Parents Play to Win in Happiness

11 November 2019

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Most parents want their children to be happy. This is universal. But what constitutes happiness and moreover, how is our modern-day idea of success getting in the way of achieving this?

As the author of the Danish Way of Parenting; What the Happiest People in the World Know about Raising Confident Capable KidsI was recently asked to contribute to a study released this month by the LEGO Group and an independent research agency aimed at understanding the global state of play and how it impacts families and happiness levels. The results are extraordinary.

Surveying nearly 13,000 parents and children across the globe including: China, Denmark, France, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, United Kingdom and United States of America, the LEGO Play Well Report uncovers what may be the real key to more happiness in families.

The term “play” is not to be confused with “organized fun”. Organized fun is typically some kind of structured activity with goals supervised by a teacher or parent. It is often mistaken for play but for children, this is not play.

Play is self-chosen. It comes from within the child. It is climbing trees, playing dress up, creating a movie, building blocks or making a fort. It is precisely the feeling of self-determination and autonomy that comes from play which is the font of learning skills such as creativity, empathy, resilience, innovation and critical thinking to name a few.

Skills which, incidentally, have now entered the top 10 list as essential for jobs in 2020 according to the World Economic Forum.

The most ground-breaking aspect of the report, however, is that whether it is outdoor play, role-playing games, imaginative play, digital play or a fluid mix of play types, families who play together are significantly happier, less-stressed and healthier than those who lead low-play lives. Nine out of ten families who played five or more hours a week, in fact, reported being happier than those who played less.

Seeing these results, it begs to question; Why don’t we play more?

The truth is, many parents believe that we must overschedule our children’s lives in order for them to get ahead. We want measurable proof that they are learning. It becomes a sort of competitive treadmill we often don’t know why we got on and feel unable to get off.

Parents report feeling overwhelmed or too busy with work, life and household chores to take time to be mentally present in play. However, when you consider that play may in fact be the most educational activity of all, and the return is increased happiness and lowered stress, it seems like an investment we can’t afford not to make.

As a matter of fact, nine out of ten parents in the survey said that play made them feel relaxed, energized and more creative and was fundamental to their own happiness. They said it strengthened bonds and helped them connect to their child. Nine out of ten children also said it made them feel happy when parents played with them and helped them relax and switch off from agendas at school. Taking precious time to play with our children and mentally unpack our days together may actually mean less baggage in the future.

We forget that children are not judged or assessed for what they do or accomplish in play- as they are in many other areas of their lives. They are valued and validated for who they are in the moment and can relax. This is tremendously important for building connection and trust between parent and child and within the child himself. It’s nurturing the roots of self-esteem which provide a strong foundation to grow from.

When children feel validated and loved for who they are, not only for what they do, they are able to rest well within themselves and as a result, don’t get easily toppled by life’s inevitable failures and storms. When we look at all the proven benefits of play, it may truly be the most important “home work” there is.

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