An Easy Way to Reduce Stress and Strengthen Relationships in Your Family

family sitting at a table playing a game

Want to play? What? Too busy doing important things to play? It turns out (check out this research), play is extremely important – for just about everyone and everything, but especially for learning and developing children. But why?

Stress: It turns out play reduces stress (and therefore) facilitates learning. We know stress lowers the amount of our brain available for real learning. Play is really the work that kids need to be doing.  And not just kids. Adults benefit in the same ways!

Relationship: The National Institute of Play reports that playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and deepening memories. They are fertile ground for making memories that serve to buffer against long term negative effects of traumatic events.

Problem solving: Solo or social. Play gives us low stakes situations to practice solving problems. This is the foundation of a variety of healing modalities that incorporate play, but it is also simply self-evident.

Zero-guilt-zone ideas to try on:

Schedule play: Oxytocin, the human connection hormone, is released in both adults and children during play, creating a shared sense of well-being. When you catch yourself trudging through the week – and who doesn’t – consider scheduling some play around the must-dos. Maybe every day right after dinner and before homework could be designated family screen-free play time.

Ask your children to lead the play: During a family meeting, ask for ideas and see what they come up with. Children gain a sense of agency and of contribution to family wellbeing when they give input, and the family follows their lead. One idea is a Friday night dance party. Each Friday, a different member of the family picks the tune. Something more extensive might break out, but even three minutes of bad dance moves is powerful.

Play without screens:  This article shares many fun activities that can be done at home without a screen. It sure seems that kids these days are obsessed with the 80’s, and the article suggests trying a few retro activities like learning to use a pogo stick, threading a cat’s cradle, and learning tricks with a yo-yo.

Take it outside: The benefits of playing outdoors include reduced stress and increased resiliency, physical health and confidence. A trip to the mountains is not required! Merely walking in a local park or visiting a playground have benefits.

Play generates optimism, makes perseverance fun, gives the immune system a bounce, fosters empathy, and promotes a sense of belonging and community. The development of problem-solving skills and communication skills also are boosted through play. Hopefully all of those smart reasons to play aren’t a turn off but a nudge to try something new or bring back a tradition that’s fallen by the wayside.

Want to share your family play stories?  Yes please!


Glenda Montgomery is a Sound Discipline Facilitator.