Play offers innumerable benefits to your marriage. Let me name a few.
Play allows you to spend time with your spouse and enjoy your spouse’s company. This builds intimacy.
Play can deepen and broaden your marital relationship. It provides a time in which we are absorbed in your marital relationship.
Play helps to heal any breaches or damage done to your relationship. It helps to repair the quality of your relationship.
Play facilitates acceptance and openness.
Play contributes to feelings of acceptance and relational safety. In fact, some would call play the antidote to shame and fear. Play can take away shame and fear and allow you to find greater acceptance and security.
Play builds trust. Rather than judging motives or assuming negative intent, couples who play together are more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt and find the humor in mistakes.
Play can help resolve conflict. Those who play together are more able to admit mistakes and make amends.
Play builds understanding.
So, take time to play this week. Go out with your spouse and enjoy some fun. Joke around. Play some games. Laugh. Laugh some more. And enjoy the play as it strengthens your marriage!
Recent data from Extreamist showed children between 2-18 years old stream about 1.8 hours of content from Netflix, Hulu, Your Tube, or other online services each day. This adds up to 650 hours per year. On the other hand, data from the National Wild Life Federations suggests children spend an average of 4-7 minutes playing outdoors each day. That only adds up to 24 to 43 hours per year. In other words, the amount of time children spend streaming and watching shows is 15 to 27 times greater than the time they spend in unstructured outdoor play. (Read Kids Watch Services Like Netflix 15 Times as Much as They Play Outdoors for more on these statistics.) They spend more time watching cops and robbers on a screen than they spend playing cops and robbers…more time watching fantasy stories created and filmed by others than they spend creating their own imaginative stories. The unstructured, imaginative play they miss out on by watching streaming videos is the very activity that helps fuel their emotional maturity and makes them “a head taller than themselves” in self-control and emotional management (See Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself” for more.)
Another study, led by a professor at the University of Montreal, reveals a few more specifics about the impact of watching TV, especially for toddlers (Couch Potato: Chilling In Front of the TV as a Toddler Can Lead to Being Bullied Later in Life.) This study examined the connection between time spent watching TV as a 29-month-old toddler and the same child’s social experience as a 13-year-old. The results suggest that every 53 minutes of daily toddler TV exposure increased the risk of peer victimization, social isolation, or aggression in that same child at 13 years of age. In other words, the more a toddler watched TV, the greater the risk of poor social interactions as a 13-year-old.
Overall, the more time children spend watching TV, the less time they spend engaging in the creative imaginative, and interactive play that is so crucial to healthy development. Maybe we, as parents, need to ask ourselves some difficult questions:
Do we want our children’s minds, imaginations, and emotions shaped by half-hour sitcoms and frenetic cartoons or by the interactive, imaginative play engaged in with others?
Do we want our children’s intellect and thought life stimulated by the subtle innuendos of shows streamed into the home or by the undivided responsive interaction of friends and family?
Do we want our children’s values to mimic those learned on the internet (where someone can be thrown across the room and stand up unharmed) or those learned from interactions with “real-live” people with real emotions and real consequences?
I’m not suggesting our children never watch TV or stream shows. However, our children will benefit greatly when we learn to limit the streaming and encourage their creative, imaginative interactions with other people.
I love to watch parents interact with their children. Over time, I have observed at least three ways parent tend to interact with their children.
The parent points out a toy or some object in an effort to direct their child to play with that particular object. If you watch closely, you’ll see their child’s eyes wander and the child ultimately gravitate toward toys he likes in spite of his parents’ desires and effort to “direct” their child’s focus.
The child picks a toy he likes and, before beginning to play with it, brings it to show his parents. His parents briefly acknowledge the toy before quickly turning their attention to another toy, a text, or something else in the area. They give very little attention to their child’s activity. The child continues to play, but moves from toy to toy rather quickly.
The child picks out a toy he likes and, before beginning to play with it, brings it to show his parents. His parents not only acknowledge the toy, they join in the play. This parent attends to the child’s manner of play and even follows the child’s lead in play. The parent and child enjoy their playful interaction.
Research by Yu and Smith (read more in Infant Attention Span Suffers When Parents’ Eyes Wander During Playtime) suggests that each of these patterns of interaction will influence your child’s attention span! Parents who constantly direct their children’s play or parents who let their own attention wander during play time (as in scenario #1 and #2) raise children with shorter attention spans. Children who played with toys while their parents actually attended to them, them play, and their play object (Scenario #3) exhibited four times the attentional skills. In fact, the longer a parent attended to some toy with their child, the longer the child continued to attend to that toy, even after the parent stopped!
