Potential Story: To play or to entertain?

When you think of PLAYING with your children, what comes to mind?  Do you envision an active play like running and chasing each other playing tag or soccer or baseball?  Does your mind go to the creative spot of pretend play and envision setting up a large cardboard box and making it a drive thru restaurant, a flower shop or a doctor’s office for toys?  Might you envision playing cars or dolls with your child?  Or sitting down to a board game?  Or do you envision competing against each other via the Wii or Xbox?  Maybe you have networked electronic gadgets that allow you to compete virtually in video games against each other.

However you play, the main focal point is that you PLAY WITH your child.  Any amount of research will tell you that children thrive when parents are interactive with their children.  In today’s lifestyles, busy-ness invades our family time and it’s often very easy to ignore our own children and leave them to their own vices to play and to entertain themselves.  This is not completely the wrong thing to do.  A recent blogger mentioned how she “ignores” her kids.  Before you think “how could she!” let’s explain that what she meant is that she doesn’t come to their rescue at every sibling and friend squabble, nor does she offer the next solution to boredom, and in doing so, the mom blogger realized that the children often work out their problems by themselves.  She mentioned that by “ignoring” them, they become more creative and resourceful.  

As with most things, balance is key.  While interaction with a dose of ignoring is good, you certainly don’t want to sit a child in a corner with a Nintendo DS and let them stay glued to that small screen all day with no social interaction whatsoever.  But you also don’t need to hover over your children directing/correcting his/her every move.  Children need to explore but within limits.  Balance.  

PLAY involves active participation.  ENTERTAINment is merely giving a child something to “occupy” their mind for a certain amount of time.  Every mom and dad enjoys something that will entertain their children for a certain amount of time, but the key is to not depend on it and use entertainment as a crutch for a parent’s personal gain.  Kids may not like time limits on screen time, but someone has to be the adult, even if it means limiting ourselves in order to set the example!

So do you seek to play with or to entertain your child?  Give it some thought.  If you find that you are often reaching for the “entertainment”, then what things can you do to invoke true active play with your little one?  Having trouble  thinking of examples?  Try these:  

  • play toy hospital using paper and band-aids to bandage stuffed animals or favorite teddy bears
  • play bank by setting up an account with your new little junior teller and deposit some coins (allow them to count the money to you)
  • play post office by converting empty tissue boxes into mailboxes and delivering mail (practice the skills of reading and writing)
  • hide things around your house or in your yard and go on a scavenger hunt to find them, use binoculars made from empty toilet paper rolls to spy them
  • challenge your children to tell you what their toys must be up to when s/he is out of the room (think ToyStory)
  • challenge your children to pretend they are an animal and ask them what they might give you as a gift

Did you notice that all of the suggestions above do not require that you buy something?  They merely require your time and imagination and maybe some household items you already have.  

Today’s teachers are reporting that children are lacking in their imagination and creativity.  The toys we buy our children seem to leave little to pretend.  Work with your children to enhance the world of play make-believe.  Reinvent games from your own childhood.

Also, be sure you schedule some time within children’s days for unstructured play when it’s just you and them.  Even a family pillow fight – parents vs. children or girls vs. boys –  can be fun and exhilarating.  After the fit of giggles from a good pillow fight, the kids will be begging for more before bedtime and begging for a repeat fight the next day.

A plaque once read “the family that plays together, stays together.”  PLAY is the key to good family relationships. When you choose to play with your children rather than entertain, you’ll watch your relationships grow by leaps and bounds.  Make a play-date with your kids today!