The Family That Plays Together, Stays Together (2023)


The science is clear. Playing together as a family is one of the most important things you can do for your family’s well-being.

It brings joy and light-heartedness to the home, reduces stress levels (for everyone!), helps heal grudges and relationship strife, promotes family bonds, and supports children’s healthy development.

It’s also clear that our fast-paced, technology-driven society makes opportunities for simple play seem more scarce and even old-fashioned.

We are grappling with the convenience of Netflix, a million different after-school activities, and the addictiveness of all of our little devices.

These distractions also make it harder for us to give our children our undivided attention during old-fashioned play.

But carving out time to play together might be the most important thing you do for your family.

Playing with your child shouldn’t be stressful.

After a long day at work, many of us just want to sit and rest for a few seconds. But our children, in their boundless energy, run up and ask us to play with eager eyes.

Instead of finding a reason not to play, find things you naturally love to do to share with your children. When done right, it shouldn’t feel like another one of your chores – It should be fun!

For example, I used to feel guilty because I thought that I couldn’t play with my kids as well as my husband could. They love to wrestle and play football in the play room when they get home. They have great fun doing it, and I love to listen to their squeals of joy. (There are also many benefits to roughhousing, which are fascinating to read about.)

But the last thing I want to do, quite honestly, is wrestle on the floor and play football. It’s just not my thing, and that’s okay.

So I’ve made it a priority to find other things that my kids and I enjoy doing together. With my six-year-old son, this means color-coding his legos while he builds, playing the card game “Uno” and the board game “Sorry,” singing and dancing, roller skating, and going on bike rides. We also like to read “Harry Potter” together at bedtime.

These are things I naturally like to do, so the playing does not feel like a chore. My kids feels my joyful energy in these moments instead of an anxious, irritated energy.

What about when life is crazy busy?

Dr Ann Barbour, professor emerita of early childhood education at California State University, suggests incorporating play into your daily routines. She says, “You might play peek-a-boo when you’re changing your toddler’s diaper, a guessing game when you’re making breakfast for your preschooler… or a license plate game when you’re taking your older child to school.”

Other ideas during your daily routine include trading roles at dinner time, relay races to get pajamas on, and competing against a parent to get dressed first.

If weekdays are extremely busy, you might consider designating one night on the weekends a family night during which you put the phones away and play games, watch movies, bake, etc.

Keep it simple.

When there’s more time at your disposal, make it a priority to give your child your undivided attention, and try some of these simple play ideas:

  • Read stories and books together

  • Hide and seek

  • Go for a walk

  • Build a snowman

  • Have a snowball fight

  • Go sledding

  • Work in the garden

  • Bake cookies

  • Cook a meal

  • Have a picnic

  • Play on the playground and swings

  • Painting and watercolors – find recycled items from around the house to paint with such as sponges and toothbrushes.

  • Buy an adult coloring book and color right alongside them

  • Sing and dance together

  • Do a puzzle

  • Pretend play – let the child decide who will play which role and make the rules.

  • Dress up

  • Play a card game

  • Play a board game

  • Kicking and throwing balls

  • Let young children help with housework


Psychology Today

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