But play is how nature designed humans, especially small humans, to learn, to ease the tensions of daily life, and to connect. True, they don’t NEED to play with us. They can play with their friends, or their sibling. But playfulness is a gift in any relationship. And there are certain kinds of play that children may only be able to engage in with an adult they trust.
Kids use play to process emotions and master challenges. Over and over, they act out going to the doctor’s office. They trade roles, give medicine to their Teddy Bear. At least in their imaginations, they get to be the powerful one. That’s an essential antidote to their daily experience of being smaller, pushed around, dependent. Physical play that gets little ones giggling is a sign that you’ve hit the jackpot. Giggling releases the same pent-up stress hormones as a good safe cry in a parent’s arms.
So you don’t have to play with your kid. But wouldn’t you rather do it the fun way than the hard way?
This doesn’t mean we have to play games we can’t stand. There are (to paraphrase Rumi) countless ways to kneel and kiss the ground, or to weave playful moments into our days. It certainly doesn’t mean adding one more “should” to our to do list. But if you’re too busy to play, what are you teaching your child about the meaning of life and time and connection?
Play the “Fix” game”
Remind her how much you love her by playing the Fix game. You play the bumbler as you chase her, hug, kiss, let her get away and repeat again and again: “Where’s my Chelsea?....You can’t get away…I need you!...I have to hug you and cover you with kisses….oh, no, you got away…I’m coming after you….I just have to kiss you more and hug you more….You’re too fast for me….But I’ll never give up…I love you too much…I got you….Now I’ll kiss your toes….Oh, no, you’re too strong for me…But I will always want more Chelsea hugs….I’m coming after you…” Both parents can even play at the same time, and “argue” about who gets to hug their darling child first.
I call this the Fix game because it’s guaranteed to transform your child’s doubt about whether she’s truly loved (and any child who is “misbehaving” harbors that doubt). I know, you’re busy. But what if five minutes of play could change your life?
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