Based on the findings of this research, you can influence your children’s attention span by becoming a responsive student of them. Pay attention to what interests your children. When you see some object or activity “catch your children’s eye,” attend to that object or activity with them. Follow their lead. Join them in their interests and their world. Be curious with them. Engage in the play they initiate. When you tune in to your children’s interests and coordinate your attention with theirs, you actually train their ability to focus and pay attention—you encourage the development of their attention span!
We had another great Family Camp weekend at Camp Christian this year! Tim Jones was the speaker this year. He shared some fantastic insights for our lives and our families. Let me share three of these insights plus my most cherished experience of family camp.
Adored people become beautiful people. This is true for our world and our families. An adored spouse will more likely become a person worthy of adoration. An adored child will more likely live up to their parents’ adoration. An adored parent strives to live a life that honors that adoration. The take home: honor and adore your family to turn the beast within into a beautiful member of your family in Christ.
A vision of where we are going makes all the difference. Times can be difficult, struggles immense. But, having a clear vision of where those difficulties and struggles take us can make them bearable. For instance, discipline is never fun. It is hard for the one disciplined and the one dishing out the discipline. We hate to see our children struggle with the pain of discipline. But, if we keep a clear vision of where we want to go—the godly behavior and wise discernment we want our children to develop—discipline becomes bearable.
We are called to be “story people,” to live a life of adventure following the “still, small voice of God.” There is no greater joy than following God as a family into the adventure of life in Him.
Thanks Tim for these wonderful insights for our lives and our families. Still, my most cherished family camp experience involves a simple observation. Families of all different stages come to family camp—grandparents with grandchildren, families of infants, families of teens, and even “empty nesters.” Spending time at family camp, I was deeply touched by the sight of all these families enjoying time together. Whether worshiping together, playing together, eating together, or laughing together, I loved seeing families interacting with one another. Interacting with families at family camp allows us all to be part of this beautiful experience. That experience is the one I cherish most.
Thanks to Jim and Terry Jones, the deans of family camp, for organizing such a wonderful family experience. Thanks to all who helped create an environment where families can experience the joy of sharing, playing, worshiping, and learning together.
I’m always on the lookout for family activities; but, I’m often surprised by the multiple benefits some simple family activities produce. For instance, taking the family to a “green area” (an area covered with grass with trees, birds, the singing of locusts, and sunshine) has huge benefits for you and your family. You can enjoy a cookout, play Frisbee, sit around and talk, hike…whatever you want in the “green area.” It’s all a wonderful, fun time. But, did you know that spending just 30 minutes a week in a “green area” can lead to lower rates of depression and lower rates of high blood pressure. That’s right. A recent study actually estimated that we could reduce cases of depression in the city by 7% and incidents of high blood pressure by 9% if everyone spent 30 minutes a week in a “green area.” Even more, this study revealed that the more frequently people visit a “green area,” the greater their sense of social cohesion. In other words, the more time people spend outdoors in grassy, wooded areas the more they will work to promote the well-being of others, include others, create a sense of belonging, and promote trust. (Read the study at Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose)
You may be wondering…what this all has to do with family? It brings to mind a suggestion, a prescription if you will. Find a grassy wooded area near your home and visit it with your family once a week. Have a picnic. Go for a walk. Fly a kite. Sit together and read. Paint a picture of the scenery. Whatever you want, but do it outdoors with your family. If you do it once a week you have decreased the chances of depression and high blood pressure in your family. That sounds a like something I want to pass on to my kids! In addition, this study would suggest that playing outdoors as a family also creates an environment where each family member will feel a greater sense of belonging and trust. They will watch out for one another. In other words, they will feel a greater sense of security, trust, and belonging. I don’t know about you, but I want that for my family…and spending time in a “green spot” can help make it happen. So, consider this your prescription for a “green area.” Identify a “green spot” near your home. Visit it often with your spouse for a romantic walk, with your kids for a rambunctious game of tag, or with your whole family for an enjoyable picnic. Do this for 30 minutes once a week for a happy, carefree, intimate family.
Over the years of observing families, I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things about children and their interests. I’m sure you’ve noticed them as well.
