Wanna Play? How to Be Playful – And Why It’s SO Good For You

Wanna Play? How to Be Playful. And Why It's SO Good For You

We humans are meant to play – for so many reasons. Playfulness has been associated with academic success, a greater capacity to cope with stress, innovative performance at work, and well-being – and that’s all backed by research. (Don’t you love it when science backs up what we already kind of know!) The problem is that too often we forget how to be playful. 

Recent research has added to the list of playful positives, finding that playfulness is one of the ‘must-haves’ that men and women look for when it comes to looking for a long term partner. Friendliness, intelligence and a sense of humour are also up there. 

When it comes to long term relationships, those who are laid-back, creative and easy to have fun with are more likely to set our hearts racing – or beating – or whatever it is that excited hearts do best. 

Anthropologist Garry Chick, from Pennsylvania State University has explained playfulness in an evolutionary context.  He suggests that for women, it represents low aggression and means that a potential mate would be less likely to hurt their offspring. For men, playfulness in a woman may signal her vitality and fertility. (No mention of what happens to that loved up feeling when one wipes the floor with the other at a ‘playful’ game of Scrabble – or whatever.)

Research from Zurich University found that out of a list of 16 characteristics that people tend to look for in a potential mate, women and men largely agreed on the order of importance. There were a few differences though. Women rated sense of humor higher than men did. For men, an exciting personality was more important.

For both men and women, playfulness was more important than the partner having a degree, being religious, or having good genes.

The good news is that anyone can learn to be more playful. The potential for fun is in all of us. Sometimes it might be gasping for breath beneath a pile of washing, work, stress or exhaustion – but it’s there.

So how do we get playful? Here are a few ideas:

  1. If you have a challenge on your hands, try to come at it a bit light-hearted.
  2. Try a bit of friendly, low-stakes competition.
  3. Flirt – or do anything that builds anticipation for a special day, a special night, a special surprise.
  4. Play a board game.
  5. Play a team sport.
  6. You know the things you did when you were younger to have fun? Yeah. Do them. That might be kicking a ball, painting, flying a kite, throwing on a pair of roller skates (although remember your body is a bit different to the one you were happy to bum-plant when you were 5), water fights – anything.
  7. Dance like no-one is wat- … you know how it goes.
  8. Ditto for singing.
  9. Cooking (for the fun of it, not because it’s 6pm and there are hungry mouths to feed).

Part of growing up well means not growing up completely. It means finding time to enjoy some things for the sake of having fun. Nothing that nurtures us, nourishes us, makes us laugh, lighten or connect will ever be a waste of our time. Rather, it’s quite possible one of the best uses of it.

6 Comments

Turenne

Through play, we grow… Through play, is the best way we genuinely integrate and learn positively. Play is just the most pleasant and natural way of doing, being and evolving… How do we ever come to forget? Don’t we go backwards when we don’t play anymore? Don’t we go away from our essence… our divine essence?

Reply
Anita Cleare

I love these tips, thank you. I am absolutely rubbish at playing with my children – I find it so hard to let go of the rational and give in to imagination (No, that’s a dinosaur, it can’t go in the farm!!). But dancing…. now that’s something I am great at committing to 100%!

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Patricia Totterer

Play is the best self help! People that play seldom need therapy.
Play can accompany work, sadness, and many other challenging situations. It can be the remedy for those.
I agree with dancing! And singing….herr in the car with windows closed as I drive ..and nobody can hear 🙂

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Hi Patricia. Play is amazing – we just have to remind ourselves how important it is sometimes. I know what you mean by singing in the car with the windows up – such great therapy isn’t it!

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When you can’t cut out (their worries), add in (what they need for felt safety). 

Rather than focusing on what we need them to do, shift the focus to what we can do. Make the environment as safe as we can (add in another safe adult), and have so much certainty that they can do this, they can borrow what they need and wrap it around themselves again and again and again.

You already do this when they have to do things that don’t want to do, but which you know are important - brushing their teeth, going to the dentist, not eating ice cream for dinner (too often). The key for living bravely is to also recognise that so many of the things that drive anxiety are equally important. 

We also need to ask, as their important adults - ‘Is this scary safe or scary dangerous?’ ‘Do I move them forward into this or protect them from it?’♥️
The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/parental-as-anything-with-maggie-dent/how-can-i-help-my-anxious-teen/104035562
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️

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