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.
Family fun brings joy and light-heartedness to the home, reduces stress levels (for all family members!), helps heal grudges and relationship strife, promotes family bonds, and supports healthy child development.
It's also clear that our fast-paced, technology-driven society and busy schedules (pre-COVID, of course), makes opportunities for simple play seem more scarce and even old-fashioned.
We are grappling with the convenience of Netflix, the lure of video games, a million different after-school activities (again, pre-COVID), 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, and simply have a good time together, might very well be the most important thing you do for your family.
Joy & Lightheartedness: When you play together, there are smiles, laughter, jokes, and all around joy. This is obviously important for younger kids, and comes more easily to them. But it's just as important for older kids who may come by it less naturally.
Reduced Stress Levels: Just like physical activity (and family play time often includes physical activity), quality family time is tied to lower stress levels.
Helps Heal Relationships: Sometimes all you really need to move on from a tense moment or argument is a great game of Uno. Positive relationships come from playing together.
Promotes family bonding: Playing together as a whole family, without devices and the pull of social media, is one of the best ways to truly spend quality time together, make memories, form good relationships, and get to know each other better. It's a great way for families to truly bond.
Supports children's healthy development: Almost up there with food and water, young children need quality time and affection for their healthy development. Carving out family play time is an effective way to ensure that this happens in your home.
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, special times together shouldn't feel like another one of your chores - It should be genuinely fun for you.
Ask yourself what activities you genuinely enjoy. Some parents love roughhousing and wrestling (which has many benefits). Others may enjoy playing cards with their kids, having a dance party, going on a walk around the neighborhood, reading books together, or playing pretend.
Added bonus? When you naturally love the activity, your kids will feel your joyful energy 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. It's the best way to ensure that even if you have a busy schedule, you can play together.
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.
Don't overthink it. Family traditions can be super simple, and that makes them easy to turn into a habit for you all. Find your own way to spend time together that you know will be a hit. Friday night ice cream, a summer trip to your favorite theme parks, breakfast together on saturday morning, or sunday night pizza night are all examples of easy traditions that can lead to good memories and quality time together.
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 family play time ideas:
Read stories and books together
Hide and seek
Go for a walk
Build a snowman
Have a snowball fight
Work in the garden
Cook a meal together
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.
Play a card game
Play board games together
Kicking and throwing balls
Let young children help with housework
Carving time out to spend time together as a family may be the most important thing you do in the short term and in the long run for your family.