Especially for Parents: The Power of Play

by Alli Zomer

I have a confession to make…I don’t always enjoy playing with my kids. I know that makes me sound like a terrible parent, so let me explain (and try to defend myself a little!). Play is important for kids – more than important, play is essential. Knowing that, I seek out as many opportunities as possible for my kids to play. But when they ask me to play with them, I sometimes bristle. Imaginative play, such as playing make believe, just doesn’t do it for me. I struggle getting into “character” and if I am honest, I find the whole thing just a little dull. Phew, it feels good to confess!

But just because I don’t like a certain type of play doesn’t mean that I write off the importance of play altogether. As much as we have all read the research on the important role play has in early childhood development, we may not be as aware of the fact that play is critical for us as adults too. Even for adults, play has some serious benefits: it encourages creativity, releases endorphins, and improves brain function. Play reduces stress and promotes joy. And we could all use a little less stress and a little more joy.

The good news (for me and hopefully for you) is that there are many different ways to play. So if you, like me, don’t exactly love sitting down to a tea party, rest assured that there are many ways to engage in play with your children that are fun for you and for them. Brené Brown, professor and nationally recognized author, writes that play has three key elements:

It’s time spent without purpose
It’s something you don’t want to end
It leads to a loss of self-consciousness.[1]

By those metrics, there are a myriad of ways that we as adults can embrace play in our lives. Make believe is only one type of play, but (thankfully) there is the rough-and-tumble play of sports, the ritual play of games like chess, the body play of hiking or yoga, and the object play of building legos or making a fort.[2] In all of these types of play we can get lost in the moment with our children and embrace the joy of play as simply that – something done joyfully and without and end in mind. So get out there and find your favorite way to play.

[1] https://www.shortform.com/blog/brene-brown-creativity/

[2] https://wanderlust.com/journal/the-importance-of-play-in-adulthood/