I don’t remember what it was that set him off in the first place. But he had passed annoyed and had clearly moved on to angry.
Likely, it was the day-long accumulation of typical seven year-old stressors, all piled together as he finally found the release valve at home. A long school day followed by the constant drip of “put away your backpack”, “no computer time today”, “stop teasing your brother”, “please help with dinner”, “be sure to clear your plate”, “I’m sure you don’t want a bath, but you need one anyway” had finally worn him thin.
He seemed to have a stormy, dark cloud hanging over him as he sat at the counter, scowling.
Nothing I said seemed to land right.
I didn’t want to end the day like this.
I wished I could hit the reset button.
I had a theory about what the reset button might be, but I wondered if he’d shut me down. I decided to take the chance anyway.
“Wanna play some Uno before bed?”
His face immediately softened as he took me up on my offer to deal him in on one of his favorite games. Over the course of a few hands, as we laughed and teased each other, the dark clouds seemed to drift away. His whole mood changed because of that one reset button:
Play is a powerful reset for children and here’s why. “One of the things about play is, it’s hard to do it and not be in a better mood,” as Dr Sergio Pellis, from the department of neuroscience at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada says in this article. “Playing fosters the kinds of neurochemical changes in your brain and body that tend to counteract the effect of neurochemicals produced when you’re stressed or unhappy.” The natural release of feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine and endorphins when kids play is a wonderful recipe for chasing away a serious case of the grumpies.
But kids aren’t the only ones who need play. As play expert, Dr. Stuart Brown says, “What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around.”
As I think about that quote, I realize that my invitations to play with my kids may not just reset their attitudes, but perhaps my own as well. Maybe the friction isn’t just from their bad moods, but from my own.
Playing together helps us both reset, which is why it smooths out our relationships.
Maybe it’s a hand of Uno, or tickle chase, or riding bikes, or building blocks, or painting pictures. Play can take on many different forms. Brown defies play as “something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”
There are many ways to connect with our children through play. Simply include the core ingredients of pleasure, choice, engagement, and a focus on the process over the product.
Play will not only reset our moods, but also build positive connections in our relationships, enliven and energize us, strengthen our brains and our spirits, and help us more effectively use positive guidance as we create a healthy culture and an environment where kids are ready to learn.
Not a bad payoff for a little effort to engage with our kids in play.
Some parents find it hard to play on a child’s level, particularly in the early years. My friend, Jamie of Hands on as We Grow, is a mom to three active boys and a genius at finding simple ways to playfully and purposefully engage kids and build connections in the process. I’m teaming with her to offer readers a FREE seven day challenge to help parents find more ways to play with their kids.
One of the things I heard from readers who filled out the Not Just Cute Reader’s Survey (you can still add your input here) was that many of you would like more ideas for hands on activities. Jamie is the first person I thought of to help meet that need. Whether you’re looking for more playful ways to connect and reset, more activities to implement in your classroom, simple ways to keep kids engaged during a busy day, or just some reminders to make play a part of your day, this challenge is for you. All you have to do is head over here and get signed up.
Maybe it’s a game, a project, or just good old-fashioned rough-housing, how ever your family likes to play, remember that when interactions are getting tense or moods are getting dark, a little playful engagement can go a long way — for you and for your child.
How has play served as a reset for you and/or your kids on difficult days? Share your experience with us in the comments!