• 20 Jan - 26 Jan, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly

Parental playfulness is defined in research as “the degree of creativity and curiosity parents exhibit when interacting in play with their children.” In other words, it is how “fun” a parent is with their child both during playtime and during everyday tasks and routines. It can also involve using humour or jokes with your children and being joyful in your interactions with them. Playfulness is a “love language” of children – meaning it is an important way for us to connect with them and build our relationship. Playfulness can also be helpful during stressful times or power struggles with children.

So does playfulness really help? A recent study found that playfulness in parents was associated with fewer behavioural problems, a lower risk for anxiety and depression, and more kind behaviour in children. Previous research also finds that parent playfulness is linked to improved emotional regulation skills in children and less negativity. This research suggests that playfulness may help parents to set limits in a way that does not lead to a power struggle. Being playful may even reduce your own stress as a parent and help you to become more supportive of negative emotions in your children.

Examples of Parent Playfulness
If you have a child who doesn’t want to put on their pajamas, make the pajamas talk and move around saying something. You can also try to put the pajamas on yourself pretending that they might fit you.

2) If you have trouble getting your child out of the door in the morning, ask if they want to race you to the car. Or ask if they want to fly, skip, hop, or twirl to the car.

3) Take turns telling stories or playing “I-Spy” during a long car ride or when waiting in line.

4) Play a game of tickle monster or have a pillow fight.

5) Try doing a blind taste test with food. Your kids have to guess what they are eating while they keep their eyes closed or are blindfolded.

6) If you have a child who hates having their hair brushed or done, have your child give you a crazy hairdo.

7) If your child is having trouble remembering to put their dirty clothes in the hamper, tell them to pretend like the laundry basket is a basketball hoop and see if they can make it in from a certain point in their room.

8) Enjoy nature together in a way you normally wouldn’t. Jump in piles of leaves, play outside in the rain, bury each other in sand, etc.

Being more playful as a parent has many benefits for children’s development and may make your own day-to-day parenting a little bit easier. You are also teaching your child the important coping skill of using humour to manage challenging situations.

Here are some tips for incorporating playfulness into your parenting life:
• Focus on “finding the smile” or “finding the laugh” for your individual child. Make sure you are using play approaches that your particular child enjoys. For example, some children love rough and wild play like being thrown in the air, while some children prefer more quiet and calm play like a subtle joke.

• Don’t use play or humour to invalidate their feelings. If your child is experiencing some genuine negative emotions, make sure you acknowledge and validate their emotions before using playfulness to defuse the situation. If they don’t seem receptive to playfulness or humour at a particular time, then don’t use it.

• Consider times during the day when implementing play or humour may be helpful. Think of times in the day when you experience power struggles or it seems like your child isn’t listening to you. It may be useful to incorporate playfulness into certain daily rituals to encourage your child to cooperate.

• Help your child to learn to use playfulness and humour on their own. Playfulness is an important coping skill that you can teach your child to use even if you are not present. Teach them this skill by asking them questions like: How can we make this more fun?

• Do not use playfulness or humour to mock or tease your child. Be careful that your playfulness or humour is not making them feel bad. If you aren't sure, you can always ask them how it makes them feel.

• Address your own anxiety and depression that might make playfulness difficult. Research finds that emotional difficulties in parents may be associated with less parent playfulness, which then leads to more challenging behaviour in children. You can address your own symptoms by seeking help from a mental health professional.