You’ve heard them. And you have probably even used them. Uttered in a moment of desperation, they may have left you feeling guilty or questioning your patience with your child.
But through my research and experience as a mom, I have come to understand that these three precious words are good for you and good for your child.
Just Go Play.
Are you finding yourself overwhelmed by the color-coded schedules or Pinterest-worthy crafts circulating social media? Unable to keep up with it all: extra chores, working from home, meals, online schooling, laundry, work-outs, virtual calls, emails, and more now that you and every one of your children are home all day? There have been moments that I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. I need this reminder as much as anyone.
We are moms (or dads) not cruise directors. Yes, our job descriptions have gotten tougher in the last couple of days, but this does not mean that we must entertain our children every minute of every day. It is still ok to say “Just go play!”
“We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.” -Charles Schaefer
Play is a Human Right
Overlooked in our busy days is the importance of play in our children’s lives. So important it has been named as an essential human right for every child by the United Nations High Commission.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”
Unfortunately, they also found that “Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children.”
Play is Important to Healthy Brain Development
Play allows children to use their creativity. It is important for healthy brain development. Children learn decision-making and problem-solving skills. Play builds healthy active bodies.
Simply put, imaginative play benefits children. And yet children are getting less play all the time. While our families are social distancing, this is a great time to remind ourselves of the importance of play and allow our children a little more free time for play.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics: “Play is important to healthy brain development.4–6 It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.7–14
As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.7,10,15 Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.7,10,11,16″
Play is Possible
So here is your permission (and your justification) to tell your children to Just Go Play. It may not go well at first. Our children are used to a very programmed schedule. Uttering the words on their own may not achieve a satisfactory outcome. It may elicit more whining, more arguing. Here are a few tips to help your children Just Go Play.
When you feel someone hanging on your leg begging for entertainment, remember what the AAP says: “A large proportion of play should be child-driven rather than adult-directed.”
That means you need to shake your leg and say, “Just Go Play” even if you are met with grunts and grumbles. Sometimes, all it takes is repeating yourself a few times to usher your child off your leg and into the other room.
Play is the work of childhood and given enough time, with an absence of entertainment, children will settle into it. It may take more patience on your part at the start, but eventually, our children will play.
This may be the hardest of all the suggestions. To get a child to play, we must remove entertainment and let them be bored. If a child has a choice between a passive activity (television, computer, video game) or active play, many children often choose the screen time. Truly, I know this is hard.
Things sometimes get worse before they get better. It’s the reason to try something like an electronic-free week, with the exception of school activities. Without entertainment, children will begin to entertain themselves. Try to remember the benefits you are giving them. Children who can entertain themselves, or play with one another, are learning how to adapt themselves to challenges they’ll face further down the road.
Play often equals an untidy space. Giving children a place of their own without the rules and obligations of normal life will help them escape to play. In a space of their own, children feel free to create and play without fear. It may mean your yard or home is not as tidy right now, but it could mean a change in your child to be more “childlike” and “joyful.”
To help your kids find ways to entertain themselves, by playing, you need to give them a chance to try. I loved this advice: “Make yourself busy but with nothing too exciting. If you are busy completing a task, most likely the kids will occupy themselves with play. If you are busy watching videos on your phone, most likely the kids will surround you (Murphy’s Law). Choose wisely.” – YourTherapySource
Play is a necessity.
Social distancing can be a stressful time. Families are tasked with working from home while educating their children and not falling behind on all the other daily tasks of life. We can feel overwhelmed, or we can embrace this slower pace of life, allowing more time for kids to be kids: playing, creating, imagining.
“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” Kay Redfield Jamison
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