Tag Archive for play

Let the Adventures Begin…To Prevent Anxiety

We have witnessed a dramatic rise in children with depression and anxiety that began even before the COVID pandemic. In fact, anxiety among children increased 27% from 2016 to 2019. Depression increased 24% during the same time period. In 2020, about 9.7% of children carried a diagnosis of anxiety and 4% had a diagnosis of depression. (See Research Update: Children’s Anxiety and Depression on the Rise.) I don’t know about you, but I find this very disturbing. So, you can imagine how excited I get when I find research suggesting a simple way to potentially reverse this alarming trend.

A study led by the University of Exeter offers a perfect example. In this study, researcher surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children 5- to 11-years-old. The surveys asked parents how often their children engaged in “thrilling and exciting” play that might arouse “some fear and uncertainty” as well as their child’s play in general and their general mental health and mood. They discovered that children who spent more time playing outside had fewer of the “internalizing problems” associated with depression and anxiety. In other words, they were less likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Playing outside provides greater opportunity for “thrilling, exciting” play. It gives children the opportunity to experiment with and safely test their limits. It is adventurous, rewarding… and free. Experimenting with their ability, experiencing adventure, and feeling rewarded combine to increase a child’s confidence, ability to plan, self-awareness, and positive sense of self. And, because it’s fun children will do it often.

So, if you want to decrease the chances of your child experiencing diagnosable symptoms of depression or anxiety, take them outside for some adventurous play. Give them the freedom to encounter challenges and risks in their daily play. If you’re looking for some adventurous activities to try…

  • Go for an overnight camping trip.
  • Go for a hike.
  • Go swimming, paddling, or rafting on a river or lake.
  • Create an obstacle course in your backyard…or living room.
  • Explore the woods with a friend.
  • Let your children walk to the store alone.
  • Try out new skills like skateboarding, jumping on a trampoline, or rock climbing.
  • Climb a tree.

What other adventurous activities have you engaged in with your children? Or allowed your children to engage in with other children?

The Parent-Child Relationship, Trust, & Your Child’s Future

Trust. Our children need to develop a healthy ability to trust if we want them to have healthy relationships. In psychology, our ability to trust develops based on our relationship to our parents—our attachment to our parents. If children have a secure attachment to their parent, they learn a healthy trust of other people. If they have an insecure attachment to their parent, they may struggle to trust other people and, as a result, struggle to some degree in relationships throughout their lifetime. Is this truly the case? Good question.

A ten-year study of 128 toddlers and their mothers assessed this idea. At the beginning of the ten-year study, researchers evaluated the mother-toddler attachment using the Strange Situation procedure (a state-of-the-art method of measuring secure vs. insecure attachment in toddlers). Ten years later, when the children were in their early adolescence, the researchers observed how the adolescents evaluated the trustworthiness of a stranger.

Adolescents who had tested insecure as toddlers showed less ability to identify “low trustworthy” facial cues. On the other hand, toddlers who had tested secure in their mother-child relationship were better able to differentiate trustworthy from untrustworthy facial cues.

The ability to differentiate between trustworthy and untrustworthy facial cues contributes to adolescents having fewer relationships in which an untrustworthy person hurts them…and more positive relationships with trustworthy people. That sounds like something I want my children to experience. How about you?

You might be thinking, “But my children are well past the toddler years. Is it too late?” No. It is never too late to develop a positive, secure relationship with your child. And as you do, they will grow and learn. They will better learn who to trust and how to trust. How can a parent develop a positive, secure relationship with their child. Here are five brief ways you can build a more secure relationship with your child.

  1. Set apart time for your child. Developing a secure relationship takes time, lots of time. Spend time with your children.
  2. Enjoy your child’s exploration of the world around them. Get to know your child and their interests. Get excited about their interests and provide them opportunities and ways to explore those interests. Talk to them about their interests and what they are learning. Be excited with them. Admire their exploration of themselves and their world as they explore interests and hobbies.
  3. Be available when your child encounter struggles, obstacles, and fears. You don’t have to fix the situation or make it easier. In fact, bailing them out will hinder their growth. But your relationship with your child will grow when you are available to support, encourage, and gently hold them accountable in difficult situations.
  4. Comfort your child when they become upset or disappointed, hurt, or frustrated. Be available as a safe haven to which they can return for comfort and love when challenges arise. Listen to them. Empathize with them. Comfort them. Problem-solve with them. Do all this within the loving embrace of a comforting relationship.
  5. Play. Play is an opportunity to spend time with your child, allow them to explore themselves, and comfort them in challenging situations. Play is an opportunity to have fun with your child, admiring their abilities and their wisdom. Play will build trust. Play is an opportunity to build relationship. Enjoy times of play with your child.