Children playing on a cell phone, watching TV, or playing a video game do NOT listen well. They are preoccupied with their TV show, game, text, or pic on the screen. They can sit right next to you, playing on their mobile device, and totally block you out. They don’t listen.
Children love boxes and blocks and dress up clothes. They have great fun with objects that can become whatever they imagine. In fact, I’ve seen preschoolers more interested in the box their gift came in than the gift itself!
These two observations got me thinking. Parents spend a lot of money on mobile devices, TV’s, X-Boxes, etc. Our children delve into these devices. While engaged on their devices, they interact face-to-face with other people less often. They engage in less hands-on activities. They explore the world beyond the screen less often. They even stumble across videos we don’t want them to see.
But, when you give children some empty Tupperware, old boxes, blocks, crayons, and paper they create amazing things. They become curious and imaginative. They explore ways of using the material. They create forts, planes, and dinner out of the same “raw materials.” These “open-ended” materials, or what Magda Gerber calls “passive toys,” become the raw ingredients of imaginative play, explorations, and new ideas. And, in the midst of creating all this, they talk with one another. They share ideas. They ask for help. They negotiate, compromise, and problem solve…together! As they engage, combine, and re-engage these simple objects, they learn and grow. They have fun, too.
I love the poster from Let the Children Play. It explains the benefits of “passive toys” with a simple acronym.
Passive toys help children become better PROBLEM-SOLVERS.
Passive toys engage children in ACTIVE LEARNING.
Passive toys encourage SELF-INITIATED play and SENSORY EXPERIENCES.
Passive toys SUPPORT SCHEMAS. They support what children already know and how they already think while supporting them to move up another level in their thought life. As Vygotsky used to say, “In play, a child becomes a child a head taller than himself.” (Read Make Your Child A Head Taller Than Himself for more info)
Passive toys throw open the doors for INVENTION, INVESTIGATION, and IMAGINATION.
Passive toys are VERSATILE, which nurtures creativity.
Passive toys encourage EXPERIMENTATION and EXPLORATION.
I’m not against some screen time, but what video game or TV show can do all that!
My family and I just returned from vacation. We had a great time…fabulous. With my daughters getting older, we decided to go someplace new, someplace none of us have visited before. We all love food and music, so we chose New Orleans. We enjoyed a steamboat ride on the Mississippi, New Orleans jazz, historical museums, and great food. Some friendly New Orleans’ natives even taught us how to eat crawfish (delicious but a lot of work for the food). It truly was a great family trip. The whole thing made me think about the benefits of a family adventure. The adventure of a family vacation presents new experiences for the whole family. It teaches everyone in the family something new and builds stronger, healthier bonds within the family in at least 5 ways.
Family adventures enhance communication. Family members have to communicate schedules, what they would like to do, when they get tired or hunger…the list goes on. Each family member learns to listen and speak with clarity as the whole family navigates new terrain, maneuvers unique circumstances, and designs mutually enjoyable experiences.
Family adventures teach problem-solving skills. Let’s face it—most of us can’t do everything we want to do while on a vacation. We lack the financial resources and the time. Instead, we have to pick and choose which activities we will enjoy as a family and as individuals. This requires keeping other family member’s interests and possible scheduling issues in mind. It will demand negotiation and compromise. These, along with communication (see #1), are all great problem-solving skills.
Family adventures provide playful experiences for the whole family. Work, school, and daily stresses all get left behind so the family can focus on relaxing and playing together. Don’t forget, families that play together stay together! (Read The Family That Laughs Together for more.)
Family adventures gives us a broader, healthier perspective. Whether we experience the vastness of the sea, the majesty of the mountains, the power of the “mighty Mississippi,” or the amazing variety of cultures in our world, we gain a deeper perspective of life. We experience moments of awe (which carries its own benefits as described in Using the Power of Awe for Your Family) and a growing appreciation for the diversity of the world around us.
Family adventures increase each family member’s confidence. Each adventure we navigate represents a new accomplishment. Each time a family member does something new—whether it be eating a new food, windsurfing, getting directions from a stranger, catching a fish, or hiking to the next lean to—they gain confidence in themselves and their abilities. We learn that each time we safely step out of our comfort zone we raise the chances of new opportunity. My daughter learned this in New Orleans when she approached a pianist to talk about his experiences on Broadway. During the conversation, he asked her to sing a song with him…and she did (see video below). A great experience and a great confidence boost.
All in all, family adventures help families grow. They bring out the best in all of us as individuals and as celebrating communities of honor and grace. Now get out there and have a fun adventure!
