When I was still early in my parenting journey, I attended a very helpful seminar about playful parenting led by Dr. Lawrence Cohen. He wrote a great book by the same name, Playful Parenting. He notes the purposes of play:
- To connect with your child.
- To develop confidence and mastery for your child.
==== We shine light (attention) on them through engaged play.
- To recover from life’s upsets (little and big ones).
- To show themselves. Kids reveal what’s inside them through their play.
There’s so much good relationship building and love that gets communicated in light-hearted, fun, and physical engagement with our kids through play. That can be active play like enjoying a sport or outdoor activity together such as hiking or fishing or soccer or basketball or Frisbee, swimming, Capture the Flag, or exploring a cave or flower bed. Or it can be indoor things like building a model or baking a cake or playing cards, board games, dolls, Legos, dress-up, charades, or Twister. It’s good and fun to play and laugh together—to enjoy each other. Too much family life seems to be on the run, or just so serious. Play lightens the atmosphere of a home and a family and promotes bonding. Honestly, it can remind you that you actually do enjoy your kids—and being a dad. Sometimes that’s necessary.
A mom I know wrote this about her house and her three sons: “One of the boys’ favorite things to do is playing in the mud! It makes for a mess but that’s part of being a child. I really need to get one of those backyard play structures as they have grown past all of the toddler things in the backyard. Meanwhile, my couch often gets converted into a fort, and the pillows become secret passages to some imaginary place. My umbrella stand is full of foam swords, light sabers, plastic bats and golf clubs. Every drawer in certain living areas is filled with toys and action figures. I love it all.” You can hear the joy in her words. When dad gets home from work in this family, he often gets right into the imaginary play with his boys. He picks up one of the swords or light sabers, and they have at it.
I still remember a night a few years ago when my two youngest sons brought a book down to the kitchen at snack time (my boys just have to eat again before they go to bed!). The book is called Six Sick Sheep: 101 Tongue Twisters. For twenty minutes, we read tongue twisters together. They wanted me to read most of them. We were bellowing laughter. At one point, I was laughing so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. My eyes watered as I enjoyed the pure delight on my sons’ faces and their raucous laughter. It was so refreshing and fun to laugh like that together.
On this topic, I’m going to share a few paragraphs from my birthday letter to my middle son when he turned twelve.
Cal, I wanted to write something down that meant so much to me. It happened back in February, right around the time of the Super Bowl. We had all really enjoyed watching lots of football this past season. You boys loved it. For my birthday, you boys made me my own football trading cards binder with cards you all had as duplicates, or ones you didn’t want, so I could have my own binder, just like each of you boys do. I loved it! One night as I was putting you to bed, you said to me, “Dad, I’m glad you didn’t play pro football” (not that there was any real, serious option for me to). I asked you, “Really? Why?” You said something that amazed me, and made me so happy and grateful. You said, “Because I’d rather things be the way they are now than us to be rich but you couldn’t play with us.”
We had talked quite a bit about, and read some books that illustrated, how many pro athletes, especially football players, live with serious pain and just can’t do as much as they wish they could when they get older.
This was your precious way of saying how much you enjoy how often I play with you and your brothers, how I wrestle with you, take you golfing, play football and basketball with you in the yard, go skiing, play tennis, and swim, and run, and work out together, and all manner of other things we do. I’d rather it be this way too, Buddy. Thank you so much for saying that.
All this reminds me how much it matters to kids that their dads play with them. I’m so grateful I’ve learned this, and that I’m not only able to do so, but choose to. I’ve come love it as much as they do.
How can you play with your kids this week?
Please post a comment below and share some ways you play with your kids so I and other dads can learn from your experience.
To read more from Keith, take a look at his book: