I am a toy guy. That is probably pretty obvious to you because you are reading The Toy Insider and probably went, “well, duh!” when I made that statement. The thing is, not every parent is a toy guy or toy gal. I celebrate toys and love to play with them on my own, but I also really love to play with toys and games with my kids. There is a great benefit to getting down on the floor and playing with the kids and their toys. Playing together can really make a difference.
Playing Starts Dialogue
When you play with your kids, you have moments when you can let your guard down and simply enjoy the game that you are playing. This allows you to be vulnerable with your kids and allow them to see the fun side of their parents. It’s so important for kids to see their parents as people who enjoy things and have fun—after all, we wouldn’t want kids to grow up thinking that being an adult is only about working and paying bills. One of my more profound moments with my own parents came when I was in my forties, so only in the past few years. Up until that point, I probably would have never seen my own parents playing—let me explain:
My Father’s Day Wish
Each year, I try to have a fun Father’s Day, and the big thing I want on that day is to have a giant water balloon/water blaster fight. I stockpile bags and bags of Bunch O’ Balloons because they are the easiest to fill and use. I can usually set up around 1,000 in a half hour. Once they are filled I set them in buckets all around the yard. Some I even hide for special caches along with some water blasters. We usually do this at my parent’s house on the Cape, and this year, my parents joined in on the fun.
I had never thought to ask them to play because, generally, they do not play. That was not how I grew up. I’m sure that my parents played with me as a young kid, but then I got into my own toys and they didn’t really understand or take the time to learn about them. When I was a kid, the kids played with their toys and the adults did adult things—but I wanted to be different. So, I saved many of my old toys to share with my kids and even stockpiled Star Wars LEGO sets to open and play with the kids. I wanted to play with my kids and really understand the toys and games that they like. I loved that my parents joined in on the water balloon fight, because I got to see them in a new light and so did my kids.
Playing Together Builds Confidence
Even if you just get a few moments to play with your kids, you are making a difference. Grab a few lengths of orange track and build a Hot Wheels stunt course. It doesn’t even have to be elaborate, just put one end at the top of the stairs and the other at the bottom, prop it up to make a little jump, and see how far the cars go. Even the youngest kids can place a car on the track and let momentum and gravity do the rest. Then look at the wonder in their faces as these cars go flying down at breakneck speeds to jump over obstacles. It won’t be long before they discover other ways to make their tracks faster, longer, and full of stunts.
Playing Together Builds Intelligence
I’ve been very lucky to build a good relationship with the toy company ThinkFun, which has a number of games that are great for challenging kids’ brains. Games like Rush Hour, Laser Maze, and Balance Beans have challenges from easy to expert. There are many single-player games that you can use to take turns with your child and celebrate their victories as well as show them that the harder challenges can be solved. It is a great feeling working on a master level challenge and have your child offer useful help with the solution.
Playing Together Builds Family
The other day I cleaned half of our living room. Why only half? Well, I had been looking at our bookshelf for a few years and wanted to completely gut it and put it back together to be a functional place for the family to store all of our games. We not only have competitive games, but also cooperative games. Peaceable Kingdom has so many great cooperative games and we have tried nearly all of them. We also found that the game 5 Minute Dungeon is a hilarious cooperative game. The first time that we played this it instantly became one of our most requested game night games. These types of games give parents and kids a mutual goal to work toward, where there is no single winner. We have to work together as a team and we either win or lose as that team—much like a family. A strong family faces the challenges together and helps each other out to achieve the same goal.
I’ve seen so many benefits from playing with the kids. They look out for each other and also for the family as a whole. They see challenges as little puzzles to solve because their games and toys—along with guidance from their parents—has given them the confidence to try. They may still need help and that is OK. The important thing is that they do not find themselves helpless when faced with challenges. By building a solid foundation through play they know that Mom and Dad are there for them no matter what. They also know, early on, that Moms and Dads can be their parents, but also have a fun time playing.