The Power of Play in Parenting: Nurturing Healthy Connections

by Kristy Brumfield

Play is universal. Play is essential for healthy growth and development. Play is natural. Play is (hopefully) fun. These are all sentiments I’ve shared with parents, caregivers, students, supervisees, colleagues, family, and friends – basically, anyone who would lend an ear. Play holds a special place in the lives of children, and for parents striving to understand their children’s needs, my advice is simple: spend time with them. You don’t need the latest gaming systems, fancy gadgets, or extravagant outings. What matters most is the quality time you share.

Importance of Quality Time

Before embarking on family playtime, remember the importance of self-care. As a caregiver, taking care of yourself is paramount because you can’t pour from an empty cup. Once you’ve replenished your own caregiver cup, make time for family play. If you have multiple children at home, consider instituting a family game night with the rule that all games must be inclusive. Another idea is to let each family member submit their own fun activity ideas (excluding outings with friends) and randomly select one to do on a designated day. Some families even write these ideas on popsicle sticks and store them in a jar for rainy days or moments when youthful boredom strikes.

The Value of Unstructured Play

As a child-centered play therapist, I appreciate toys that have no fixed rules and no one right way to play. The more old-school and devoid of flashy features, the better, as it sparks children’s imaginations. From infancy to the age of four, my daughter and I enjoyed a subscription play service that delivered Montessori-style toys to our doorstep. Now, we’re immersed in the world of baby dolls, Barbie dolls, and impromptu dance parties. Sometimes I join in the play, and other times I observe. Planned or spontaneous, all playtime matters.

Connecting with Older Children Through Play

As children grow older, playtime becomes an opportunity for casual conversations about their world. Ask about their friends, school, interests, concerns, and excitement. Playing a game together or sharing a novel experience fosters parent-child connection. Share your interests with them, whether it’s a sport or their favorite TV show or YouTube channel. Listening to their music, learning a TikTok dance, seeing a movie, trying a new restaurant, or visiting a local museum are all great ideas.

Overcoming Challenges

I understand that some readers might feel they lack the resources or patience for such activities. Whether it’s time, finances, or patience, there are solutions. Allocate just 30 minutes a week for child-led quality time with each child. Let them decide how to spend it. Set appropriate financial limits, using things you already have at home or setting a budget for activities. And as for patience, practice makes perfect; be patient with the process of bonding through play.

Support for Building Relationships

As children become more independent, they’ll require less structure during playtime. Involve them in planning these parent-child playdates and welcome their suggestions. If you need additional support in strengthening your relationship with your child, reach out to professionals, pediatricians, religious leaders, or friends and family with admirable parent-child relationships. Sometimes, despite being the biggest support for your child, you may need additional assistance. Don’t hesitate to reach out for clinical support from helping professionals trained to work with children, adolescents, and their families. These professionals can provide guidance, resources, and tailored strategies to enhance your parenting journey. The most important thing is to create a nurturing environment for your child, where love, play, and communication flourish. Remember that while you’re your child’s greatest advocate, it’s perfectly okay to seek support when needed.

Therapeutic Support for Parenting

Child and Adolescent clinicians can offer guidance and strategies tailored to different parenting needs and challenges. Additionally, resources like Theresa Kellam’s book, “The Parent Survival Guide,” based on the Child Parent Relationship Therapy (CPRT) model, can provide valuable insights and practical advice for enhancing your parenting journey. Don’t hesitate to ask for support along this rewarding journey of parenting through play.