Ep. 10 Empower Kids Through PLAY

Empower Kids Through Play

Empower Kids Through PLAY

“The opportunity for kids to freely engage in play with one another has diminished considerably over the last 50 years.” Michael Yogman, AAP

Research shows one of the best ways to empower kids is through play. Play helps kids develop problem-solving, decision-making, and risk-taking skills that prepare them to be successful adults. However, play has decreased steadily. The ramifications are becoming so serious that doctors are prescribing play as a remedy for many ills. The American Academy of Pediatricians is encouraging doctors to implement a Reach Out and Play campaign to correspond with the Reach out and Read initiative. Doctors are asking parents to protect and even to enforce playtime.  Episode 7 discussed four specific ways to give yourself permission to add more play to your life. 

What is PLAY?

According to research by Dr. Rachel White: 

PLAY IS PLEASURABLE: Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.

PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED: Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings. It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal.

PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED: When children play, the means are more important than the ends.

PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN: It is spontaneous and voluntary. If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play.

PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED: Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.

PLAY IS NON-LITERAL: It involves make-believe.

Play empowers kids because it is intrinsic rather than extrinsic. The benefits of play are internal (for the individual) rather than external (associated with outside approval or award). Play is self-chosen and the players are free-agents, meaning they can stop at any time. Because play contains non-literal elements, it buffers the individual from real-life consequences and provides opportunities to practice and grow skills essential to living in our complex world.

There is a difference between accumulating knowledge and developing skills. Emphasizing math, reading, and writing at younger ages has forced teachers to remove playful elements from early childhood education. But learning new skills is best facilitated by social, playful interactions where risks can be taken with little consequence. The emphasis on performance measured by test scores is diminishing opportunities to learn from mistakes, even when failure is often the best teacher.  

Benefits of PLAY

According to a report of the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (ie, the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions. Play is fundamentally important for learning 21st century skills, such as problem solving, collaboration, and creativity, which require the executive functioning skills that are critical for adult success.”

Benefits of play are numerous and well documented. Play with parents and peers is fundamental for the development of safe, trusting relationships. Play regulates stress levels. Studies have shown that the lack of play increases ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Play develops the learning process, incites creativity, problem solving, and risk-taking. Specifically, play develops language and math skills and improves concentration. 

How to Empower Kids through PLAY

1. Lower the Stakes 

As parents, we can empower kids through play by making sure that for every performance-based activity kids are signed-up to do, they have equal opportunity for unstructured, experimental play. An AAP report states:  “Parental guilt has led to competition over who can schedule more enrichment opportunities.” As parents, organized activities like lessons and competitive sports feels good because they have measurable results which validate our investment of time and money. As adults, we like the structure of consistent time, date, location for activities. The unmeasurability of unstructured play can be a barrier. Which lead us to principle #2: 
 

2. Build Trust Through Play

Dr. Hank Smith, Ph.D conducted his doctoral research in developing trust in educational systems. He discovered that play is a powerful way to build trusting relationships. He found that one of the best ways to repair a struggling relationship (particularly a parent/child relationship) is through play. Get on the same level as your child and do something they love. Don’t talk about grades or problems or instrument practice. Playing together helps kids to know that they matter. You love spending time with them for who they are. They are valuable to you outside of their performance on a report card or in a soccer game. 

Play becomes even more essential in times of family crisis. In the midst of divorce, death, serious accident or illness, job loss, or jail sentence, it seems counterintuitive to play. However, play is exactly what will ease stress and remind family members that it’s possible to experience pockets of happiness in the middle of tragedy. Play helps all family members to grow through the struggle and to develop resilience and personal strength. 

3. Embrace the Mess

Play is messy. The toys buckets will be emptied. The legos and blocks and train set will be strewn across the floor. When our children were young, my girlfriend said the best thing to me. She said, “I love when my house is messy because it means my kids are playing.” Those blankets and beach towels that were folded so neatly in the closet are going to be stretched across the furniture to make forts, which means that every heavy book from the shelf is stacked to hold down the blankets.

Play doesn’t necessarily help with housework. On days that I’ve just mopped and vacuumed, I almost prefer my kids to watch TV instead of play in the sand box. In order to promote unstructured play, as parents we need to lower our standards of tidiness and embrace the mess. 

