Why build a playful family?
Do you ever find yourself wondering where the fun has gone from family life? You and your partner used to have fun, right? That’s why you chose to spend life together. Somehow, the joy is harder to find as you work hard to keep a roof over your heads, ferry children from one activity to the next, arrive at home and all collapse in front of your various screens. Is this what it’s really all about?
In recent months many of us have spent more time with our partners and children than perhaps we have ever spent before. It’s been hard! Attempting to work from home, manage the children’s learning and somehow keep everybody on an emotional even keel can put strain on even the best family relationships.
It was when I realised that I was worrying about my to do list and not enjoying spending time with my children, and that they were crying out for some positive attention as they tried to navigate their way through the covid lockdown, that I knew we needed to put some playfulness back in our family life.
“Play is any activity that allows you for a moment to celebrate your existence wholeheartedly and unashamedly.” Rebecca Abrams
Playfulness doesn’t have to involve getting down and playing Barbies with your four-year-old daughter… though of course it can.
Instead, Playfulness is about building a better family relationships by having fun together. In a stressful world, where we’ve got used to being “grown up”, sometimes that can be hard to find. Here are some ways to find a more playful family relationship:
Family game time
The first thing I introduced was game time. We spend so long telling the children that we are “too busy” to play. I wanted to ensure that they knew that playtime was now a priority, so after dinner every day for a week, we played a game. Sometimes it was darts, sometimes cards, once Scrabble. It was a time for us all to do something together. After that, if any member of the family suggests a game of any sort, I’m in.
In the back of the car yesterday my son made a comment about the funny name of a village we passed. I put down my magazine and joined and extended the joke. We spent the next ten minutes giggling as we played with village names and had fun together.
Race and rough and tumble together
I used to play a great game with my children (I think I read about it in the wonderful Tom Hodgkinson’s “The Idle Parent”). It’s called “Tickle or Trap”. You, the parent, need only sit on the sofa. The children run up to you and you ask “Tickle or trap?” If they say “Tickle” then you have to grab them and tickle them, if they say “trap” then you have to grab hold of them and give them a big hug. The idea is that they have to run away when they say the word so you have to catch them to trap or tickle, but in reality they are loving the rough and tumble so much that they don’t move fast and before long you are both dissolved in giggles. Now my children are a bit bigger but they still absolutely love it when I join them for a game of hide and seek, sardines, tickle-fighting or other such nonsense, and I’ll quite often liven up a walk with a “race you to that tree!”
Enjoy a crisis
As a child I have fond memories of car break-downs. In my memory we spent a lot of time jump-starting the car, but certainly every family holiday involved a ride in a recovery truck at some point. To us, this was a huge adventure! Sometimes, when things go wrong, the best way to deal with it is with a healthy dose of humour and a spirit of adventure. Compare these two walks:
- Walking in the Malverns, my daughter lost her camera. I was furious. We retraced our steps to try and find it, I lost the dog lead, then we lost the dog. We found the dog, returned eventually to the car-park where a lady handed us the missing camera (she’d recognised us from the photos).
- The route on the map took us across a golf course. I think I exited the golf course at the wrong place because we ended up wading through a field of head-high ferns and nettles, lifting the dog and the children over a barbed-wire fence or two.
In both walks, all ended well. However, the second walk is remembered fondly by all as a great adventure, while the first was an absolute disaster. The difference was entirely in how I reacted to the crises on the day.
Be a bit spontaneous
Routines are great for helping to ground children and make them feel secure. However, one of the best things about a routine is the joy of breaking that routine every now and then. Get the children up before dawn and climb a hill to watch the sunrise. The adventure is in the unusual.
The adventure is in the unusual.
Gamify the boring stuff
Children find transitioning from one activity to another hard. When they are engrossed in what they are doing they find it hard to extricate themselves and move on to the next task. In addition, tidying up, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and putting shoes on are all necessary but irritating intrusions on the fun part of the day. You’ve got two options… you can either nag and scold the child and end up frustrated, cross and late… or you can join your child in the play that they are engrossed in, engage with them briefly there, and then move them on: “Shall we park the cars over here so they can wait for you when you come back? Great! You parked yours quickly. Now… I bet you get your shoes on the right feet. I’ll do up this shoe, you do the other one. If you brush your teeth for two minutes I’ll let you tickle me for 10 seconds!”
For yourself, think about how you can make your boring tasks more fun. I hate ironing, but I love to put on my cheesiest, most karaoke friendly music and sing loudly while I do it. Suddenly the job seems more fun.
Make mealtimes fun
By the time they are 18 children will have experienced over 6000 meal times. Nothing makes me sadder than the sight of families out for a meal together with the children fixed to a screen while they wait. This is a time when the family are altogether and it doesn’t take much to infuse it with a bit of fun to help build family relationships. You could read from a joke book, play a word game or ask silly (deeply philosophical) questions: if you were an animal, what would you be? What colour was today?
Sometimes children can be emotional or angry. That’s absolutely fine. No emotion is unacceptable. However, we need to help our children to manage their response to their emotions and to move through them. A great way to do this is with a sense of humour. While acknowledging their feelings, try to get them to see the funny side of the situation. As I say to my children, “you have no control over what has happened, but you do have control over how you react to it.” The question, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” is a good one. It not only helps put things in perspective, but its also an avenue to come up with all sorts of preposterous possibilities which can inject a dose of humour.
Playfulness helps build family relationships
Playfulness means having fun, letting go, being yourself and being creative. Playfulness means sharing joy and making one another happy. This is what family life should be all about. We are there for one another in tough times, and we help one another find the pleasure in everyday life. Society today is increasingly fragmented. Mental health issues, obesity and suicide are all on the rise. Stronger family relationships, built by having fun together, are key to building resilience and mental strength. They give us the confidence to go out there and make the world a better place.
A family that plays together, stays together.