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Episode 75

What is so important about playing with your children?

May 29, 2023

[Kyle]: In today's podcast we're going to talk about the power of play. Let's get your summer started with a great foundation about how to connect with your kids through play.

[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 75 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we're dropping this podcast on Memorial Day. So…

[Sara]: Yay! Vacation again.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Maybe the end of the school year for some people. That's pretty exciting. So, hopefully the kiddos have really enjoyed this school year with the wrapping it up, it’s the end. Maybe you've got some summer vacations planned, you know? At this time, we should be in Colorado, hopefully enjoying ourselves in Colorado.

[Sara]: Hopefully.

[Kyle]: Would be fantastic. So, I thought, Sara, a really good topic going into the summer would be about the importance of play. The importance of playing with your kids.

[Sara]: Yeah, that's great. I love that.

[Kyle]: Okay, and why would that be an important topic going into summertime you think?

[Sara]: Oh man, that's so much information. That's so much. Obviously, summer, hopefully we have the time to play. Because I’ve been-- I'm shocked at how busy the school year is with all the activities and, you know, soccer practice, or dance lessons or-- You know, and school and all the functions with school.

[Kyle]: Yeah

[Sara]: And so, I find I notice how little my kids actually have time to play. So, I was like “well, why do we even have toys?”

[Kyle]: Yeah


[Sara]: We're just going from thing to thing sometimes and then, I think summer provides the opportunity to let go of a lot of that or step away from a lot of that and give space to play, and for those of you, I love play. Actually, did a lot of play therapy working with kids and I learned a lot about play. I thought play was just play. That's what kids do; they play.

[Kyle]: Yeah

[Sara]: But as I learned more about play, play actually-- You know, we've talked on here a lot about the prefrontal cortex and helping our brains develop. You know, when we're babies, we just have-- Our brain stems mostly develop-- These other parts of our brain have to grow and that happens into our 20s, way into our twenty s, and play actually helps that happen.

[Kyle]: Interesting. Yeah.

[Sara]: So, play is a basic--

[Kyle]: A vital part.

[Sara]: Yeah, just for your brain to develop. So, it has to do with resiliency, our ability to have something rough happen in life and come back and go on and keep moving forward. Habit play helps support that skill. It helps kids-- Because you've seen kids, they play out crashes and horrible things happen and then powerful moments and sad moments, and if you've ever just watched a child play, they're all over, and it's their brain learning that “wow, things can happen and look at how resourceful I can be, look at the power I can have”. Because kids in real life don't have a lot of power.

[Kyle]: Sure, yeah.

[Sara]: So, it's a moment in life where they actually can have power. They can hate that food and they can fight with that person and they can be the hero, or they can play out some really sad thing. It lets their brain do that and while that's happening, they're processing, but their brain is growing.

[Kyle]: Yeah

[Sara]: And they're going “oh, look, I can have power”.

[Kyle]: “I can change the outcome”.

[Sara]: Yeah, “I can make choices, I can be resourceful, I can come up with solutions, I can be creative, I can come back from this moment in life” and so, all of that is super powerful.

[Kyle]: And super important.

[Sara]: Yeah, and actually, it helps with just cognitive development and physical development. Because when they're sitting down playing video games, the whole different part of their brain lights up. When they're watching TV, it's a whole different part of their brain.

[Kyle]: Yeah, it’s a different thing. Yeah.

[Sara]: So, if we could just hook up electrodes and watch what's happening in our kids’ brain when they're doing video games versus when they're playing, it's very, very different, and we want to support-- Not that all this stuff is bad, you have to avoid entirely, but we want to make space for that growth of creativity.

[Kyle]: Prioritize it too.

[Sara]: Yeah, and actually see it as we want them to eat their fruits and vegetables and exercise and we want them to play. We need to schedule playtime.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and it isn't just “go play, because I have other things to do”.

[Sara]: Yeah

[Kyle]: What we're talking about is actually engaging the play with them.

[Sara]: Right. They just need the time to play.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. You just set a great foundation for why play is important for them. But I want us in this conversation to go to kind of like, help the listeners understand how important it is for you as the parent to play with the kids.

[Sara]: Right. So, if they play by themselves, that's doing great things, right? A lot of what I just talked about does happen when you play by yourself. But the other really important part of play is connection and relationship. Those skills are built in play because if you watch children play together, they're having to negotiate and solve problems and they're working together as a team, or they're battling each other and they're working out those relationship dynamics, and just imagine what happens if you come in and you're playing with them?

[Kyle]: Yeah. What is so difficult sometimes, Sara, you and I, obviously-- And we're talking to parents. I mean, this is a matter you-- We're not talking this isn't just like two-year-old kids, this is all the way up to teenagers, you know? How we're playing with them, how we interact. So, play is going to look different at the different ages, but it's still play. It's still the use of, like you said, connecting, engaging and imagining those kinds of things. But sometimes we have parents who they don't know how to play, they don't know how-- Or they say they don't know how to play. They don't know how to get on the ground and play with their kids, because many of them didn't have parents who did that with them either. So, they've never seen that done. So, I want you to speak that, what is so difficult about that for some people? Why is it hard to play?

[Sara]: Well, it's kind of that creative and playful side of our brain can get rusty if we're not using it a whole lot.

[Kyle]: Stagnant, maybe.

[Sara]: Yeah, and so, it can be hard. We're being grown up and we're being responsible and we're doing our task lists and things like that and we sort of can-- And that part of our brain that can be so creative, imaginative and playful just gets out of practice.

[Kyle]: You know, you're reminding me of when we were at Disney World and I loved what Peter Pan said to me, you know? Our kids got pictures, we--

[Sara]: Oh, yeah.

[Kyle]: As a whole family, we all stood next to the actor playing Peter Pan and we all took pictures, and I don't know what I was doing, but as we left, my kids were saying goodbye and I went to shake Peter Pan's hand and Peter Pan said “oh, look, we're all acting like adults”.

[Sara]: Yes.

[Kyle]: It was great.

[Sara]: Yeah.

[Kyle]: And so--

[Sara]: He was so in character.

[Kyle]: Yeah, because he was so playful and I was being so serious and like, we all going to shake hands instead of where the kids were all high fiving him, but I'm going to go give him a handshake.

[Sara]: Yeah, because that's the grown-up thing to do

[Kyle]: And so, as you're talking, I'm thinking of that's why those stories resonate so much. You know, even the Toys R US, which is now bankrupt, but used to have that kind of saying about “I'm a big kid now kind of thing, and I don't want to grow up”.

[Sara]: Yeah, “I don’t want to grow up”.

[Kyle]: Because it seems like to a kid growing up, from what they've seen their parents, means I don't play anymore. It means I'm always serious, I've always got a checklist, I've always got these responsibilities.

[Sara]: You put your toys behind you.

[Kyle]: Yeah, and I think as an adult, it is hard to put that away and play. Now, I know for you, I want to get to how we approach it differently. I know for you; it seems to me playing with the kids isn't hard for you.

[Sara]: I would say it’s not. There are moments I'm not in that zone. I’m thinking “oh, I need to do this and this and this” and that's really hard, but I did a lot of creative play growing up. We actually-- We didn't always have a very great TV or anything, so that wasn't an option. So, that just wasn't an option. So, I did a lot of it and then, obviously, even in my work life I played.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. You had play therapy, yeah.

[Sara]: So, I think I can move into that, just let myself kind of relax and go and join the story.

[Kyle]: Yeah. See, I always find-- I think part of it is, like you said, your childhood helped you do that because you were doing so much imagine and play. I think as a kid for me, there was some of that. I remember I did that as a kid, but then there was a time I thought “I just need to grow up and put that behind me and I need to start doing more serious things and stop playing”. Because play seemed to me to be a waste of time. So, I found as we had--

[Sara]: Childish

[Kyle]: Yeah, it was almost like I was being frivolous with my time, you know? Like I-- Do you remember even when I was a school counselor and you would be going to work on the summer, and I had summers off and I thought about things I wanted to do that would be playful, but I felt guilty because I thought “you're going to work. I can't possibly do this”. So, I would want to show you my checklist of all the things I was going to get done.

[Sara]: He literally would.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, that way you wouldn't think I was being lazy or I wouldn't-- Because I felt so guilty that you were working and I was playing.

[Sara]: And don't we adults--? I still-- I'll feel that I'll feel like “what have I gotten done today? Do I deserve to play?”. I think also it is worth noting, I think we as adults, maybe our play does look different. We're not grabbing stuffed animals and you know, playing out stories or something, but--

[Kyle]: Oh, maybe that's where I went wrong. Just kidding. Maybe-- I thought that was play.

[Sara]: But there are ways that adults do play. You know, what are our hobbies? Do you have any hobbies? You know, people will joke about a man cave, maybe they're going in there and they're playing games or they're building things with tools or something like that.

[Kyle]: Sure

[Sara]: Some of that still falls into the category of that is play.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Sometimes I think we're even playing through the sports we watch; you know?

[Sara]: Yes, yes.

[Kyle]: There is a freedom to waste time because I'm playing with these other people who are playing a game, that's literally all those teams are doing, is they're playing a game.

[Sara]: And sometimes you say you didn't play, but you also have lots of stories in your teen years of getting together with your friends, and you'd play epic board games that would last all day.

[Kyle]: Sure. Oh, yeah, yeah. Yes.

[Sara]: And so, there are places, if we look back, maybe not toys, but feel free to kind of explore and engage yourself “Where do I play? Maybe I do play”.

[Kyle]: What did play look like for you as a parent? And I'm thinking--

[Sara]: Yeah, and maybe you don't allow yourself a lot of that.

[Kyle]: And the thing that I'm really wanting to expand, Sara, in myself, is the ability to incorporate play with my imagination. That I think a lot of parents think they don't have an imagination, you know? They will say things like “oh, I can't be creative like that” and I've even told myself those kinds of stories that I can't do that. But I've been doing this training lately about imagination and play that's been really helpful, and something the lady who was instructing us in this was in her book, she talks about how we use our imagination all the time. But what we typically end up doing as adults, and I would encourage listeners to think about this, is we use our imaginations through anxiety, through fear, you know? We imagine all the ways this thing is going to go badly, or all the ways we're going to fail, or how I won't meet that deadline, all the bad stuff that's going to come from that. So, we actually have a very-- All of us do have a very vivid imagination. It's just what are we tending to use it for? Because lots of us struggle unless we're-- You know, maybe we can imagine a vacation we want to go on and we can for a moment just let ourselves spend some time dreaming about that thing. But lots of us don't give ourselves the freedom to just imagine best-case scenario and worst-case scenario.


[Kyle]: And in this book, I thought it was interesting that she said that's what kids are doing all the time through their play, is they're allowing their imagination to imagine all of it in a safe way, because all of it's just in their made-up story, you know? And so, I wanted to as an adult, what I've been trying to expand in my play with our kids is the ability to even myself in life, to imagine the good outcomes we want for our life, you know? To allow myself to dream and vividly see those as much as I do the bad. That how this could go wrong or this could go wrong, or there could be a-- What if one of us got sick and had cancer or something really horrible like that, or what if the business went south and we lost-- My imagination can go all day about those things.


[Kyle]: But what if it all went well? What if I-- Could I imagine what it looks like for our kids to grow up and be these kids who really are fearless and are free to really explore a life with self-discipline and respect and all those kinds of important things, but also adventure and all that kind of stuff? Can I imagine that? And I think even parents, because they aren't playing, they even imagine with their kids these really bad outcomes of what might happen as they grow up and they're really fearful of all those things, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah

[Kyle]: So, I think maybe this summer, what I want to kind of encourage the parents to do is to just jump in with the play, you know? To purposely do it. So, what's some things that you're going to do? I know you've mentioned even as the spring was going by “oh, I can't wait till the summer and things slow down so we as a family can do more play”. So, what's some things you're thinking about in that regard?