4. Trick Your Kids Into PLAYING

You know as well as I do that if command our kids to play, they protest. This is because play must be self-chosen. As parents, we can apply a bit of reverse psychology. When my kids have been staring at screens too long or are complaining about boredom, I give them a chore to do. This is a “nonessential” chore. Something like cleaning out the junk drawer in their bedroom, weeding the garden, washing the car, or organizing the game closet.

These are chores that I know will quickly devolve into play, and that’s okay because that’s what I wanted all along. Five minutes into sorting his junk drawer, little Johnnie will be exploring his imagination. One or two weeds might get pulled, but more likely the garden hose will get turned on and there will be a dirt castle surrounded by a muddy moat will appear next to the squash plant. Inevitably the bedroom, closet, and yard will end up more disorganized that they were to start. And that’s okay. That’s when I will smile and say, “I’m happy because my kids are playing.” We have plenty of opportunities to teach chore completion and organization at other times. For today, play is the priority.

Channel Your Inner-Child

Children learn best from example. As parents, we can model playful behavior by engaging in hobbies, being spontaneous, and taking time for activities we enjoy that don’t have any external benefits such as earning money or receiving an award. If you have children in your life, you are lucky. Being around children helps to re-prioritize our lives and help us tune in to our inner-child. There are myriad opportunities to volunteer for kids through Big Brother Big Sister programs, the YMCA, school PTA programs, or foster parenting.

The bottom line is to change our mindset that play is a waste of time. In truth, play can often be more productive than work. So give yourself permission to bring back the Power of PLAY.

Ep. 6 Permission to be Happy

Happiness is not a Destination

Permission to BE HAPPY

I learned this past week of two more young adult suicides. This is an epidemic. We are losing too many beautiful people to unnecessary deaths from treatable diseases. I remember being stuck in darkness that felt so real, heavy and impossible to fix. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t know how to continue existing that way. There were many factors that helped me to heal from depression and chronic illness, but the number one thing was learning how to recognize and change toxic thoughts.

Thoughts are real. Thoughts are powerful. Thoughts are electricity and ask anyone who has been struck by lightning or a loose wire how strong electricity is.

Thoughts can convince you that life is so bad that you can’t be happy. Thoughts are so strong they can create emotions of fear, worthlessness, and feelings of impending doom, panic attacks, and the desperate need to to escape. 

In my healing process, I discovered six LIES that my brain told me about why I couldn’t or shouldn’t be happy. I learned to counter those LIES with the powerful ANTIDOTE of TRUTH. 

False Belief #1: I Can't Be Happy Because Life is Supposed to Be Hard

On the drive to music lessons this morning, my husband and son saw a beautiful bald eagle perched in a tree off the side of the road. Seeing an eagle in town is a rare and magnificent siting. They stopped the car to watch its grandeur and expected other drivers would do the same. Instead they were chastised by shouts and blaring horn. And this was on a leisurely country road on a Saturday morning. Other drivers pulled around them in frustration, so busy glaring and making angry gestures that they failed to notice the beautiful eagle. 

Why do we believe that life is so serious? so busy? so burdensome? It is a false belief that life has to be hard. Episode 2: The Power of Want explains that if all we think about are problems, the Universe will give us more problems.

The antidote to this false belief is explained in Episode 4: Permission to Make Life Easier. Give yourself permission to enjoy life, to be happy now, stop and see the eagles! 

False Belief #2: I Can't Be Happy While Others Suffer

My son is living in South Africa. He emailed pictures of a house he was helping to build build. This woman had acquired some land and some supplies and was building her own home. They dug a trench and stood some rough pieces of lumber in the trench to create a one-room, wooden shack. When I see pictures like this, my brain fires a string of thoughts about how unfair it is that I have an airconditioned/ heated home with  a microwave and automatic dishwasher and that I shouldn’t be so comfortable and happy when so many people around the world are suffering. 

This is a version of Survivor’s Guilt, the false belief that I shouldn’t be happy, healthy, and have a good life when others around me didn’t get that chance. Survivor’s Guilt causes people to self-sabotage through addiction or failure or just finding misery.

Truth: There will always be tragedy and suffering happening somewhere in the world, so if we all wait for no suffering, then no one would ever be happy. What’s more, we are powerless to help ease suffering if we are also miserable and depressed.

Truth: People don’t have to have identical lives and circumstances in order to be happy. This South African woman was ecstatic with her house because it was her own, she had worked for it, planned it, and built it. Likewise, I don’t need to have what other peopl have in order to be happy in my own life.