Committing to these five actions will build a stronger more secure relationship between you and your child…a relationship from which they can explore themselves and the world, knowing you are a safe haven to which they can return to refuel with love and go on.

Let Them Play for Academic Success

Did you know the United Nations has actually stated that “every child has the right to play”? I don’t disagree, but I would go a step further. More than simply a “right” to play, our children have a biological need to play; and parents have an intuitive desire of their children’s need to play.

Why do children “need” to play? Because play promotes healthy development. A review of the research suggests that play helps children develop knowledge and understanding through hands-on activities. It increases their attention span and their productivity, both of which benefit their academic success.

The same review revealed that play helps our children develop emotionally and socially as well. Play allows them to practice social skill like cooperation, communication, sharing, and problem-solving. It allows them to role-play, safely experimenting with their identity development. And it provides a safe and effective avenue for relieving and managing stress. One child development expert even said that play “makes a child a head taller than himself” in regard to maturity.

The researchers of this review also noted that play helps children develop movement and motor skills. Physical, social, emotional, and mental development—play helps in all these areas.

Another interesting study about play published in 2011 explored the impact of an afterschool physical activity program for 170 seven- to eleven-year-old children. They discovered that physical activity (AKA-play), improved the children’s “cognitive performance.” In other words, physical activity led to greater academic success. In addition, those who engaged in 40 minutes of activity did better than those engaged in only 20 minutes of activity.

What does this all mean for our families? Quite simply, if you want your children to achieve to their full potential in school, let them have time to play with other children. Sure, academics is important. But if you want your children to focus better during school, perform better in the classroom, and develop better thinking skills, encourage them to play. Let your children play so they can have greater academic success. And, as an added bonus, spend some time wisely playing with them. You’ll both love it!

What Legos & Ducks Teach Us About Our Children’s Drive to Learn

It may sound like it was a day in preschool, but it was a group of 22 adults recruited for a study. Each recruit was given five small plastic bags containing six Legos in each one. Four of the Legos were yellow (one of which had an eye on either side) and two were red. In part one of this study, researchers asked the participants to build ducks in ways that “felt playful.” In the second part of the study, they asked the participants to build ducks in a way that “did not feel playful.” Finally, the researchers helped the participant process and describe the two approaches to building ducks using the bags of Legos.

When asked to be playful, the participants reported consciously accessing their autonomy so they could intentionally do what they wanted and build a “creative duck.” Those asked to build a duck in a “non-playful” way reported tapping into their mechanical mode to build the prototype duck.

Playfully building the ducks also led the participants to approach the Legos more thoughtfully, “sensing the bricks” before building and thus allowing ideas and possibilities to arise and flow more freely. In a manner of speaking, they playfully sensed the Legos and followed the Legos into a playful version of a duck. And, in fact, they surprised themselves with novel-looking ducks, not simply ordinary ducks. And participant asked to build a duck in a “playful way” enjoyed building their ducks. Moreover, their unique designs motivated them to want to do it again.

Approaching the duck construction in a non-playful way, on the other hand, did not result in surprisingly novel-looking ducks but in the mechanical construction of expected ducks. It also did not result in an enjoyable or motivating experience.

This study suggests an important factor in helping our children develop a love for learning, a drive to learn. The factor? Play! The playful approach in the study noted above provided three ingredients that culminated in the motivation to learn more.

  1. Autonomy. When building the ducks in a playful manner, the participants had to choose how they wanted to create their duck. They were implicitly given choices. We can encourage our children to learn by giving them choices. Play provides a myriad of choices for our children, beginning with the choice of what they want to play. When given a variety of items, they can choose how to assemble those items or even what they might represent. A box can become a car in one game and a television in another. Autonomy is further bolstered as children negotiate with one another to reach a compromise on how to play the game. In this whole process, our children learn. They learn about one another and about effective social interactions. They learn about the properties of the objects they are playing with. They learn about creative story telling. They learn physics and the limits of their physical abilities. They learn autonomy.
  2. Absorption with the materials with which they are engaged. Children get lost in the play as their stick becomes a magic wand or a royal staff or the building block for a secret fort. Who knows what the play materials will become? Barbie may fly and birds may swim. It’s their choice. (Remember autonomy?) So let the play begin with interesting and engaging materials. Such materials are often simple. In fact, the best toys for children are those they can act upon and use to create whatever action they desire rather than toys with predetermined rules of play. After all, imaginative play can make our children a head taller than themselves.
  3. Surprise often occurs when given the freedom to manipulate the materials of play and create something of their choosing. Surprisingly, the tree gives advice rooted in wisdom, the negotiation turns toward compromise and an ingenious resolution, or a blanket magically provides safety from the monster only when used to help another. Yes, children’s play will be full of surprises and insights.

