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Strengthening Your Parent-Child Connection Through Play

“Can you play with me?” 

If you're like me, you may feel at a loss when your child asks you to play. Usually I would be elbow-deep in dirty dishes or meal prep, or maybe I was rushing everyone out the door so we could be on time for an event or activity. With the hustle and bustle of life, parents may want to know: what are the benefits of playing with my child, and how can I practically make time for it? 

Understanding the Importance of Play

Research shows that playing together with your children helps nurture a stronger parent-child bond by building trust and a lasting connection. Beyond creating joyful moments, play provides a unique avenue for children to express themselves. Through imaginative play, they share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns in a comfortable and non-threatening environment. Engaging in play also allows parents to connect with their children on an emotional level. It builds trust, enhances empathy, and creates a secure foundation for the child to open up about their experiences. Last but not least, play is not just fun; it's educational. Parents can take part in helping their children learn crucial life skills like problem-solving, creativity, emotion-regulation, and teamwork through playing together.

Practical Steps for Busy Parents

Despite all the benefits, finding time to play with your children can be a real challenge. The key is to remember that playtime with your child does not have to be lengthy or more than your family can handle! Here are some ideas for inserting play into your family’s busy schedule, but the sky's the limit with creating new and different ways to continually play and connect with your child.

Schedule Playtime

Allocate dedicated time for play in your daily routine. It doesn't have to be for long; even 15-30 minutes can make a significant impact. If my child asks to play during those hectic moments when I have to get other work done, I explain clearly when I would be free to play and for how long. Using a timer can also be helpful for managing expectations.

Quality Over Quantity

Focus on the quality of play interactions. Be fully present (try to put those smart phones away!), actively engage, and let your child take the lead in choosing activities. You can also suggest activities that match your child's age and interests. From board games to outdoor adventures, select activities that align with their preferences.

Incorporate Everyday Activities

Turn mundane tasks into playful moments. Whether it's cooking together, playing during bath time, or making a game out of cleaning up, find joy in the ordinary. Encourage imaginative play. Create stories or embark on a pretend adventure while running errands or driving in the car. Imagination knows no bounds and can lead to memorable bonding experiences.

Realizing the Long-Term Benefits

While the demands of parenthood are undeniably challenging, investing time in play helps create a healthy parent-child relationship that will extend well into the teenage and adult years. From improved communication to a deeper sense of security and trust, the power of play is a priceless gift that both you and your child will cherish for a lifetime. Start incorporating play into your routine and enjoy the lasting joy of bonding with your child.

Written by: Gloria Huang, AMFT

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