[Sara]: Well, some-- We have Legos.

[Kyle]: Yes. Yeah, we do.

[Sara]: We do a lot of Lego stuff, and I know-- Sometimes, to be honest, I will have to kind of pump myself up for it, right? It may be hard for me to get there, but once I transition there, I do have a genuine good time.

[Kyle]: What is the reason you have to pump yourself up for it?

[Sara]: Well, I think to pull myself away from my list, because I have a list of things I want to accomplish over the summer and with the difference in schedules, and sometimes maybe I want to read a book, you know? And I want to play my way.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Sure.

[Sara]: And so, sometimes I am putting my agenda.

[Kyle]: Yeah.

[Sara]: And that's okay. I can do that and do the other thing. But Legos are an example of where we play, we build with our kids and so, I intentionally will plan time to build, and then my kids like to do a lot of stories and the wonderful thing about stories is when you connect with your child in a story, you gain so much insight into their world. You know, watch, is your child powerful? Is your child struggling? What character are they in the story? Not to judge it, not to give them advice, nothing, but just to watch it, just to learn your child, and they will feel so connected with you. I did a story-- I mean, it's been months now, but our kids will still talk about it, and we have inside jokes now about that story. We probably played for an hour, hour and a half and so, I just want to create more of those opportunities to-- I just sit there with them, and sometimes it's hard, they jump right in. But sometimes I'll just play my little piece, but as I let myself relax and go with the story; you'll find that you open up more.


[Sara]: I used to do-- I did a lot of sand tray in which-- For people who don't know sand tray, it's really a giant sandbox and you have little figures, and you set up the figures however you want and sometimes you actually create a story with the figures, maybe of something that happened in your life, but you can also just set it up and so, I'd have adults come in, and I'd want them to do that, and at first, there was a lot of discomfort with it. A lot of “you want me to pick out toys? I mean, which toys do--” Because I would tell them “Go pick out. I want you pick out eight figures”.

[Kyle]: Sure, I would totally feel that way.

[Sara]: Or make-- “I want you to make a scene”, and they would feel very, very awkward.

[Kyle]: Yeah, of course. Yeah.

[Sara]: But it was amazing. Without fail, after when we were done, they loved it, and they were so moved by it, and they could see where they got to express themselves in a different way.

[Kyle]: Yeah

[Sara]: And over time, I would give them instructions to help them do this with their child to create stories and play. Because it was a really fun way to get into play and learn how to play if you didn't know how to play. So, it's sort of like that, just jump in with your child, find something that feels comfortable enough and just watch yourself. Just let go and join in and it can be for short time, or it can be for longer time.

[Kyle]: I would see what you're saying is, give yourself the freedom to be foolish, you know? Childish.

[Sara]: Yeah, you do have to.

[Kyle]: You know? Because I think we kind of judge that. Like, “I don't want to look foolish. I don't want to look stupid. I don't want to be childish”, all those things, but to really allow yourself that there is something freeing about just allowing yourself to be childish, you know? I know last night we got caught up into a crazy game of keepy uppy, right?

[Sara]: Right.

[Kyle]: Knocking the balloon up.

[Sara]: It was keepy uppy in the dark.

[Kyle]: Yeah. We have a light up balloon and Ellie, our youngest, wanted to play keepy uppy really bad, so she wanted all the lights off. We tried to do that. It was--

[Sara]: Keepy uppy is a bluey reference to basically keep the balloon in the air. You know, that’s the game.

[Kyle]: And you several times hit it and--

[Sara]: Oh, that’s what you said. He would blame me if the ball landed on the ground.

[Kyle]: I'm just saying we-- We were trying to save the world

[Sara]: Uh huh, yeah.

[Kyle]: And we didn't want the balloon to hit the hit the ground, because it blew up the world.