Overall, this process of play creates a cycle of creative exploration and learning that leads to the “personal reward of surprising discoveries.” This, in turn, will encourage and motivate our children to continue learning. It will create a drive to play and learn. Let’s not squelch the drive. Let’s just play.

6 Tips to Make Your Marriage a Taste of Heaven on Earth

Marriage can provide us with a taste of heaven on earth…or leave us living in hell on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t generally receive training in how to make our marriages a happy, fulfilling experience. I know you can’t learn everything you need to know about a wonderful marriage in a blog but let me give some tips to offer a good start. Here are 6 tips for making your marriage a taste of heaven on earth.

  1. Practice radical generosity. Radical generosity means giving your whole life to your spouse. Give your best energy to your spouse. Give service to your spouse…with joy. Give affection to your spouse on a daily basis. Give your spouse compliments. Give your strength and effort in keeping a home. Give your time by doing an extra chore. Give your time by engaging your spouse in conversation and togetherness. Give your spouse the benefit of the doubt, even when they hurt you. Give all of this and more with radical generosity.
  2. Be the first. Of course, be the first to apologize when you make a mistake. Be the first to apologize when an argument arises or when you have a disagreement, even when it isn’t your fault. Be the first to volunteer to do a chore around the house. Be the first to offer your services to your spouse. Be the first to offer genuine forgiveness. Be the first to sacrifice for the good of your spouse and your marriage. Be the first.
  3. Don’t complain, adore instead. We often find it easier to complain and nag than to adore and compliment. Make an intentional effort to look for the positive in your spouse and your marriage and then acknowledge those positives verbally. In fact, set a goal to say nine positive things to and about your spouse for every one negative. That’s a 9-positive to 1-negative rule. Verbally appreciate or adore your spouse multiple times every day. Focus on the joy and the beauty your spouse adds to your life and verbalize your appreciation of it on a daily basis. Doing so will change your marriage.
  4. Have fun. Make it a point to laugh with your spouse. Find activities you can engage in together just for fun. You might enjoy bike riding, reading a book together, sampling restaurants, hiking, going for walks, listening to music, going to plays…. The list is endless. Make it a habit to enjoy at least one fun conversation daily and at least one fun activity weekly. Have fun together. Laugh. Celebrate your love.
  5. Listen deeply. Listen with respect to hear their wisdom. Listen to understand their intent. Listen to understand their emotions. Listen to understand their desires. Listen so you can understand their view of the world. Listen so you can respond lovingly to what you hear. Yes, listen deeply—for by listening deeply you come to know your spouse better; and in knowing your spouse better you come to love them more.
  6. Accept completely. When we live with someone we begin to see their flaws (just as they see our flaws). But you can’t change your spouse. Don’t even try. Accept them in all their uniqueness instead. Take time to remember all those aspects you love about your spouse. Focus on the aspects you admire and adore about (return to #3 on this list). When their “little traits and idiosyncrasies” begin to irritate, remember how those same “traits and idiosyncrasies” made you love them when your first met. Accept them completely.

Once again, this list is far from exhaustive. What have you done to help create a marriage that gives you a little taste of heaven on earth? What would you add to this list to help others have a heavenly marriage?

Who Cares WHEN We Eat Dinner?

You may have read previous blogs I’ve written about the value of family dinner (see The Lost Art of Family Meals, Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Dinner, Have Fun, Eat, & What? for a sampling) …or the good news about the benefit of ice cream for breakfast. But this study suggests that the timing of dinner impacts parent and child interactions. The data was taken from the American Time Use Survey in which about 41,000 U.S. families kept detailed time diaries. The data suggests that parents who ate dinner prior to 6:15 interacted more with their children in the time between dinner and bedtime. Specifically, they read with their children 27% longer, played with their children 18% longer, and spent 11% more quality time with their children in the evening than those who ate dinner after 6:15. This remained true even after controlling for family background, socio-demographic factors, and family characteristics.

Overall, dinnertime seems to mark a transition to more family-oriented activities. So, more time after an earlier dinner and before bedtime results in more family quality time spent together. That includes more time reading together and more playing together. And that’s great since reading with our children has been shown to help them develop greater empathy and kindness (Raising Kinder Children). Reading paper books (vs. digital books) to your children at bedtime may encourage collaboration and less controlling behavior (The Digital Bedtime Story). Engaging our children in play has many benefits including brain development, reduced behavior problems, and greater parent-child intimacy among other things (Who Needs a Prescription for Play?). In general, play will make your child a head taller than himself.

