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Playful Parenting - More than Just Fun and Games

Early childhood educators have called play "children's work". Many parents believe their children should be doing something more productive than merely having fun. But, actually, play fosters physical, emotional, intellectual and social development. Encouraging your child to play is vital for his development as well as his happiness.

What is Play?

The dictionary refers to play as recreation. Recreation is a very significant word in building and sustaining strong families. If you capitalize and hyphenate this important word it becomes Re-Creation. This is exactly what having fun with your family by playing games and sharing activities can do. Playing together can recreate your family. It can revitalize, rejuvenate and inspire with energy, life and laughter. It can offer the whole families another chance to connect on a level that you perhaps are not connecting on right now.

We frequently consider play only as the opposite of work, thus we can only have fun when the work is done. I propose that we incorporate play into work sometimes and other times we spend time re-creating ourselves before or after the chores have been accomplished. It is amazing how energized everyone will be after a game of tag in the yard. You will be astounded at how quickly the dishes get done when everyone knows it is a Monopoly or UNO night.

Use Imagination and energy to have fun

In past generations, kids learned to create fun by using personal resources-imagination and energy. We were outside running, jumping, building and creating for hours and hours. Our play usually ended only when our mothers called us in for dinner or a bath.

Today's child is generally programmed with a fully scheduled week of lessons and highly competitive adult managed and supervised sports. Any free time is spent passively watching television leaving little opportunity to develop creativity and initiative.

By establishing a time to "play" you are stimulating your children's creativity and imagination. Children who learn early to take initiative for providing their own entertainment are less likely in the future to depend on artificial stimulants to "turn themselves on."

Establish a Family Fun Night

Many of us are employed in highly stressful jobs and the list of stress-related illnesses grows daily. The more stressed and cranky we are, the less our children want to be around us. By planning quality time spent just fooling around with our kids, the whole family will come out a winner.

As the characteristics of the family have changed over the years with more mothers working outside the house and fathers expected to play a greater role in the child rearing, it is a perfect opportunity to incorporate with the whole family a special time. But how about the many step-families, one-parent families and transient families who move frequently and live far from extended family? This is a method for creating unity and making the most of time together.

The family unit defines who we are and shapes our character. It is in the family dynamic that we learn the important lessons of self-discipline, the art of compromise, cooperation, forgiveness, honesty and fair play. By sharing activities on a regular basis we can teach by example as well as with verbal and non-verbal clues. There is a sense of safety in learning life skills in the family setting and then incorporating them into the real world. We know we will always be loved, even if we do strike out or make a mistake or look foolish sometimes.

Many children are being raised by the television.

Oh sure, they might have moms and dads who pay the rent, fix the meals, and drive them to sports practice, but essentially they are learning their standards, morals and ethics from a 24 inch box in their bedroom or the family room.

Mary Pittaway, registered dietician who heads up the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program in our community has said "children spend eight hours sleeping, two hours eating, five hours at school, 6 hours watching TV, less than one hour in physical activity, three hours engaged in other activities and five minutes in meaningful conversation with their parents on any given day."

Kids who spend too much time in front of a TV or video game are at risk for a great many health concerns, especially type II diabetes, which is skyrocketing among young children. Overweight children are more vulnerable to high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, asthma, and bone and joint problems.

What happens when children don't have play time?

The most devastating result of inactivity and obesity in our children is an emotional cycle of low self-esteem. The less they like themselves, the less likely they are to participate in sports or be active physically-the very thing that could help them. We can lecture them about the benefits of activity, but they will listen and participate more readily if the whole family is involved and it doesn't single them or their problem out.

For a free report on "Helping Your Child Fit In" go to my website www.ArtichokePress.com. In that report you will find that one of the major problems facing left out kids is the inability to play with others. Many classroom and playground problems of fitting in, being clumsy, perceptual-motor skills, social and emotional inadequacies, may be prevented or lessened by parents developing a time to do movement activities, which means in common language, play with their infants and children on an on-going basis.

Will play help your child succeed in life?

The games and activities you share as a family does not automatically guarantee better communication, healthier bodies and minds or a close-knit family. However, being available, approachable, and willing to step out of your comfort zone will insure a higher chance of children who succeed in life.

All of these activities are just vehicles to bring you and your child into close contact for a period of time where barriers are down and talking and laughing are up. Conversations and meaningful dialog will follow, maybe not right away, but kids recognize that you are willing to relax and spend time with them.

They don't want you as a pal but they do need you as a friend. Best friends play, laugh and hang out together frequently. They build bonds of loyalty, respect and love that last forever. Playful parenting is more than just fun and games. Come on; let's go kick the ball around the back yard.

? 2005 www.ArtichokePress.com

Parent educator and PBS "Ready to Learn" consultant, Judy H. Wright works with Head Start staff, child care resource centers, schools and parent organizations internationally. As a powerful and popular presenter for adults who work with children, Judy's also authored over twenty books. For more information on books, clients and testimonials or to book Judy for your next event, call 1-877-842-3431 or go to www.ArtichokePress.com. She is a founding member of Montana Speakers Network and is a regional representative for National Association for Women Writers.

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