Why It’s Not All Fun and Games
by Jennifer Maurer
You know the saying, “It’s not all fun and games.”
Except sometimes it is, which is what we discovered at a PlayShop we recently hosted on a snowy night at our local YWCA.
It was fun watching families of all ages and stages, from early elementary to early retirement, exploring how to play together. There were lots of magical moments including
- children pulling hidden talents and humor out of their hats like fluffy rabbits,
- adults reversing the normal aging process with ear-to-ear grins and belly laughs that only children at heart can make, and
- a generation gap vanishing into thin air with the twirling of a parachute, colorful balls in flight, and frequent outbursts of laughs and clapping.
It was hard to tell the grownups from the kids. And it didn’t really matter, because everyone was having fun.
But that’s not all they were doing.
It’s Not All Fun And Games
Turns out, play isn’t all fun and games. Or maybe it is, but it’s also so much more…
Play is one of the first ways we learn to build trust and healthy relationships with others and the world around us.
The playful smiles and coos of a baby and her parents are perfect examples of the attunement and trust we develop through playful engagement, which has been well documented in studies of how infants attach and bond with primary caregivers.
I smile, you smile. I laugh, you laugh. I blow spit bubbles, you, well, you laugh (unless you are my older sibling or I’m no longer in diapers, and then all bets are off).
There are so many ways we can play, and each of them has unique and powerful benefits.
The Body at Play
When we play by moving and using our whole bodies, as we did on game night, we learn to negotiate our own and other’s boundaries, literally and figuratively. We also give our brains a healthy workout.
According to play researcher and founder of the National Institute for Play, Stuart Brown, MD, “Movement play lights up the brain and fosters learning, innovation, flexibility, adaptability and resilience.”
Playing with others offers infinite opportunities to become our best selves. In the give and take of social play, we learn to cooperate, empathize, and compromise. Collaborative play encourages us to regulate our emotions. The friendships we develop through play also teach us the importance of generosity, altruism, kindness and fairness.
You might say play is the Elmer’s glue that holds us together.
Interestingly, a newly published research study suggests that playfulness in adults is instrumental for attracting partners and for helping them stay together in long-term relationships.
Role Play & Role Models
Role play, and play in general, is a healthy way to reduce our self-limiting inhibitions, self-criticism and fear of judgment. We are, after all, just playing. We don’t have to resort to mind-altering and potentially damaging substances like drugs and alcohol, we just have to be willing to play.
When we engage in play, we stimulate changes in our brains and hormones that reduce feelings of stress and increase feelings of well-being. These good feelings encourage us to take healthy risks and, through role play, we often discover our super powers.
Super Heroes Among Us
In her popular TED Talk, Amy Cuddy, PhD shows how role play and “power poses” can actually help us acquire more confidence, personal power and positive influence over our circumstances.
Perhaps that is one of the things we love most about Family Game Night. The way play reveals the super powers in each and every one of us.
When we give ourselves, our children and our friends the gift of unadulterated fun, we discover our unique strengths and talents, our power to laugh, our power to meet challenges with creativity, our power to access joy in the present moment, our power to connect with our bodies and our hearts, and our power to connect with others.
That’s a lot of power.
When we play together, we discover we are all super heroes. And that is reason enough to get your game (and your cape) on.
So, what are your super powers?
We invite you to play with them.