Easy fun—with no preparation, no planning, no special equipment needed, no classes to schedule, etc., etc. (exclamation point.) I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of fun in family life, and wondering why it seems in such short supply. Sometimes I guess it is because parents are doing so many things for their children, it seems as if there is no time left to do things with them. Maybe it’s because many parents grew up in homes where parents and children didn’t play together, and so they can’t imagine how to do it. Or maybe it’s because a parent is afraid of hurting a child or being hurt—especially if angry feelings have recently been piling up.
Then I was inspired by this wonderful example from Larry Cohen’s (the author Playful Parenting). In his latest newsletter, he wrote:
Another Mom used some play to help her oldest child, age 6, who had been a bit of a "monster" lately: "So, I recently pulled out one of our favorite games that has always helped my middle child. This time, I was hoping to turn around my 6 year old, and it worked like a charm. I just lay down on the floor and say, 'I'm the bread. Who wants to be the cheese?' and one child will run over to lay on top of me. I give that kid a great big squeeze, which really seems to help him feel loved and snap him out of a bad mood. Then the other one will run over and be the mustard (or whatever) and lay on top. Now I'm squeezing two kids and the one in the middle is getting a good squeeze. I have to help them take turns being the one closest to me. But the baby doesn't care! She will just pile on top of her brothers and seems to feel like she's 'winning' just because she's playing too and gets to body slam her brothers."
I love this example because it describes so well that play isn’t something to save just for times when we all feel good, it can actually be an activity that helps everyone feel better. This is a lesson we can learn directly from watching children play—they play when they are excited and happy and they play when they are frustrated and upset. All their emotions go into their play, which can almost magically transform what is heavy and serious and difficult into something more light-hearted and funny and easy.
If you don’t believe me, try this idea. Pull out some balloons—my favorite are the round, 10-12” size balloons that you can buy in bulk in party supply stores. Blow up a few and knot them. Then turn on some crazy, funky music. What happens? Well first people come wandering in to find out what’s going on. Then they notice the balloons and start bopping them about. Before long they are volleying them over to you and you are volleying them right back. And along the way, everyone is smiling because it is virtually impossible to play with balloons and not smile. Popping balloons on purpose is even better—it always provokes big laughs!
Play is seriously good fun and seriously good for everyone—but it doesn’t have to be a serious matter to do more of it. Balloons are cheap, clean, unlikely to break anything, and no effort to clean up. Hugging sandwiches, pillow fights, and goofy dance contests are good too.
As the nights get dark earlier and we all retreat into our cozy warm homes—bring more play inside, too, to lighten everyone’s spirits!
Larry’s latest book, The Art of Roughhousing, Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It is now available for preorder. I can’t wait to read it!