Enjoy an early dinner. Then enjoy the extra time with your children and family. Everyone will benefit and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

The Fantastic Duo of Giving: An Experiment with Toys

Several young couples have told me about the vast number of toys in their home. They have so many toys that some even remain unopened. Their children have grown tired of other toys… now they lay in a corner collecting dust. Stuffed animals that once lined the bed are now stuffed in a closet. Broken Barbie Dolls lay under the bed forgotten. And, of course there are the boxes and wrappings that our children found more fun to play with than the expensive toys the boxes protected! It all makes me wonder: how many toys do our children need?

With this in mind, I propose an experiment. A challenging experiment that you and your child will find rewarding when it is all said and done. It’s an experiment to thin out the toys. Here are the steps involved.

  1. Team up with your child and talk about the virtues of sharing and gratitude. You might also want to pick a nice name for the project, like Team Generosity or The Great Toy Giveaway.
  2. As a team, pick out the toys you will give away to those who have less. You can identify the toys no longer used to give away and choose a couple more to represent an extra level of generosity and caring.
  3. Decide where you want to give the toys to. You might choose the Salvation Army, a toy lending library, or even someone you know. You can also learn about children who might have a need through an area social service agency or church.
  4. Pick a time in which you and your child (The Fantastic Duo of Giving) can deliver the toys to the charity the two of you agreed upon.
  5. Deliver the toys.
  6. Finally, talk about the experience with your child. What, if anything, was difficult? What was easy?  Now that it is finished, how do you both feel?

Not only does this experiment allow you and your child to declutter the toy room, but it also allows you to spend time together as well (and isn’t that what children really want?). As a bonus, your child will likely experience the joy of generosity and gratitude as they complete this process…and that experience may just prompt more great team giveaways. (For more read One Ingredient of Happy Children.)

The Case for Getting Together with Multiple Families

How do we regulate difficult emotions? How do we get through the hard times of life without having a “nervous breakdown”? I’m sure it will be surprised no one to know friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. But researchers at UCLA conducted a study that suggest our friends help us “see the problem” in a new way, even a better way than if we tried to deal with it alone.

In this study, researchers showed 120 participants a series of negative images like sad faces, angry faces, or people living in poverty. Of course, these images brought up negative emotions for the participants. In the first part of this study, participants were instructed to respond in one of three ways: 1) simply allow their natural response to the image to run its course, 2) reinterpret the image or their response in an effort to feel better, or 3) listen to a reinterpretation of the image recorded by a friend who had come with them. Both groups involving reinterpretation (groups 2 and 3) felt better, but those who heard a friend offer a reinterpretation (group 3) felt even better.

It wasn’t just the friend’s voice either. A second part of the study used the act of counting to determine if the mere sound of a friend’s voice would alleviate the negative emotions aroused by the images. One group counted to themselves. A second group listened to a friend count. Listening to a friend count was no more soothing than counting to oneself. Apparently, counting does not help us deal with negative emotions, even if a friend does it. Our friend’s voice does not help us deal with negative emotions in and of itself. No, it’s our friend’s advice and counsel that help us deal with negative emotions. (The voice of your mother, on the other hand, may be the medicine that cures what ails you.)

The takeaway message is that friends help us manage difficult emotions and navigate difficult times. Leaning into our friends increases our ability to manage difficulties. In fact, we can manage difficulties better with friends than we can alone…which brings me to families.

Getting together with other families is a great way to develop friendships. Get together for a picnic or a game night, to worship or simply to share a meal will nurture and broaden your friendships with the other family. Whatever we do when we get together with other families opens the door to building relationships and finding the support we need to navigate the difficulties of life.

I remember my parents getting together our family together with other families to play games. The adults played cards while the children played other games. Friendships developed…and those friendships helped us all through difficult times.

They say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Maybe that sells the village a little short. Perhaps we could more appropriately say, “it takes a village to raise an emotionally healthy family.” Build your village. Enjoy time with other families.

For Your Marriage’s Sake, Get Serious About Play

If you want a long and happy marriage, you may want to get serious about play. A sober review of the research on playfulness offered a thoughtful reminder of play’s far-reaching effect, what did this review reveal?

  • Playing as a couple facilitates the experience of positive emotions. Sharing positive emotions enhances relationship satisfaction.
  • Play also influences how couples communicate. Specifically, play helps couples communicate in ways that better deal with stress and resolve tension. This, in turn, can build trust.
  • Play strengthens intimacy and connection. Some suggest playfulness even serves as a positive ingredient of a satisfying sex life. What married couple doesn’t want that?

As you can see, play serves a crucial role in building a long and happy marriage. So, here is the prescription you’ve been waiting for. Enjoy a healthier marriage and have fun doing it.  Get serious about play. Grab your spouse and have some fun. Seriously, go PLAY for a better marriage.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

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