Children have two currencies for LOVE: TIME and ATTENTION (Read Your Child’s Currency For Love for mistaken investments). When parents invest time and attention into their children’s emotional bank account, their children grow to know themselves as significant and valuable. They realize they hold a place of importance in their parents’ lives. As a result, they become more confident. They also develop a greater desire to please their parents. They obey more often and internalize their parents’ moral values more readily. In other words, time and attention are two powerful discipline investments that will result in better behaved children. One great way to invest time and attention in your children is through “Banking Play Time.” Here’s how it works.
Set aside 15-20 minutes each day for playtime with your child. Do not make this time contingent on behavior. Do not use it as a form of punishment or reward. Just enjoy 15-20 minutes of play time with your child each day.
Let your child pick the activity (within reason—TV does not work well for this type of investment). Let your child lead the activity as well. You simply follow your child’s lead. Play what they want to play, how they want to play.
Become a student of your child’s actions and imaginations during this playtime. Objectively observe and verbally describe your child’s behavior during this activity. You can objectively describe behavior in several ways.
You can simply report what you see your child doing. “Joey stacks the blocks and knocks them down.” “You put a blue dress on Barbie.” “You threw the ball right to me.”
You may also describe what your child might be imagining in his play, modifying your play-by-play account as he directs. “Joey built a tower and knocked it down like the Hulk!” “You dressed Barbie in a pretty blue dress for dinner with friends.” “He throws the ball to first base and the runner is out! The crowd cheers.”
You can also describe positive behaviors you observe during play. “You are waiting so patiently for your turn.” “You are working hard at putting that dress on Barbie just right.”
Do not give directives or teach during playtime. This is child-directed play. You simply follow your child’s lead, spending time with them and paying attention to what he is doing. You are investing your time in playing how your child desires to play. You’re investing your attention in noticing them, their activity, and their thoughts and imaginations.
Look for something positive, special, or unique about your child or his play. Verbally acknowledge or describe that unique quality. When you describe these positive qualities, make them specific and positive rather than a general label. For instance, say, “I like how you take turns” rather than “That’s a good boy.”
If your child starts to engage in some negative behavior during play time, ignore it. Do not make eye contact. Simply continue engaging in, and commenting on, the positive aspects of the play activity. If the negative behavior starts to dominate the playtime, simply end the “banking time” session.
Try this method of investing time and attention into your child’s emotional bank account for 3-4 weeks. You will be surprised at how your child’s behavior improves.
I lived near a very small (I mean, very small!) patch of woods for part of my elementary school and middle school years. I remember the joy of going “into the woods” and finding natural enclaves under bushes that I could make into “my fort.” A few minor adjustments and additions turned those branches into a naturally camouflaged hideout. I also remember “building forts” out of blankets, tables, and cushions in the house. As a father, I even joined my daughters in making forts during their elementary school years. In fact, fort building is a pretty universal activity among children.
Fort building flows from our children’s developmental needs and desires. During the middle years of elementary school, children start figuring out their nearby world. They want to understand how their home fits into the neighborhood and which streets and paths go from their home to other destinations. They also become more independent, developing a unique self, separate from their family and engaged in the world. All in all, it’s quite an adventure…and building an outside fort adds to the adventure. Even an indoor fort adds excitement to a rainy day and helps satisfy strong developmental needs like:
Fort building encourages independence. Children gain independence as they gather materials and build their forts however they like. They establish themselves as separate individuals by creating their own space in a unique design of their choice.
Fort building also develops practical skills. Children meet their “inner engineer’ and “construction worker” when building a fort. They learn what creates a sturdy fort, what protects against the wind, what holds materials together, what materials work best for various designs…. The list of practical skills our children learn while building forts goes on.
Fort building enhances cognitive skills like problem-solving, planning, and organization (which may come in handy when writing their high school papers).
Fort building also builds social skills like cooperation, negotiation, and teamwork.
Fort building establishes “my place,” a fortress against all the stresses and demands of the outside world. In this sense, fort building can relieve stress and build skills to manage emotions.
Don’t forget. Fort building is also just plain fun! We all love to see our kids having fun.
So, on a rainy day, encourage your children to build a fort in the basement, attic or family room. On a nice day, encourage your children to go outside, explore, and build a primo-fort in a secluded spot. Supply some materials and encourage the adventure. Then sit back and enjoy watching them develop skills while growing more mature!