When a romantic relationship is struggling, one of the most common pieces of advice for couples is to try a date night. Often, we get so bogged down with fast-paced schedules and tasks that we forget to connect with our significant others. A date night isn’t a cure-all by any means, but having a few fun and laughs can get both sides feeling better – and when we feel better, we’re more willing to communicate about our problems.
The same logic applies in our relationships with kids. A “play date” with your child can be just as beneficial as a night out with your partner. Play helps in so many ways:
- Builds trust and safety
- Increases connection
- Gives you a window into your child’s world
- Repairs relationship wounds
- Helps your child feel “seen” and important
- Builds joint problem-solving skills
Sometimes, caregivers and parents think that because their child has been “acting up” lately, they don’t deserve fun and play with the parent, as though play is something to be earned. However, it’s better to think of play as being akin to relationship therapy! Behavior problems are almost always IMPROVED by increased parent-child connection. And YOU as the parent will feel better when you get to let down your hair and have fun, too.
It’s important to note that not all play is created equal. Some guidelines to try to follow:
- Let the child decide what to play, and follow their lead
- Avoid using screens
- Spend the playtime trying to understand things from your child’s perspective – why do they enjoy X? How do they feel when Y isn’t going right?
- Focus on just connecting and having fun. Try not to impart wisdom! (e.g., if your child misspells a word during a play date, you can let that go).
A note on that last one: using play to teach a new skill DOES have a place in life, but if your goal is to improve your relationship with your child, aim to have some fun without any direction or lessons, even just for 10 minutes a day. Let your child be the expert for a change! Relax and have fun.
P.S. – If your child is older and isn’t playing with toys so much anymore, that doesn’t mean you can’t still use play in other ways. Here are some cheap, screen-free ways to connect with older kids and teens:
- Bake or cook something
- Color or do a craft project
- Play a game or sport
- Go for a walk or bike ride