.
  • Go to local festivals. The newspaper is full of local festivals and events, most of them free.

For more ideas, check your local bookstore for books on things to do in your area with kids. These usually list area museums, tours, parks, etc. that are free or low cost and chosen specifically for their appeal to kids.

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