During this time when we may endure a different kind of stress and many families are beginning to sort out how to do the “homeschool” thing, remember that play reduces stress. Adults need to play just as much as kids. Here are some simple tips on how to build play into your life just as much as your kids.
Remember the time before kids? You know, the time when you used to spend more time on you or your friends doing something you loved? That probably involved some form of play. For example, did you go for a bike ride without some time limit or destination? Did you play cards or other games with some friends over a glass of wine? Or maybe you did something more relaxing such as sift through some magazines and compare the celebrities or recipes just for fun. All of these activities are ways you are occupying yourself in amusement so they can be defined as play. There are three key things in common when you or your children play.
What all of these have in common is that state of mind where you were in the moment. You didn’t worry about the dishes in the sink, the laundry that needed to get done, or the child behavior that was about to interrupt your relaxing state. You were engaged i n the activity, focused on the here and now, and not thinking about the past or future.
Children are really good at being present in their play. Think about how they have no concept of time or responsibilities you’ve asked them to complete. This actually sounds just like you when you’re fully engaged in your play activity.
Another thing they all have in common was your flexible agenda. Usually you were flexible in how long you were engaged in your activity. You weren’t constantly looking at the time, you weren’t concerned about getting off track, and you were open-ended about any potential outcomes.
Children are the masters of being on their own agenda. They want to control and change and shift their activity to what makes the most sense to them at that given moment. Too much planning for adults or children can take away the creativity or flexibility that is needed in having fun.
In all of these joyful activities that you remember do you also recall they were self-selected? You decided what to do, or if someone else suggested it, you decided if you wanted to participate or not. You also decided on the timeframe and if there were any intended outcomes such as catching up with friends or getting some exercise.
Children like to control what and how they play with things. Have you experienced the time when you’ve made 100s of options for your children to do something or they have 100s of toys to play with and all they want is that box in the basement? Yes it’s frustrating sometimes, but consider your most playful moments. Was it limited by someone else’s ideas or were the best moments things you did because you felt inspired to do it? Something inside you wanted to select something on your own.
How to Build in Play for Less Stress
As you go about your daily lives it’s important to be mindful of how to build in play. There are many articles that suggest play reduces stress which means it’s healthy for you. For those of you who are beginning the journey of play, or just getting back into it, here are a few suggestions on how to intentionally build it in.
Create a list of things you like to do that bring you joy. Review the list and put a star besides the things that meet the criteria of making you feel present, flexible and are exciting for you to select.
Make a note next to the items that are easy to do daily by putting a D next to them, or ones that may take more planning (e.g. need a sunny day, some gear purchases etc.) and place a P beside those.
Add in 5-10 fun things you can do with your child and put a smiley face next to them.
Build in some daily time on your calendar. Maybe it’s every 2 or 3 hours while teleworking for a short break, to do after work, or to do after the kids go to bed.
Reference your list to help transition the brain from your mindset of work or stress to the idea of what you want to play.
If you feel that time is limited due to other things you have on your mind, set a timer. Give yourself the freedom to be loose and present for the set time on the timer. Eventually you’ll crave adding more time to it.
On the weekends take a closer look at your list that has a D next to them and consider how you can get yourself ready to do those things.
As you build in more play time you’ll start to crave more playtime. I have heard that a habit can be changed by intentionally changing behavior for 21 days in a row. Soon you won’t need to look at your list or build it in your calendar because you will create a habit. And you all know that habits are hard to break.
Anita Vermeer, M.Ed. is a parent, coach and certified teacher with over 25 years of experience working for young children. Through perspective taking and togetherness, Anita works with parents to feel confident and inspired on overcoming parenting challenges. If you want to promote strategies that build your parenting confidence follow Anita @KidsMoveandLearn