Truth: The Ego feeds on comparison, on being “more than” or “less than” others. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Antidote: Give yourself permission to be happy in your life the way it is and be happy for others the way they are.

False Belief #3: I Don't Deserve to Be Happy because I'm Too Imperfect.

I wonder about these young college students whose lives ended far too early. Did they believe they weren’t good enough? Did they believe they were too flawed, too imperfect to be worthy of life and happiness. Instead of happiness did they feel guilt, worthlessness, and despair?

I caught my brain telling me lies like: “You can’t enjoy this because you don’t deserve it.” “You shouldn’t be happy because you didn’t do enough to earn happiness.” or “You have messed up you own life too much to deserve happiness.”

These are ALL lies!

Truth: Happiness is not based on a merit system. Happiness is an emotion that can only come from inside ourselves and never from any of our actions or accomplishments.

Antidote: Give yourself permission to be Imperfect and Happy. They can coexist. 

False Belief #4: I Can't Be Happy if Other People Don't Approve of Me

While working to heal through depression, my counselor explained that I was Codependent. What? That was a surprise because I thought I was one of the most independent women I knew. But I relied on the approval of others in order to approve of myself. If someone else wasn’t happy with my work, then I couldn’t be happy either.

I had a False Belief that  unless someone else noticed and validate me and my work, then I couldn’t be happy with me.

As a result, I learned to search for happiness inside of me.

Truth: I can be happy even if others don’t notice, validate or approve of me.

Truth: I can be happy even if someone isn’t happy with me.

Antidote: Give myself permission to choose my own happiness.

We need to change how we talk about happiness. “He makes me so happy.” or “I want to find a partner who makes me happy.” Because the truth is that you have chosen to be happy with that person.

False Belief #5: I Can't Be Happy Until . . .

The above image of a highway sign reading “Happiness Next Exit” represents a False Belief that Happiness is a destination and we spend a lot of time wondering how to get there. 

This is the False Belief that we can’t be happy until we arrive at the completion of a certain event or circumstance.

I’ll be happy when:

  • I finish my degree,
  • the baby sleeps through the night,
  • when the toddler is potty trained,
  • the house is clean,
  • the debt is paid off,
  • my spouse changes,
  • my boss recognizes my work, 
  • when my book is published,
  • etc.  

Truth: Happiness does not exist outside. Happiness happens inside. Happiness is here, now.

Truth:  If I’m not happy now, then I won’t be happy when my book is published either. Why? Because happiness is a feeling and feelings are a result of my thoughts, not a result of my circumstances. I can choose to feel happy right now, sitting in the middle of a messy kitchen. The best evidence for this comes from WWII and the stories of Holocaust survivors like Victor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning who learned to find meaning, beauty, and even bits of happiness in the most extreme circumstance of human brutality. And if Victor Frankl can do it, then I know I can be happy now.

Antidote: Give yourself permission to be happy NOW. 

Antidote: Understand that events don’t make you happy. YOU CHOOSE to feel happy and you can choose happy RIGHT NOW. 

False Belief #6: I Have to Be Happy 100% of the Time

Do you ever feel like you have to fake happy? Maybe people expect you to be happy. Maybe they think you should be happy and can’t understand if you aren’t happy. Maybe you think people rely on you to be happy so they can be happy to. It’s a False Belief that we have to be happy 100% of the time.

Truth: I am not responsible for other people’s emotions.

Truth: I don’t have to be happy and chipper all the time. That is a big burden.

Truth: I am meant to experience the range of human emotions. And it is important (and healthy) for me to acknowledge and feel all of my feelings from sadness to disappointment to grief.

Antidote: Give yourself permission to be real, to feel all your feelings and to not fake happy. 

Antidote: Give other people permission to be sad. Allow people to feel what they need to feel and avoid the instinct to want to cheer them up or fix their emotions.

Conclusion

Learning that my thoughts and emotions were making me physically sick was the key turning point in my healing process. Thoughts and Beliefs are powerful and they can be changed. Giving myself permission to let go of false beliefs and choose happiness has helped me find a more rich, more authentic, and more meaningful life. I’m not happy 100% of the time (and that’s a good thing). I am happy more often than I am  depressed, discouraged, or despairing. I have learned how to choose happiness and I give myself Permission to Be Happy.