[Sara]: And somehow it was always my fault.

[Kyle]: Three occasions, three specific-- But that was a lot of fun, right?

[Sara]: It was.

[Kyle]: The freedom to just be foolish, to let go. You know, almost like I'm thinking of something I felt free to do, Sara.

[Sara]: They were laughing.

[Kyle]: Oh, they were laughing so hard, and the freedom to waste time, you know?

[Sara]: Yeah.

[Kyle]: I think that's a thing that in our technological society where we sum up every hour by a monetary-- You know, currency in some way.

[Sara]: What was accomplished.

[Kyle]: Yeah. So, we're always looking at-- We don't want to waste time. That's one of the worst sins you can do, is waste time.

[Sara]: Time is money.

[Kyle]: And really realizing when you're connecting with somebody you really love, that's actually one of the ways you know you're in love, is you just waste time with them.

[Sara]: Yeah

[Kyle]: You don't think doing almost anything with that person is a waste of time, because you were with them, and therefore that time became more valuable, you know? And so, in the same way, I think that's what the kids-- The kids know that, the kids don't think about time as a waste if they're just hanging out with you. They feel like it's always valuable time and so, somehow, I think through the play in this summertime, what I hope to expand my understanding and imagination of, is how there is no time wasted when I'm playing with those I love.

[Sara]: Yeah.

[Kyle]: You know? And so, I hope the parents this summer, as they're thinking about ways in which they want to spend this time, do those fun things, right? Like, plan cool vacations. I mean, we're going to try to plan some fun events. I know one of our kids’ birthdays coming up while we're in Colorado, and I'm imagining some really cool things I want to do to make that time.

[Sara]: Yeah, some ways to play together. Yeah.

[Kyle]: To make that time so awesome and he's going to love that stuff that we do, right? But sometimes we miss that the kids would equally just love getting to just play with you.

[Sara]: And they love-- Sometimes I fall into this where I'll say “let's bake cookies”, or even could be something we kind of need to cook or do, and I will get into “we need to make this and get it done”.

[Kyle]: Yes. Yeah, yeah.

[Sara]: And sometimes I catch myself and sometimes I don't, but I am trying to be aware of that and just slow it down and just realize it is just doing this with my child. Not just accomplishing the task being done, but that can be play too. You can be silly; you can just slow it down and talk about it and let them explore.

[Kyle]: Yeah

[Sara]: And what does flour feel like, what does sugar feel like, and all of that is just play and just being with them and just connecting with them.

[Kyle]: Or even being playful in it. As you're saying that, I'm thinking of memories how many times my mom was cooking spaghetti, and she would see me come in there and be like “hey, do you want to see if the spaghetti is ready?” and the way she knew the spaghetti was ready, she took one of the spaghetti things and threw it at the door. If it stuck, then it was ready, you know? And I thought that was so funny that my mom would let us do that. Or even some of the playfulness was me trying to sneak the food that I thought was really good and my mom taking a little thing and be like “get back! Get back!”. You know, it was like us kind of doing that, but it was always in a playful way and so, even in my mom was very busy making this food, I knew if I came in, instead of my mom getting mad at me, like I was disrupting whatever she was doing, she invited me into the process by being playful and funny and therefore, that I wanted to hang in the kitchen. I wanted to hang. I wanted to talk to her, you know? Just because I saw she could be playful.


[Kyle]: I'm thinking of another time where I was doing a lesson at school with kindergartners, and I had these 20 Kindergartners in my office. I'm trying to teach them about feelings, which you could think is of difficult to do with five-year-olds, but I asked for a thing of playdoh. They gave me one and as they were sitting there, I asked for another one, and as a kid was giving me, I started flipping one of them up in the air and the kids were just amazed at my ability to throw the playdoh container in the air, and then they said “can you do that with your eyes closed?” and I said “I don't know, I could try”, and I threw it up in the air with my eyes closed and it hit me right in the head and the kids were laughing so hard, and the thought hit me “why do I take myself so serious?”. These kids actually aren't going to remember most of the stuff I teach unless they're laughing and playing while we do it.


