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Does A Family That Plays Together Stay Together?

Does a Family that Plays Together Stay Together?

I always thought it was strange that moms complained they didn’t even have time to take a shower.  Surely they can find 10 minutes in their day to take a shower!  Well, when I had my first baby it all became clear. Balancing everything that needs to be done can be difficult when a baby demands instant attention.  But as I have reflected on my favorite days as a Mom they are commonly the days I ignored the dirty dishes and errands to run and instead focused on how to coax a laugh out of my baby or intently watched her explore and learn things for the first time.

As a therapist, one of the things I am most passionate about is building good relationships and parents playing with their kids.  I saw time and time again that everyone was happier and children’s behavior was better when parents spent the time playing with their kids.  Families were able to build up positives in their relationship bank account before negative behavior (often what they were coming to therapy for) had to be corrected.  Things would slide downhill again when playing and building positive connections was ignored or put on the sidelines.  Not only am I passionate about this in work life, but in my home life as well.  Life is so much better when I’m building good memories with my family-whether big or small.  Playing with my family brings me so much joy.

As one poet so wisely wrote:

6 ways to make family playtime real. Why playtime with children is important. Why you should be a friend to your child.

This rings so true not only for mothers who read to their children, but mothers (and fathers) who simply spent time with their children.  Happy families are indeed more priceless than wealth untold.  Many parenting courses begin with building positive relationships with your children before moving on to discipline or other parenting principles, and playing together is an important element of these parenting programs.  This makes sense: in order to promote happy family values and memories with few and far between arguments, rebellions and discord, a strong relationship must be there (see love, limits and latitude as an example of such a a parenting course).  Furthermore, several child therapists have written about the healing properties and developmental necessities of close, nurturing relationships with parents.  (Read Dr. Dan Seigel’s or Dr. Bruce Perry’s books, for example.)

How great is it that a great foundation for parenting gets to be so fun?!  As exciting as play is, here are 6 simple tips to make it more effective:

1) Let Children Pick the Activity

Let children pick the activity (obviously within reason.  Sorry kids-you can’t pick Disneyland every week).  Children get so excited when mom and dad are doing exactly what they think is fun and are interested in what they’re interested in.  What a great way to build relationships!  Sometimes teenagers can grumble at family “play time” and it can be difficult to plan.  You may have to get especially creative with coming up with play opportunities with teenagers, but they are there. Maybe it’s playing water kick ball or starting a who-can-guess-the-artist-of-this-song-first game or going to a favorite sports game together, but the opportunities are still there!

2) Make Play a Priority

Make play a priority.  Set aside some time every week to put down phones, turn off the tv, and set aside work, homework, and chores to spend some fun time with your children.  Teaching the value of hard work and responsibility is important and valuable, but I think we all too often forget the value of play.

I realize this can be pretty difficult to find the time for between everyone’s busy schedules so you may have to get creative.  Perhaps it’s moving bed-time back by 10 minutes and incorporating 10 minutes of play into the nighttime routine.  Find a way to that works for your family to include it into your routines.

Not only is it about literally setting aside time to play, but mentally set aside time to play, too.  Get your whole mind engaged in it.  Get down on the floor and don’t get afraid to make a mess!  Get involved and don’t be afraid to enter the world of your teenagers.  It’s pretty amazing what can happen when everyone in the family gets undivided attention.  My family always loved boating for this reason growing up; we were all stuck in a 20 foot boat with no distractions and no place to go!  We just had each other to talk to, too much good food to eat, and the sun and water to enjoy.  Lake Powell is still one of our favorite vacations and a magical place to create memories at.  It’s fun starting the tradition early with our baby; she already loves the water.

Song for a Fifth Child by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton. Playing as a family is so important. 6 ways to make family playtime real.

3) Look for Spontaneous Opportunities to Play

Look for spontaneous opportunities to play.  Not all play has to be time set-aside in the calendar and planned out.  Sometimes the most fun times are spontaneous activities that erupt at the most unlikely time and place.  When we take time to smell the roses we won’t be disappointed.

4) Do Not Make Play with Family a Reward for Good Behavior

Do not make play with family a reward for good behavior.  Conversely, don’t take it away as a punishment.  Although parents sometimes tell a child they cannot participate in a fun family game or one-on-one activity for misbehaving (all with good intentions on the parents part), this often creates negative cycles.  Remember, play is a good foundation to build relationships on, which helps with disciplining in the long run.  I am not advocating that children get special privileges (such as going to parties regardless of their recent behavior or going to an activity that is normally an earned privilege in the family) when they break family rules.  Nor am I advocating they continue to participate in an activity when their mood clearly indicates they need a break to regulate their emotions.  What I am advocating is that parents spend time playing Legos or baking treats with their children even when, and perhaps especially when, they’ve been acting up. While you do so you may even get an added bonus of figuring out just what is at the bottom of their misbehavior.  Remember, positive relationships (playing with parents included) promotes happy families and happy children.

5) Be Mindful of Media Playtime

Be mindful of media playtime.  Try to have some play time free from tv and video games as it is difficult to interact personally.  When it is picked, however, find ways to engage outside of it.  For example, if you watch a movie together, you could have a discussion afterward on your favorite scenes or what each of you would do if you were the main character or the movie producer.  If you watch baking shows together then bake your own masterpieces afterward.

6) Have Both One-on-One and Whole Family Play

Have both one-on-one and whole family play.  One-on-one time is a foundation of several parenting courses that I have read, but whole-family play is important too.  It’s quite easy to look at Facebook pictures and know that building family memories are so important.


What would happen if you took an afternoon or evening off and did no chores and no work and instead played?  Try family time or one-on-one time using these 6 tips.  Then let us know in the comments what you did and how it went!  Even better-try making it a weekly ritual.

Check out some real family time ideas at our Ridiculously Fun Family Board Games for Families of All Ages and 10 Fun Free Family Games posts.

To sum it all up, remember:


a family that plays together stays together. 6 ways to make family playtime real.

Tanya Lindquist

Tanya is a licensed clinical social worker who worked for several years at various therapy clinics before becoming a stay at home mom. She loves helping families find tools and methods they can apply to helping children overcome any challenge.

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