Why Play is More Important Than Ever. (Plus 5 Tips for Playing at Home!)

Updated: Apr 17


Photo Credit: Jen Berryman


Wow, here we are. Still. Many of us limiting contact and to flatten the curve of COVID-19. Meanwhile, bees are buzzing, trees are flowering, and squirrels are mingling all around us. It feels strange and incongruous to be so out of sync with the natural world. Our sweet kiddos are feeling this discord big time, and, for some, it's manifesting as behavior challenges, sleep disruptions, and feelings of sadness.


This feeling of dissonance makes sense, right? At a time when we should be coming out of our winter shells, we are instead prolonging our proverbial winter slumbers, and it can feel downright suffocating. In Chinese Five Element Medicine, springtime is known as the Wood phase. Each season corresponds to a different one of the five elements (Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire) - if you've read my previous blog post on ADHD, you know that the Five Elements are also a framework for classifying personality types as well. In nature, the Wood phase is all about growth, movement, and starting anew, and the natural world all around many of us is doing just that! We are part of that natural cycle, and yet we are having to suppress those "Wood" urges right now.


For kids, this feels especially yucky. It is stagnating and you might be noticing a lot of pent-up energy in your little ones right now. Because kiddos are still developing, when they fall out of sync with natural rhythms, they are often much more effected than we as adults might be. Their little bodies are still developing these rhythms and patterns, and a disruption can feel really disorienting.


So, what are we going to do?


Well, one proven way for little ones to feel more calm, more integrated, and happier is to engage in PLAY! We now have research to back up that play helps to facilitate learning, lowers cortisol levels, and gives kiddos the chance to practice life skills. 1 Plus, it's super fun!


Here's my top 5 play tips for activating and honoring that Wood energy. And, of course, to have fun and connect with your little ones, which is what this is all about. ❤️


  • Let the play be imaginative! 🧙‍♂

  • Imaginative play embodies the quality of the Water phase, which comes right before the Wood phase. In Chinese medicine, this is known as the generating cycle - the idea that the element or phase before provides nourishment for the next one to flourish.

  • Don't be afraid to give the play some structure! 📑

  • Just because it's play doesn't mean that it can't have some rules! With kiddos out of school and out of many of their routines, some structure can be orienting and reassuring. Maybe this means playing at the same time each day, or maybe it looks more like setting up a play board with characters that you can use for your games. Play with this idea and let it fit your family situation!

  • Tap into your child's motivations! 🐶

  • Does your little one love animals? Great! Pretend that you're dogs that decided to move to Mars because Earth had too many cats. Does your older kid love fantasy books? Great! Create your own characters for a movie version of one of their faves.

  • Let your child lead! 👧

  • Interactive play is a place where kiddos can have some control - give that to them! The world is unpredictable, uneasy, and feels out of our control. Let your kids have some agency within the games you to work through this challenging time, feel empowered, and express joy! Let them create the fantasy world you'll visit, dictate rules, or decide on costumes. A little control will go a long way.

  • You don't have to "get it right!" 😬

  • Everything above is just a guide. YOU know your child best, and even though they may not always express it, they are looking to CONNECT with you through play. Many of us as adults are out of play practice, so if you're a bit rusty, be easy with yourself. Let your little one be your play guru. They are the best teachers on this subject. 😉


Ok, friends. I'd love to hear from you! Of course, if you need support or more individualized care for your child (that's what we're all about here at Portland Pediatric Acupuncture), then please reach out with questions or, better yet, set up a free initial consult so that we can chat!


If you have a kiddo on the autism spectrum, I would highly recommend checking out Play.Connect.Grow. This online developmental play training program is the brainchild of Aaron DeLand, whom I can't recommend highly enough. His courses and trainings give simple and super effective techniques for encouraging social engagement and development through play.


🤸‍♀️ Happy playing! 🤸‍♀


References:

1. Wang, S, Aamodt, S. 2012. Play, Stress, and the Learning Brain. Cerebrum, 12. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3574776/

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