Why should dad’s play more?
Put simply, play is great for us all! Playing with your child is connecting with your child, and is one of Dadvengers 10 tips on being a good dad. Making a connection builds a sense of belonging, of feeling loved, being safe and understood. It’s important for dads to play more than older generations, and it’s important for mums to encourage this. We should all play more!
To maintain our own wellbeing, adults need to find pockets of joy throughout the day, by doing so we immediately get a hit of the feel-good hormones and our stress and anxiety levels dip (this is particularly important now!). If you enjoy a kick about, doing a cross word or making music, these are all ways that adults play. Yes, we assign purpose to these activities sometimes, but largely it is the process that we enjoy the most. For children this is also true, play is a process they use as a vehicle to happiness. It probably helps that a lot of play in early childhood is active and energetic, so those happy hormones are pinging everywhere!
How will play help us bond and improve our relationship?
When we bring the child and the parent to play together, we create a joint focus. A shared experience and a power shift (bear with me, this is a positive thing!). By playing with a child, you become a guest in their world. The adult is stripped of most decision-making responsibility. If you have ever played a ‘let’s pretend’ game with a six-year-old, you’ll know what I mean here! The child feels empowered as they are in the driving seat.
This can be difficult for us to get our heads around, but it is a good thing- the benefits for your child far outweigh any feelings of vulnerability that you might have! Remember that they are not being disrespectful by making you the baby or dog in their game, it is just their way of making sense of a world in which they have very little control of their own. Alternatively, you may find yourself loving being care-free for a while!
What kind of play is important for dads?
Stereotypically dads are more physical in their play with children, choosing wrestling or chasing, and these have huge benefits to both the child and dad. If the dad is not the primary carer of the child, they will probably have received minimal physical contact during the rest of the day (let’s assume this playtime is happening after work). It has been proven that touch increases your levels of dopamine and serotonin, which in turn decrease levels of stress and anxiety. It does this for you and your child, so this type of play is beneficial for you both!
Paul Ramchandani, professor of Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL) tells us that by engaging in physical play with your kids you are;
- Providing a safe space for them to practise self-regulation.
- Letting them release lots of energy.
- Exploring how they control their strength. How hard do they need to wrestle you versus wrestling their siblings.
- Providing an opportunity manage their reactions. Perhaps they are really frustrated that you keep catching them.
- Practising how to calm down from a state of high emotions.
Of course physical play isn’t the only way to play with your little one. Like the rest of life a varied diet (in this case a varied ‘play diet’) is really important. Research published in the Infant Mental Health Journal shows that infants of 3months old, whose dad took on a sensitive and nurturing role, scored higher in their Mental Development Index at 2 years of age.
Isn’t there a better way to use our time?
If you are a parent who tends to feel that play is a waste of precious time. That there are more productive ways to use your time. Maybe think how you can reframe these thoughts? When you play a board game with your child then you are teaching them: turn taking, how to manage their emotions when they win or lose, maths skills and language skills, effective communication and observation. If you play tag in the park you are teaching them: coordination, agility, speed and getting great exercise. When you create a comic book with your child you are teaching them: how to plan and organise themselves. You are also working with spellings, grammar, artwork, resourcefulness and perseverance. If you wrestle with your child you allow them to build their gross motor strength and coordination. This is in addition to everything I mentioned earlier!
I am a huge advocate for learning through play, for all the reasons above! When children are playing their brains are active, engaged and absorbing information at a much greater rate.
When should dads start playing with their kids?
It’s important for dads to play from a very early age. You actually can’t start too early! Be playful while your partner is still pregnant, sing songs or read stories to their baby bump. It will help them recognise your voice when they are born. Play with your baby as soon, and as often as you can. Sure, we all feel silly sometimes, especially when we play with tiny babies, they don’t give much feedback and it can be easy to feel like you’re ‘doing it wrong’. Or that it’s ‘not working’. But the magic of play is often invisible.
When you play with a baby, or child their bodies are flooded with feel-good hormones. Their pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that is responsible for all the higher functioning thought, like reasoning) is stimulated. Synapses are connecting, and positive thought pathways are being created. This brain state is wonderful for creating and strengthening bonds between parent and child. Particularly if you spend most of your day away from them, whilst working. Many of us grew up with the message ‘I am your parent, not your friend’ and as much as this is true, it IS possible to be both parent and play mate! Just as it’s never too soon to start, it’s never too late either!
How can I encourage my partner to play with the kids more?
If you are reading this as the more naturally playful parent, make a point of encouraging your partner to get involved. Create opportunities in your daily routine for play and take a step back. You may need to gather the family together to kick the game off but make a gradual retreat. It’s great for your kids to know that they can have this playful relationship with you both. If you are usually the parent who takes a back seat, step up and be encouraged by the knowledge that the connection that you make, will mean that your child is more likely to come and talk to you, later. By playing, you open the doors to a life that is not just you (the adults) and them (the kids), but us together.
In summary it’s important for dads to play with their kids because
- Playing gives us a hit of feel-good hormones
- Play can improve your bond with your child
- It empowers your child
- Children learn so much from you when you play together
- You become part of a team
If you would like to learn more about playing with your children, from ideas of ways to support your child’s development, to educational ideas and top tips. Please head over and check out the Resolve to Play website.