Why parenting can be child’s play.

Redefining 'work hard, play hard.'

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Cornwall, England. 

The job specification is fluid, there’s no onboarding, it’s a voluntary role and for the first eighteen years, there’s no time off. Yet, billions sign up with misty-eyed wonder for one of the toughest jobs in the world – parenting. How do we sustain this awe at our miraculous creations, raise them to confident and happy children who negotiate daily challenges, and avoid burnout in the process? I received the best parenting advice from an authority – Mum – who says that we should let our children play. And join them. She is not alone in her advice.

Psychologists Piaget and Vygotsky pioneered theories on play and children’s cognitive development. According to Dr Jill Fox, Piaget says that play is for pleasure and helps a child make sense of the world around her by using the concepts she already knows. Vygotsky adds that play does this and more; it enables children to learn new things. Psychologists agree that play aids children’s social competence, language development, imagination, creativity, thinking skills and perception.

When she was six, I taught my eldest the game of chess. Through play, I coached her into using strategy in chess and life. She also learnt about turn taking, delaying gratification, confident decision making, and how to win and lose gracefully.

Play is not just good for children, it’s great for parents too. 

Here are 8 ways in which play can avoid burnout:

Play breaks bad habits.  I started kettlebell training after the birth of my youngest and struggled with my form when doing squats and swings. My trainer asked me to observe how my toddler played, crawled and sat. I looked at her root her heels effortlessly and keep her back straight when squatting; my form improved in an instant. 

Playing hard allows you to be kind to yourself. The next time your children take off their shoes and run on the beach with carefree abandon or lie on the grass and look at the clouds, do the same. It’s fun, strengthens bonds, and is family time all wrapped into one.

Play brings out your childlike wonder and joy. Remember the words of George Bernard Shaw:

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”

Live in the moment – Children’s play and wonder act as a catalyst for our self-reflection and development. We watched The Jungle Book and there was a lesson about finding your true purpose and playing to your strengths. When the villain Shere Khan attacks the entire jungle community, Mowgli, who has been raised by the wolves is coached:

You can’t fight him like a wolf. 
You are not a wolf. 
Fight him like a man.

Similarly, we take to heart Shakira’s advice in Zootopia:

I won’t give up, no I won’t give in
‘Til I reach the end and then I’ll start again
No, I won’t leave, I wanna try everything
I wanna try even though I could fail

Play allows you to press pause on the noise around you. It gives you time to ‘stand and stare’. As I write, my children and I are watching soft snowflakes blanket everything. 

Lose the guilt, and believe in yourself – Children are remarkably resilient and their pure, innocent energy and self-belief rubs off on you. We were standing in line for ice-creams at the beach, when my four-year-old, burst into a passionate rendition of “Let it go”. There were indulgent smiles and nods of approval all around.

Play with your passion. Since their birth, I’ve read stories to my children every night. Our new shared passion is to change our narrative. With International Women’s Day, a few days away, we are changing the script of my daughters’ favourite princess by rewriting ‘Cinderella’. The heroine’s fate is not dependent on a glass slipper that may fit, or a prince with a penchant for tiny feet. Cinderella is taking matters into her own hands and doing a job application as we speak, where she will be valued for her many skills. She is also negotiating a salary that is reflective of her talents. And if the prince values her for all of this, they will live happily ever after.

Savour the magic – Child’s play and childhood pass in a flash and when you look at family photos,  you can’t make out which child is it, and where you were when the photo was taken.  Or worse, they transition from babies that hang onto your every word, into selectively deaf, Pavlov’s dog teenagers, who respond only to the ping of a text message.  But they too bring play. As we listen to ‘Havana’  in her room, my eldest and I debate who really is the female literary voice of our age. 

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