5-Minute-Fun, Parent-Child Play: What Gets in the Way?

Interview with Ask Anne on parent-child play

In a  recent interview with Pathways Professional Counseling (a network of 35 counseling offices in Alabama) I was asked some thought-provoking questions. Here’s a portion of the interview, posted at their Ask Anne blog.

Q. What inspired you to write The Power of Parent-Child Play?

A. Laurie: When I began writing 23 years ago, I had an insatiably curious son. He constantly demanded that I spell for him or teach him how things worked. It was thrilling and exhausting. Consequently, I began inventing spontaneous games to keep him interested and found it fun for me too. At the same time I was working as a licensed certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA), modifying activities through play to help children with developmental delays or learning disabilities. Every child had something to teach me back.

As I played similar games with my other two children I learned even more. My three kids grew up in a learning laboratory because so much of what we learned together became fodder for articles I wrote for parenting magazines, including Parenting and Christian Parenting Today.

Meanwhile, other mothers would ask how play came naturally to me, and why I enjoyed it so much. I realized how much my background in occupational therapy helped me understand small components in play and learning, which adds excitement to parenting. I believe parents can learn those same principles to connect with, teach, and enjoy their own kids.

However, many interviews revealed to me that play does not come naturally to all parents, and those who are comfortable with it experience other barriers. I realized that out of all the parenting books I’d read up to that point, I hadn’t seen a single one addressing barriers to play for parents. None of them focused on how to enjoy play despite parent-child personality conflicts, sibling squabbling, family stress, lack of time and energy, etc. Few also focused on how beneficial play can be for parents.

Q. Do you have a favorite activity you write about in your book?

A. Laurie: One of my favorites is to play alphabet categories while pushing a child in a swing. Just pushing a swing can be a little boring for parents, so why not teach phonics at the same time? We would choose a letter—B, for example—and with each swing one of us had to think of a word that started with that sound. “Buh….buh…bubbles!” “Buh…bear!” “Berries!” My son had to think quickly as the swing came towards me, and he found that exciting. Kids catch on quickly to the sounds of words even when they can’t yet write them or even recognize them.

Q. Where do you get all your activity and game ideas?

A. Laurie: I think I and my kids have taught each other. I’ve learned a lot from other moms and teachers, but mostly from kids. Many of my 5-Minute-Funs are games that take even less time than that—sometimes just a minute or two, when you are in the middle of doing something else—plus a spirit of playfulness. One “game” would happen when I pulled clothes from the dryer when the family was watching TV. I’d call out “Warm Laundry Alert!” and sprinkle them with the warm clothes. They loved that! Then we’d fold the clothes.

Q. What is the most common barrier you have found to play?

A. Laurie: Most parents struggle with time and energy limits, especially if they are also trying to juggle work or multiple children. Consequently, moments where parents and kids can connect quickly and meaningfully are important. We can inject playful moments into ordinary days, without getting out materials or toys.

Once my daughter was in the kitchen when I was making lunch, and she said “Mom, can I have an, um, a …” I quickly responded, “Sorry! We are fresh out of um today. I meant to pick some up at the store, but…” This set off giggles. In the middle of daily routines you can be playful and connect with your kids.

Q. What have you found to be the biggest benefit to parent-child play?

A. Laurie: Play connects parents with kids intimately and builds lifelong memories. It helps parents enjoy the parenting process more and to learn from, and enjoy, their own kids more! A side benefit, however, is that it tends to decrease the need to discipline, because when kids are emotionally fed, they tend to act out less. Parents don’t have to be the playmate all the time, and can be firm, but when a child feels well-loved and understood, that can defuse many situations. A more obvious benefit to children is how much parents can teach them and nurture their creativity(through play).

Q. What one piece of advice would you give parents who struggle with playfulness in general?

A. Laurie: Allow your children to teach you. Some of the most meaningful play comes when parents simply stop, get down on the ground with their kids, and give their kids their complete attention. Those who feel guilty about skipping other chores can make it their coffee break and set a timer. A lot can happen in ten minutes when a parent is fully focused on a child.

I also recommend making it a goal and a choice to develop more of a spirit of playfulness; for a parent to give herself or himself permission to be a little silly at times. A child’s giggle can be a great reward! Yet for parents who struggle with playfulness because they are highly stressed or depressed, it is critical to get to the root issues of those things through counseling or support groups, to keep from emotionally missing out on playtimes with their children while they are small.

Q. Your book has several quotes from kids. What is your favorite one?

A. Laurie: When my youngest daughter was four years old, she was disappointed at not winning a trophy for her AWANA race car. I asked what she would want a trophy most for. She shocked me by saying she wanted to get one someday “for being a mother, with my own children.” A mother trophy! Wouldn’t we all love one of those?

Q. What are your professional and personal qualifications for writing this book?

A. Laurie: In addition to my former occupational therapy work with children, I worked on a psychiatric unit with adults. I also volunteered for many years for a crisis organization for women and children, which heightened my awareness of the struggles many women experience. I have also studied sociology, psychology, and child development, which I believe has impacted the content of my writing. Just a few years ago I completed a bachelor of liberal studies degree with a journalism minor, but to be honest, I still say that my most professional qualification is being a Mom who has practiced playfulness for two decades!

References in this interview are to The Power of Parent-Child Play, published in 2003 by Tyndale House Publishers and now distributed by the author.

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