[Sara]: Yeah


[Kyle]: If I'm serious the whole time and I'm like “listen, I'm talking about feelings. Listen, be quiet”. They're not going to remember that. They're just going to be like “that was not fun. I did not like that”, you know? And I think there's something about how the kids are saying “if you could make it playful, if you could make it more fun, not take yourself so serious, I would actually remember and learn what you're saying in a better way”, you know?


[Sara]: Yeah


[Kyle]: And so, I even think this summer, it isn't about like we're just playing, but there's so much you-- Like you were saying, Sara, you learn about them, but I'm also thinking about how they learn about you.


[Sara]: Yes.


[Kyle]: That you in the same way you're learning about the characters they pick; they're learning about the characters you pick, and you're going to be able to play out both the bad outcomes and the good outcomes in a safe way, where there really are no consequences, it's just in the story, you know?


[Sara]: And your character can show courage, your character can be scared. What does your character do when your character is scared? Even doing chores, maybe it's really hard to get your kid to learn how to do a certain chore. But if you added that into playfulness… You know, maybe you're the story Annie.


[Kyle]: Yeah’ that’s true. Yeah.


[Sara]: You know, and you're miss Hannigan, or maybe they're miss Hannigan, or you dress up and do it in some costume--


[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, make all that playful.


[Sara]: All of that play, it can look like “go join your child in a story. Definitely do that”. But if we just add playfulness in a lot of areas, they're growing, you're growing, and you're connecting the whole time.


[Kyle]: Yes. So, I hope what you hear us saying is, I hope this summer as you're going into it, I wanted to kind of set the foundation as you're going into this time with your kids, to make this summer about play, about imagination, and it doesn't have to look just one particular way. It's about you being okay with being foolish, with looking childish, because kids feel safe around people who can do that, who can put down the seriousness and always-- You know, and just get down on their level and once again, this is true all the way up through the teenagers, this isn't just for the young kids.


[Sara]: It is. No, yeah.


[Kyle]: And it's so important. Like, teenagers, if you watch them, they act pretty foolish. When they're with their friends, they feel safe around people who can be a little silly, and they don't have to always be so serious about everything, you know? So, for those of you who really struggle, like I have in the past with play, I would encourage you just to try to find a way to not worry about wasting time. To put aside the agenda, even if it's for 30 minutes, even if it's for an hour, and to just let yourself just relax and be there in the play. Let the kid guide you, you know? Let them show you how to play.


[Sara]: Yeah, you can tell your child “You tell me what to do”.


[Kyle]: Yeah, “because I don't really know how to play this thing. You tell me how to do that”. So, they can then help you, just like they would with a friend to kind of guide you in that.


[Sara]: Take baby steps. Just do the thing. “I feel like I can do a tea party with my kid”. Then, do that.


[Kyle]: Yes, yeah.


[Sara]: Do that. It'll grow.


[Kyle]: Yeah, that's great and the kid-- I guarantee your kid will love it. They'll love playing with you. So, I hope that helps give you some ideas about how to plan this summer with your kids and be more intentional about connecting with them and being able to really understand them, see them in play and allowing them to see you as well, and not just your parent “I'm in control side”, but this side that lets that guard down and can be more playful and come alongside them.


[Kyle]: So, we'd love for you to comment, to definitely tell us how you're playing. What some ways you experience it? Is it difficult for you to play? We'd love you to email us. You can reach us at if you want to send us that info. We'd also love to just, you know, hear back from you about ways in which you did it and it went well and the experiences you've had. Definitely jump on social media with Facebook and Instagram and TikTok. We're on there as The Art of Raising humans. We'd love for you to join us in those kinds of reels that we'll be doing over the summer. Probably doing some playful ones there, as well to help this discussion to go further. But we'd love for you to give us five stars and send this on to other friends who you think should be helpful. So, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend and get ready for a great summer and we appreciate you listening.


[Sara]: Have a great day.

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