On my daily “power walk” through our subdivision, I frequently pass one particular house where I often see two boys around the ages of 8 and 11 playing football and basketball or riding their bikes and skateboards. I also often see an older woman—whom I am assuming is their grandmother and primary caregiver—sitting in her carport chatting with neighbors or watching over her boys. One day recently as I was walking by her house, I stopped and remarked to her, ‘Ma’am I always see your boys playing outside—that’s so refreshing when so many kids have their faces stuck in front of a screen for hours on end.” She remarked, “Yep, they love to be outside, especially playing basketball—but today they’re inside doing their homework before they can come outside!” I responded, “Ma’am you are raising them right!” “Thank you!” she replied.
Yes, it was truly refreshing to see kids outside playing—unfortunately a vanishing site among scores of electronically-addicted kids (and parents!). Tons of research has been done on the therapeutic value of physical play. No kids need this more than our foster and adopted children who have been through past trauma. Many of them didn’t have time just to be a kid—they were too busy just surviving or parenting their younger siblings in the absence of their birth parents. A while back, I had a mom share a story about one of her foster children who did not know how to play. “When I took him to the park to play on the playground with the other kids, he just stood there, like he didn’t even know what to do next.” He likely did not know.
Helping our children to play—especially those kids who’ve had limited opportunity to do so—is so very important. And it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. Choose games that are low- or non-competitive. You don’t always have to keep score. For younger kids, play catch with a big inflatable ball, or teach them to hopscotch or jump rope. Go to a playground. Playing outside in the sunshine also brings the added benefit of vitamin D—nature’s natural anti-depressant! On rainy or cold days choose a simple board game that is age appropriate. If they win the game, heap on the praise! If they don’t, just be low-key about it and say, “Let’s try it again, you are doing good!” And remember, play is therapeutic for parents too!