Play is children’s love language. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know them deeply and really sink into their world. Whether your child is 1, 11, or 17… playing with them is a huge part of helping their developmental processes and building their capacity for emotional regulation. Children are innately led to learn everything they need to learn through play.
Think about it—even as adults we tend toward play. We exercise, hang out friends (or at least we did pre-covid), do yoga, go out into nature, etc in order to blow off steam and self-regulate. That’s OUR way of playing as adults. It is play! And if you’re not engaging in “adult play” that makes you happy—think about why and how can you change this. Because I can guarantee you it affects your metal health and happiness. Even for adults, play is a crucial part of our mental health and psychological well-being. It grounds us, it gives us a release, and it feels great!
With our children it obviously looks different. But the core is that kids need to play. And playing with us is so important to their emotional well-being. Children are looking for a sense of proximity—a feeling of closeness to us. When we play with our kids it tells them that we want to be connected and we love being a part of their world. And it communicates this in their love language, so they can fully grasp our intention.
Research has shown that play has a whole range of benefits. It helps young children build empathy, try on different ways of being. It helps develop their executive function and emotional regulation. It fosters creativity, gives them practice for social skills. And it can help to shed light on what they’re processing and working on emotionally, so that you can be a part of their integration and healing.
Play can look different at different developmental stages. With babies it can be sitting with them and making musical instruments out of anything, as they get older you may be doing imaginary play, puzzles, rough housing, games like hide-and-seek. It can be reading together, doing arts and crafts and board games, ball sports. And maybe as teens you’re listening to music together, doing a crossword, going shopping, throwing the ball around. The key is that we are present during this time and that we give that clear message of caring and genuine enjoyment of who they are.
If you’re finding that your child’s play is derailed—it’s hard for you to participate in, it’s aggressive, there are elements that you’re not sure what to do with, you’re welcome to reach out to me and I can help you troubleshoot this through a parenting session. As a play therapist of 11 years my specialty is children’s play. And I can help you identify what might be going on and how you can be a supportive and healing part of the process.
I want to encourage you to set aside 20 minutes at least twice a week (hopefully more) to really play with your child. Put the devices aside and make a commitment to have fun with this. Sink into their world and watch the magic that can unfold when we really allow ourselves to connect with our kids.
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