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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Father and son playing football

Why Playing with Your Kids Is Important

One evening during a family vacation while I was cooking dinner, my kids were out playing on the beach. One of them yelled up at me – “Come play, Mom!”

My first instinct was to say I was too busy. But something held me back, some sense of time passing too quickly made me pause and say:

“Play what?”
“Kelpball!”

Of course. Kelpball, it turns out, is a load of fun.

We’re becoming increasingly aware that our children are often overscheduled, overstressed, and overloaded. As parents, we also feel overwhelmed by schedules and carpools. I hear from many parents that they crave a different way of raising kids – one with more free time, more family connection, and more … fun. One that feels old-fashioned and like more relaxed days of the past, filled with pick-up ball games at the park down the street.

Indeed, fun may be just what our families need more of. A growing body of research shows that play has many benefits for children – it reduces stress, and increases their ability to learn, socialize, and connect with family and peers. Having fun also increases their physical activity.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has found that play also benefits parents, with increased joy, rejuvenation, and an improved ability to understand and communicate with their children. That’s right, playing more helps us connect with our kids while providing a calm happiness to parents.

Producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes described this beautifully in her book Year of Yes. One night when she was dressed elegantly and heading out the door to give a presentation to a waiting crowd, one of her children stopped her and asked to play. She almost walked away in a hurry to get to the show. Instead, she stopped, turned, and – listening to a little voice in her head – took off her heels, hiked up her ball gown, sat on the floor, and … played. The sense of joy she felt motivated her to always say “Yes!” when asked to play.

As your kids get older, listen as often as possible to that voice saying they won’t be young for long. If your kids ask to play or read, drop whatever is on your to-do list. I have learned that tweens and teens may not ask directly – you’ll have to look for more subtle clues. Are they standing around the kitchen? Do they come and sit nearby? These are their rare requests to “play” or connect.

Rarer even than these requests are pick-up games of ball. Who just plays ball these days? (Rarer still: pick-up games of kelpball on the beach at sunset!). Savor them and – be sure to take a quick photo on your way to play!

Find more resources for parents

American Academy of Pediatrics:
The Power of Play

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.

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