More Playfulness Means More Togetherness

mother-and-son-playingAs we find ourselves lurching toward spring, let us challenge the children and families we work with, as well as ourselves, to be more playful.

Getting outside for a few minutes (or more!) provides separation from the mundane, the routine, and the digital. It’s a great way to cleanse thoughts and emotions a bit, sometimes leading to unexpected conversation and connection. In the best of cases, spending quality time together leads to storytelling, laughter, and other forms of playfulness. It does not have to but could even include some kind of game or competition.

These are relationship-building catalysts, and they spur development as well—not only the development of our children but also us adults. As we lower our guards and heighten our senses, we all learn and grow.

Like breathing, eating, and sleeping, we all—especially our kids—have a built-in need to be playful. And you can help teach them how … that is, if you haven’t forgotten yourself! If a child isn’t good at playful interaction, he or she may end up feeling more awkward and may be more likely to withdraw from or be isolated within social situations. Being good at playful interaction depends on continual modeling and practice.

Play is critical for healthy development. There are no substitutes. Everything we do can be permeated with an attitude that is playful. Playfulness is a way to signal that there is safety.

I have especially been encouraged by these truths through the instruction of Dr. Karen Purvis and Dr. David Cross at Texas Christian University, who have written: “Play allows you to safely touch the heart of a vulnerable child. Shared silliness, laughter, and games all demonstrate to a child that you mean no harm. … Use a lighthearted attitude and tone of voice, and interject gentle games and jokes whenever possible” (Purvis, Cross, and Sunshine, The Connected Child, p. 142).

Playfulness can unlock and promote language-skill development, social skills, and even attachment security.

Time dedicated to freewheeling, spontaneous play is slowly—no, quickly—eroding, and everything from sadness, worry, fear, boredom, or worse flood into the vacuum left behind. Whether with young children or with teens, we see this in action every day, don’t we? If we’re being honest, don’t we see it in ourselves?

Skeptical? Try it and see for yourself. Self-conscious? Fake it ’til you make it, folks. This is the important stuff of being human: talking to and goofing off and laughing and sharing in games and stories and life with one another. The family that plays together stays together.


Purvis, K.B., Cross, D.R., and Sunshine, W.L. (2007). The Connected Child. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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  • haleigh

    March 17th, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    I love to get out and play with the kids but my husband kind of shies away from that and I think that a big part of it is that he never had that experience with his own parents when he was growing up.

    I think that it is so important to connect with them this way, for them to see you as more than just mom and dad and to see you want to have fun with them and get on their level. He really struggles with this aspect of parenting, I think because it isn’t something that is in any way familiar to him or comfortable.

    I honestly think that if he would let go he would have a good time but I don’t think that he is able to give up that dad role to go there and I think that his relationship with the kids is going to suffer as a result.

  • Em

    March 18th, 2014 at 3:54 AM

    That’s kind of sad, haleigh because your husband is missing out on quite a bit with his kids and doesn’t even have the background knowledge to know it :(

  • Cecil

    March 19th, 2014 at 4:02 AM

    When my kids were young you have to understand that it was more of the dad’s job to make the money and to do the “manly” stuff, the moms did the playing.

    I am glad that I have the chance for a redo with the gradkids, get to do some of the things that I willingly miised out on with my own kids and I hope in some small way make up to them what they saw me not participating in.

  • Aletha

    March 19th, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    I feel like I was married to you Cecil, lol lol!!! My husband never spent any time with the kids and I feel like he missed so many great times with them as a result. They are not as close to their dad now and I don’t think that is anything that he will ever get back even if he tries to get it back now. This is something that you have to be involved with from the very beginning because those bonds and relationships are forged form the very beginning. I think that he kind of resents that we are all so close and he feels sort of left out of it now but I always tried to tell him all those years ago and he never wanted to do anythign but sit back and watch tv and not be involved and he is paying for that now.

  • art

    March 20th, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    As hard as it can be to channel that inner child, I say that just do it. Be free to be a kid again and remember what it was like to have no cares and no worries. Enjoy those times with your kids, because truthfully, those times are gone before you know it, and when they are gone, they are gone and you can never get them back.

  • Rafe

    March 21st, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    I have the opposite problem of some of the responders here. My wife is a great wife and mom but she seems to lack that playing gene. She is a great care giver and she nurtures the kids like crazy but if they just want to be silly and play she has a very hard time with that. I have tried to press her a little and ask if it is about her upbringing or her parents and stuff but she never wants to talk about that so that kind of leads me to believe that it could be something more than what she is letting on but I don’t want to press too hard. I would love to know how to get her to talk to me about stuff from the past without pushing her away because I know that that can be dangerous too. But I just think that she is missing out on so much and that the boys are too by having her bow out when it is time for the fun stuff.

  • Melane

    March 22nd, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    This time together that you spend together as a family shows those children that are beyond priceless to you

    that there is nothing more importnat to you in your life than the time that you have been so lucky and fortunate to spend with them

    go on, get silly and play with those kids, read to them, get down on their level and play with them

    those are the times that will look back on and remember one day and when they do, they will always do so with a smile

  • chuck

    March 24th, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    Seriously, this isn’t that much of a priority for families anymore. It is for mine, as it is important for all of us to spend time together everyday, but I hgear from friends and colleagues about how they feel like they all live together in the same house but never really spend any time together.

    That is very sad to me. I grew up in a home like that and never wanted to have to live like that again and have done everything possible to ensure that we wouldn’t. There will always be time when other things get in the way of that time together but for the most part you have to guard it and keep it sacred so that it does stay special and important to all of you.

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