I am not the “fun” parent by nature. I admit it. The task-oriented, perfection-driven, clean freak in me just struggles to drop everything and play.
And I was acutely reminded of this on Saturday morning. While I worked on weight loss research for my blog, I grew increasingly frustrated with my husband for not curtailing our one-year-old who likes to be attached to my leg at all times.
After a big 30 minutes without interruption, I felt a slight panic. Where had my little Eliza gone? I went into her bedroom ready for eruption and found this:
Boy did I eat crow.
Seeing my sweet baby playing dress-up with her Dad got me thinking about how important play is for development.
The Many Benefits of Play Include:
- Improving executive function (problem-solving, self-control, and mental flexibility) in children
- Decreasing stress response in children, especially those who have been through significant trauma
- Increasing a child’s ability to negotiate with peers
- Unstructured interactive play in school-aged children has shown improvements in language skills, multi-tasking, and creativity. And traditional toys fare better than electronics as they promote interaction.
- Unstructured physical play, such as recess, shows improvement in class lessons afterward over planned activity play, such as PE class.
And Play Starts Younger than You May Think:
- Play begins before 3-months-of-age when infants learn to smile and babble. As their parents mimic these behaviors, infants begin to learn non-verbal social cues and self-regulation. When parents mimic sounds made by the infant, infants learn verbal cues and begin to understand the give and take art of conversation.
- Infants will respond to nonverbal cues by their parents by 9 months of age in regard to play. Studies have shown children will move forward when encouraged by a parent but a simple frown from Mom will stop the child in his or her tracks.
- By one-year, repetitive games such as peek-a-boo help toddlers develop object permanence and memory skills.
- Two-year-olds grow in independence as their ability to explore their world increases with growing gross motor skills (walking and running). Toddlers will still use their parents as a safe-place, though, frequently checking in to make sure they are safe.
- As their brains continue to develop, fantasy play becomes increasingly important for problem-solving and focusing attention.
What Constitutes “Play”?
So maybe I have been playing with Eliza more than I think. Engagement as a parent starts young and continues to be important as your child grows. Through play, your child is learning to interact with the world and growing developmentally.
Play can be anything from reading to your child to swinging to playing peek-a-boo. It is just about interacting with a positive influence. Even chores can be play when you do them with a smile and words of encouragement.
Play to Your Strengths
My one-year-old Eliza likes to imitate me already. Just yesterday afternoon I turned to find her wiping up the floor with a rag – unsolicited, I promise. She “plays” by helping me switch the laundry, load the dishwasher, and even wipes her face after she eats. I’m not sure that was exactly the play I wanted her to associate with her Mom but what can I expect?
Her Dad is a different story. He BRINGS the fun. And he can make fun out of anything. On my days off, Eliza and I take care of tasks. On his days with her, they play. And when I come home to a mess after a long day at work, I am going to do my best to remember the two of them playing dress up and know how important play is to Eliza.
To the Mom’s like me, just remember the saying my Mom used to have in her room: “Cleaning and scrubbing can wait for tomorrow. For babies grow up, I’ve learned to my sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep. I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”
And ignore the dead spider that my husband has been promising to spray for that I found behind the bears. Somethings never change.
Simple Solution: Play is important for development for kids from birth to teens. And it doesn’t have to be planned. Give yourself and your child the gift of time to stop what you are doing and engage. You won’t regret it.
For more on The Power of Play and AAP recommendations for schools: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/142/3/e20182058
For Easy Toddler Ideas:
For Active Games for School-Aged Children:
For more Blog Posts with tips for your littles:
Insect Repellent: https://doctormome.com/what-is-the-best-insect-repellent/
Drowning Prevention: https://doctormome.com/what-parents-need-to-know-about-drowning/