The Secret Art of Playfulness

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Some days seem to drag on and on when nothing goes as planned. At some point we’ve all agreed with the sentimental quip about parenting, “The days are long but the years are short.” (Gretchen Rubin) However, we’ve also all heard, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” So why do the days feel so long? Why do they drag on and on? The truth is the days drag on because we’re not having enough fun. The monotony of putting tiny shoes on feet, arguing about chores, enforcing “consequences” and praying they will just go to sleep at bedtime, overshadow the moments of fun and joy. The overwhelm and humdrum seems to dwarf the exhilarating flow of genuine merriment.

Parents talk abundantly about how hard it is to be a parent, about all the work and sacrifice. There is no disputing that parenting requires a lot of us and can be exhausting, but it can also be a lot of fun. There is a way to make both the days and years fly by. There is a way to make parenting a whole lot more fun, a way to make more of your interactions with your children positive. There is a way to have your kids and you enjoying your every-day responsibilities more than you ever have before. But how…?

The answer is playfulness.

That’s right. The answer is playfulness. I’m not talking about playing GI Joes or Dolls or whatever else your child is into. Doing those things can’t hurt, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about engaging your own inner-child and turning everyday life into play. There are so many ways every day that we can engage our children’s hearts and minds with a little playfulness.

To get an idea what real playfulness looks like, think about the enthusiastic way your kids go about simple, monotonous every-day activities. Kids see a game where we see a chore. They hear a song where we perceive noise. They feel excitement where we experience tedium.

The trick is to simply watch and take their lead. Observe yourself and when you catch yourself going through the motions, irritated, annoyed or bored out of your mind with whatever you are doing, switch it up with a little energy and fun. Take your drudgery, add a bit of playfulness and it can turn things around, both for you and your child.

Try just a few of these playful options to better connect and elicit cooperation and happiness at home every day.

  • Skip instead of walking from place to place with your child.
  • Give piggybacks more often.
  • Don’t step on the cracks and other games.
  • Make life a musical. Sing or whistle while you work.
  • Make up jokes, even if they’re really silly jokes.
  • Spin, jump and run whenever possible.
  • Tell more stories, real or made up.
  • Notice something ordinary that is beautiful, like a flower or a rock.
  • Scoop the kids up and rough house.
  • Imagine some great adventure.
  • Make funny faces.
  • Make it a race.
  • Splash in puddles when it’s raining.
  • Walk with hands outstretched and face to the sky when the sun is shining.
  • Dance your way through daily chores.

If you apply this one principle of TRU Parenting you will find yourself wishing you could just hold on to the every-day moments a little bit longer. This one principle, together with a few behavioral tweaks here and there can make kids’ cooperation more plenteous and mutual happiness abound.

How playfulness can make shopping better

Recently my wife shared with me her experience of taking our 5 kids to the grocery store. She had already had a particularly stressful day prior to the grocery store trip but knew we needed to get a few things before the weekend. You can imagine the tension and frazzled feelings that emerged just by getting the kids ready, in the car and to the store in one piece, let alone the compounded strain of having them all piled in and around a grocery cart. Needless to say, my wife was a little on edge as she arrived at the store. However, something happened that changed every thing in mere moments and totally changed the trajectory of the day with the kids. As she was grumpily placing kids in the cart she caught sight of my 5 year old son skipping. It made her smile and she made a decision right then. She decided to hold his hand and to skip into the store with him. Almost immediately the feeling inside her and between her and the kids changed. It was more positive. She told me of the experience with a smile on her face that evening. She described that after her skipping, she used other simple acts of playfulness with the kids as she picked groceries off the shelves and as they strolled from place to place. All of a sudden, there was smiles and cooperation. All because of a little playfulness.

It’s not just shopping that playfulness will improve. It’s everything. Add a tickle, a chuckle, a joke and just a little more positive energy. Things that were a struggle can become a pleasure. It can help to make the bad stuff bearable, the bearable stuff good and the good stuff great! Why not give it a try. At the very least you’ll shed some sunshine on the world. That sunshine will inevitably make good things grow.

What things do you like to do to inject a little playfulness into your every day interaction with your kids? How have you noticed they respond?

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