We can learn from children as they learn from us. They can also improve our sense of well-being. If you are feeling low, you can either do a physical detox to revitalize and clear your system, or you can do a mental detox, to reawaken your inner child. Spend just an hour watching your kids play. You will benefit perhaps more than you realize.
The Importance of Fathers in Children’s Play
Fathers play an extremely important part in the development of their children through play. For a child, there is simply nothing better than an adult playing with them. Simply nothing. Mum is around more, and Dad is somehow more of a prized playmate. Dads throw themselves into play when they join in, and are funny and irreverent. So, when you play with your child you are immediately a hero. This puts you in a strong teaching position, although sometimes it’s as well to forget teaching and just have fun. Since the underlying function of play is learning, you’ll find you’re teaching whether you intend to or not. Research suggests that fathers who are involved, nurturing, and playful with their infants have children with higher IQs, as well as better linguistic and cognitive capacities. This style of paternal parenting is also associated with better outcomes for adolescents too, with a 2001 US Department of Education study finding that adolescents with involved paternal role models were 43% more likely than other kids to gain mostly A grades at school. That’s a big percentage.
Effect of Fathers’ Play on Emotional Well-being
As discussed in other articles on this Becoming A Better Father, fathers play is significantly different to mothers’ play, and can have a huge impact on children’s social development. One study notes:
“Fathers spend a much higher percentage-of their one-on-one interaction with infants and preschoolers in stimulating, playful activity than do mothers. From these interactions, children learn how to regulate their feelings and behavior.”
Shakespeare’s line from Twelfth Night, “If music be the food of love, play on!” strikes a chord with all of us. The food of love for children is play itself. Along with the provision of food and shelter, love and play are the things your child needs, biologically, to progress and develop into a happy adult. Children are programmed to play, and you will find them doing so in war zones as bombs rain down, on bombsites when their homes have been destroyed, and with the last energy left in them when starving in a drought zone. They are remarkable in this regard. Children must play, and will play, and as adults we can only gaze on in awe at their resilience and the joy that is within each child, given the slightest chance. The little rules that govern play, and how play conflicts are resolves is both charming and salutary. Fundamental human societal rules emerge, the unlearned norms which must govern all harmonious co-existence. We see the underlying human desire for peace and co-operation, and for negotiated settlements and all out conflict – it all emerges in children’s play and we can learn that adult life isn’t so different from that in the playground.
“… children who grow up with involved fathers are more comfortable exploring the world around them and more likely to exhibit self-control and pro-social behavior.”
Proof, were it needed, of the central importance of the father’s role was shown in another research study which concluded that kids who have an actively involved relationship with their children were less likely to suffer with mental health problems, such as depression, less likely to be disruptive at school, less likely to lie, and more likely to demonstrate pro-social behavior This is powerful stuff. And it’s not just boys who can benefit from the closeness that play promotes. Girls with close relationships with their fathers showed higher self-esteem than those who did not.
This need not be anything more than play, if that is all you are able to provide. The pressure on fathers’ time is endless. It may be that, because of work, you are unable to attend every concert or ball game. You may not be able to pick them up from parties or do the sort of thing you imagine ‘active involvement’ might mean. Don’t beat yourself up about that. Kids are very understanding. But when you do have the time to spend with your children, you can do nothing better than play with them. It communicates love, it teaches, it shows you are giving your undivided attention and children love nothing more to have Dad all to themselves. The time you spend playing together will reap rewards far beyond the duration of that play tine. It’s strikes a deep chord in children when you join them in their world. After all, we expect them to inhabit ours for a majority of the time. Step into that imaginary space and celebrate life with your children. You’ll be giving them a great gift