Play is like broccoli and blueberries for your child’s brain. Maybe even more like hugs and fresh air. In other words, it is so very, very important. It is how children learn about the world, their world, others’ ideas and feelings, their own ideas and feelings and it all happens in a comfortable, fun way. They learn consequences, they learn strategies, sharing, being assertive, being kind or what it feels like when someone is not kind. Play is rich. It is made richer when parents are truly present in the play with their child. It also is amazing to see that even spending 10 minutes actually engaged in your child’s play – getting on the floor with them, pretending to be a patient or a student or “the kid,” acting silly – reduces challenging behaviors. So even when there is dinner to be made, laundry to be sorted or a kitchen floor to be cleaned, temporarily say “no” to it and say “yes” to play.
Some resources that may be helpful are: The National Association for the Education of Young Children, a blog series on play and Dr. Laura Markham’s AHA Parenting site has good ideas on how play can help kids work through tough emotional issues that are too difficult to talk about for young children.
So often we do this unintentionally – we rush through the morning routine only to sit in traffic, we zip up and down the grocery store aisles only to wait in line, we stressfully hurry to a meeting only to find out they have delayed it for attendees who are, coincidentally, stuck in traffic. Alas, waiting can give you space, breathing room, alone time. Embrace the unexpected wait times and more to the point, plan for them. Finding time to have space, breathing room and alone time is a beautiful way to give ourselves some good stuff. Next time you have a scheduled haircut, dentist appointment, or lunch date with your friend, hurry up and purposely wait. Maybe you bring along a magazine, maybe you don’t. Maybe you bring a good book, maybe you don’t. Soak up the free time when you don’t have to be doing anything.
Happiness is good, right? Often we think we know what makes our children feel happy but sometimes our thoughts on the matter may not hit the target. Ask them! It is such as simple question, “what makes you feel happy?” but we get in the throes of day-to-day tasking and list-making that it just doesn’t come up readily. Other questions that can generate discussion of happiness are: when was the last time you had a great time (remembering a whole day is hard for younger kids) and felt really happy? Who helps you feel happy? Describe a happy activity to me. What “happy activity” do you want to do today? Happiness breeds happiness, by the way. After asking your child these questions, don’t forget to turn the interview on yourself! And start recognizing that it usually isn’t things that make us feel happy but experiences and being with the ones we love (or even just like a whole lot).
The idea of being kind to yourself is either met with love by some or ironically, resistance, by others. In our society, we are very much entrenched in the idea that if we show compassion toward ourselves, it is a subtle sign that we are weak. Rather, chastising ourselves for our foibles and failures only makes us stronger. In fact, however, research has shown that positive statements toward ourselves actually make us more creative, happy, and good people to be around. Try it some time: the next time you spill milk (especially the breast milk you just pumped OR the formula you just measured), say something like, “oh, honey” or “oh, my dear” or even “oh, _______ (your first name).” Because even removing the ownership of the mistake from first person to third person has an impact. Life really will go on after spilled milk.