To be playful is the nature of the soul. How we know this is by looking at children. The unconditioned human (and all mammal younglings for that matter) enter the world with a drive and a need to play. Playfulness is how we learn, connect, and grow. This is not a controversial point – we all see this in the course of our lives.
What is a challenge is when we grow up and accumulate habits which turn off our playfulness. Unfortunately (tragically?) we forget to be playful in life… Then, some of us become parents, and we’re faced with this discordant situation: Within one household are children who would be thrilled if the mood of the home was playful and parents who are exhausted, stressed, and frustrated. It’s sad really.
I hear from many parents that they don’t know how to play, or that they wish they were more playful in parenting. Parents get stuck. From a place of feeling stressed, it’s hard to make that transition to being playful. Afterall, play requires creativity, energy, and acting! No wonder we tend to avoid all that “work”. It’s like, “You want me to transform into a goofy puppet? Whaaa? Um. No. I’m not available.” Sound familiar?
While there are valid reasons for being stuck in stressed-out-land – I take the stand for us parents that life WILL be 100 times more satisfying when we choose to cultivate a playful spirit, as a general life direction. If you’re not playful as a parent, you’re denying yourself a ton load of laughter and fun. And since play is the language of childhood, you’re also loosing out on a deeper connection with your children.
It’s not easy, I know. I get stressed, I get impatient, I forget to play. I get it. I really really do. So, this blog post is as much for me as it is for you.
Let’s look out to the horizon. Where are we sailing this ship? And what quality of life do we want on the journey?
This is not about feeling guilty. I know parents could go there, to wallowing in shame, guilt, and overwhelm about how much we could improve! Parenting is very humbling. We get to see what’s we’re made of. It’s really an opportunity. I want you to experience this article as an invitation to bring play into your life. I’m not promoting parents feeling bad because they weren’t playful in the past. I AM cheering you on to cultivate a little playfulness tomorrow!
To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!
– Charlie Chaplin
Below I will share 5 ways to bring playfulness into your relationships with your children. One is the simplest of games you already know, three are character roles you get to *play* with, and one is a way of being in general.
Dude. Peek-a-boo works for any person of any age. Go do peek-a-boo with a few people in your life, this week, and see what the results are. This is a great game to play to warm children up to you, to let them know that you want to connect with them. You don’t need a more complicated game than peek-a-boo. Just go for what works. This probably requires the least energy.
Embodying confusion makes children laugh. I think this is because they are often themselves in the position of not having knowledge. So, when we turn the tables around and give them that feeling of being in the know, it puts a wedge between them and that stress of not knowing what’s going on in this world. It releases that tension for them. Plus it’s entertaining. Here are some examples of what this character might say:
“Where’d it go?”
“Who did that?”
“Where are you?!”
“What is that?”
Etc. Etc. You get the idea. You act like you don’t know something that the child in front of you obviously does know. Can’t go wrong with acting confused.
When we move slowly, our children feel more powerful and faster. They like that for a change. They are usually slower and less strong than the adults around them. It’s a fun play with reality. Children will eat it up if you move slowly, and embellish the acting by talking about it too.
“Oh! Ooo! I… just… can’t… reach… you. I’m trying… I’m trying… Oh no! You got there first! Here… I… come… Ooooo! Umf!”
Do you feel it? Try it people, I’m telling you – moving slowly is a sure win for ensuing laughter!
Acting clumsy is slap stick humor. You’re using your physical body to toss things around, knock stuff over, to trip and fall, to slap yourself in the face with a pillow (and act surprised). I’m smiling just thinking about clumsiness. It’s good to laugh the good old fashioned way.
“Hey. Oh. Whoops. Uh oh. Oh no. Oops. Hey, what happened? Whoopsie daisy. Whoa.”
Using Your Imagination
There’s a fifth way I propose parents bring playfulness to their family life. This one is deeper and far-reaching. It is cultivating within yourself a playful spirit, slowly but surely. A playful spirit means your looking for the magic and pretending possibilities as you go about your day. You can actually re-write reality! And the kids freakin’ LOVE it.
Just today, my two sons and I went to pick up their friend at school. When the friend got in our car and soon said, “Okay, I’m buckled,” I said, “Well, this is actually a rocket ship and we’re about to go flying over all these cars to home.” I counted down and made the sounds of a rocket taking off and I moved my hands up in the air as if to show the direction we just started flying. I said, “Oh, look at those little broccoli [trees] down there.” And, “Look at those little ants! Wait. Are those people? Those ants are people!” All 3 boys immediately joined in the imagination game.
This will probably sound ridiculously crazy, but if you playfully imagine your way through parenthood, and life in general, life becomes a fun project to be a part of. Do you want that? Am I crazy for proposing this? Let’s say that this is a hypothesis I’m exploring…
I don’t even know how easy playful-imagination-as-a-way-of-being is to cultivate within one’s self. I’m not sure what the definitive steps would be for a person who feels serious about life to become an imaginative and playful adult… I do actively think of what the comprehensive steps are. Keep following my blog to see what I come up with! Thanks for your patience.
Using your imagination means taking an everyday situation and making it completely different than what it really is. You look around and talk about what you are seeing or what you are doing or what you are about to do as if it were something else. Children know how to play like this. We don’t want to confuse them, so we tailor the pretending in a way they will appreciate and join in on.
This technique or lifestyle goes a looooong way for accomplishing what you want as a parent! Children are inspired by playfulness. In my experience, it’s as if you started speaking their language and now they feel the presence of the parent so much more, and in that wonderful feeling, they just want to be a part of the fun with you. It’s simple, but not easy. It’s worth it though.
Playfulness is healing. We all know how good laughing can feel… Playfulness by nature is very connecting and grounding. It seems to dissipate the anxiety and stress of life.
Playing and laughing settle the soul. I think that’s because when we play – no matter what age – we are aligning with our essential nature. I think of God as playful. There’s no stress for God, no work that He has to do. It’s all important creative play for Him. And we are a spark of the Divine, made in His image.
Therefore my friends – I send you forth into the potentially unknown yet brightly-lit territory of Playfulness! You will encounter many unusual preposterous things there. It’s going to be quite an adventure! You may even cry or tremble as you surrender and grow… If you’re a newbie and you stick to a few of these games I shared, I’m confident you will find your way.
Playfulness goes deep. That’s why we’re avoiding it and numbing ourselves… To embrace a vibrant joyful playful connected life flies in the face of all of our escape mechanisms and distractions we’re attached to. Also, parenthood is intense and personal growth is challenging to squeeze in. Yet, our personal and spiritual growth is where we can serve our children in the most meaningful way. Think about that. For human relationships it’s not that food, water, shelter, warmth, and gentleness are inherently the most deeply impactful things. What really brings value is two souls experiencing the brightness of the other one.
So yes! Playfulness really stirs us! Good thing it’s fun, and it works. 🙂
I warmly welcome you to reach out to me with any questions you may have in your parenthood journey. I’m here to support you!