Help Me Grow | United Way of Utah County

The Fundamentals of ‘Fun’ in Parenting

Parenting is not easy – but it can be fun! Amidst the sleepless nights, the tears and tantrums, and so many other demands, we can still infuse humor, joy, and playfulness. In fact, play and silliness can make those challenging moments lighter!

Imagine getting out of the door in the morning. Just as you realize you forgot something, your preschooler doesn’t want to put on her shoes, and your baby spits up. A typical reaction would be to start feeling stressed and pressured and to try and rush out the door. But kids pick up very quickly on our emotional signals, and stress only makes things worse in a moment like this. So what if we could lighten the mood? Of course, it helps to have enough time, but even if we do run late, we have a choice in how we will do so. Starting the day in a stressful mood sets the tone for the rest of the day. What if we could do something silly, like pretending to try on all of the shoes (Those are too big! These are much too small – oh, no, those are the right ones!) Your preschooler will think this is very silly and playfully get her own shoes. The fun of this moment sets the tone for the day, too.

Of course, parents can’t be playful all the time (we are the grown-up, after all!). Sometimes, we have to be serious and work on managing all kinds of things in a child’s life (babysitters, daycare, school, doctor’s visits, to name just a few!). On top of that, many parents and caregivers are extremely busy, which makes it hard to get into a playful state of mind. In fact, stress and playfulness can be seen as opposites!

So what do we need to enter into a playful or silly state of mind, even amidst daily challenges? First, give yourself permission. There are probably a thousand things on your to-do list, but you’ll get there even when you allow humor into the situation. Second, consider the many benefits of a playful attitude. Laughter is healing! In an interview, Tina Payne-Bryson, co-author of The Whole-Brain Child with Daniel Siegel, said “laughter tells your brain that life is good, things are good.” Laughter is so good for us, because it releases stress and big feelings. Laughter stimulates relaxation – the opposite of stress! Play is also essential for child development. Within play, children learn to understand and deal with emotions. They can try on different roles and various levels of control over their situation. They can learn to see many different perspectives through play. And they also learn new vocabulary words and math concepts via play, if you insert these into your own play. Even though play is an activity that does not have any goal, other than to play, it still has many benefits! Third, consider how meaningful these silly moments can be. What will your child remember, when she is all grown up? All those serious moments, or the silly ones? When one of my friends passed away a few years ago, her young-adult son said that his most precious memories were of her being silly and laughing. When we forget ourselves in funny moments together, we tend to feel both relaxed and connected to each other. Lastly, as illustrated above, some humor and playfulness can help to get kids to do what you want them to do, in a pleasant way (and without them even realizing that they are obeying!).

It goes without saying that silly activities should be enjoyable for everyone involved! Tickling a baby can easily lead to overstimulation and crying. Make fun of a child (instead of having fun together) and feelings will be hurt. When children have big feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or other upset, they need to be listened to first. They’ll need someone to help them understand. When there is room for all kinds of feelings – including the ‘heavier’ ones – the mood can be lightened with a joke or a silly gesture. Just like a big storm with rain and thunder, difficult feelings move along and the sun comes back again. Laughter and silliness can help create sunny moods – and keep them going!

If you need some inspiration, here are some more ideas:

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