I remember talking to a mother one day who apologized for the disastrous state of her living room as the floor was covered with Legos. She said “I didn’t clean today…I spent it playing with my youngest instead.” I was shocked…and impressed.

Plato said “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Good treatment programs know how vital play is in building relationships and seeing growth in young people. So why do we often find it to be a chore?

  • It becomes foreign to us: As adults we get serious. We are weighed down with the responsibilities of career, caring for a home, and providing for our family’s needs emotionally, academically, physically, spiritually, and otherwise. To find time to relax and “mess around” takes awareness and effort. Those are two things we are usually lacking at the end of the day.
  • We don’t feel fun: Our perception of ourselves becomes skewed. That guy is fun, I’m not. I have an injury and can’t move like I used to. When I try to joke my daughter takes it the wrong way. We may be struggling ourselves and haven’t laughed or played as an adult in so long, that we can’t remember what it’s like.
  • We have grand expectations: Some believe play comes with a price tag. You don’t need a vacation or thrills to bring it into being. Fun can be free. It can be as simple as while taking a walk throwing down the challenge “First one to that mailbox wins.” Or after sharing a story over dinner, ending it with “Top that!” to invite bigger and better stories.

Let’s look at why play is so important in our relationships with our teens or young adults.

  • We remind them we are human too:  Play reminds our kids that we aren’t just an old fuddy duddy, and that we do more than nag, require, and follow up. We have a side that remembers what it’s like to be young and have fun as a high priority.
  • It relieves stress and tension: Life is stressful enough, but when your son or daughter has struggles with behavior, mental health, school, or friends it can overwhelm them. Take part in their stress relief as much as you take part in their academics or home responsibilities. Make it a priority to change things up. If the tension is in your relationship, play can break a negative communication cycle quicker than you can grin and say “I dare you to eat that!”
  • It introduces creativity and energy: Ruts are easy, but boring. Doing something surprising and out of the ordinary physically, locationally, or mentally infuses you both with healthy energy. Positive energy expands possibilities, excites the mind, producing new thoughts and outcomes.

I’ll end with a story from my own life. My kids came home from a friend’s house falling all over themselves in an attempt to tell me about the game their friend’s dad had played with them. It’s called “Pop Up and Catch.” Here’s how it’s done.

Mom or Dad takes a ball (tennis, baseball, beach ball) while the kids (any age) are gathered round. As the parent throws the ball as hard and high into the air as possible, they shout out the prize awarded for that catch. “King Sized Butterfinger!” Whoever catches the ball before it hits the ground wins the candy bar. If no one catches it, the parent has to come up with something new for the next throw. “A back scratch from Mom tonight!” The successful catcher cheers and makes sure there is follow through on the promised prize. If you are good enough at throwing that it’s a real challenge to make the catch, you can throw in a doozy like “I’ll do your laundry for a month!” My favorite was “A baby pig!” The kids squealed and ran like crazy for that ball. Fortunately, the ball hit the grass before I had to follow through.

In a nutshell, play says “I enjoy you. Let’s hang out.”

To your family’s success and happiness!

Tim

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