When was the last time you played with your child? If you’re struggling to answer, you may be missing out on an important aspect of parenting. Don’t underestimate the power of play, especially playing together as a family. – By Donna Cheng
If you have school-going kids, especially teens, it could be unthinkable that your kids want to hang out with you. Read on to find out how Ellery Gan gets his 16-year-old son, Brandon, to rock and roll with him.
Brandon and his father, Ellery Gan, share a love of music. Both have jam sessions with each other’s friends. Mum, Yvonne Kua, joins in occasionally to make music together at home. Mum will be on the keyboard, dad on bass, and Brandon on the guitar.
Parents who play with their children can help their children find their spark or talent that allows them to thrive as a person, according to the Search Institute in the US, which has spent more than 50 years researching families. Other studies have shown that spending time together as a family is a wise investment with benefits such as greater emotional bonding, better academic performance and fewer behavioural problems.
Ellery testifies to the benefits of time spent with his son with the sole purpose of having fun.
“We value playing together ever since Brandon was born. We play at least on a weekly basis. Playing music together as a family, going to the movies, competing with each other on PS3, helping out in charity work, cycling and swimming are some of the activities we do together,” says Ellery.
Spending time with Brandon and sharing fun moments not only boosts the parent-child relationship, it also helped Brandon discover his talent and passion for cycling and playing the guitar. Now, he jams with friends in their home and plays with the school’s guitar ensemble.
“Our common interests in cycling and music play an integral part in building strong ties with our son. Not only do we break the age barrier, we are also able to connect with his friends so they feel comfortable around us,” shares Ellery.
A shift in mindset
Helen Lee shares how just a mindset shift resulted in not only a happier child but also a stronger parent-child bond.
“When my daughter, Yen was in pre-school, we did lots of fun stuff together. Then the primary school years took a toll on our relationship. She struggled with school work and I was just stressed out. Most of our time was spent catching up on studies. She didn’t do too well in her PSLE. When she got into the normal stream in Secondary 1, Yen coped a whole lot better and she had a group of friends that did hip hop. Initially I didn’t like this street-dancing thing. But because she was doing better in school, I allowed her to. Then one day I asked if she wanted to go for hip hop classes. That was the spark that changed our lives,” Helen’s face lit up as she recalls the change.
Her relationship with Yen improved tremendously, and Yen is a more confident, happy and sociable teenager because she found her talent. Yen is also keen on trying out jazz and modern dance together with her mum. Seeing the change in her daughter, Helen sometimes wishes that she had allowed her daughter to explore and discover her talent and love for dance sooner.
A little effort goes a long way
Angeline is a single mum who shares her love for sports and the outdoors with her boys, aged 10 and 14.
“We are out on weekends even when I am tired. We go to the beach to do canoeing, swimming, cycling, and running. It was from these weekly activities together that my boys discovered that they have a talent and a real edge in sports. They now train with the school track and field team, and my 10-year-old has started taking part in triathlons. For me, I cherish such moments as precious opportunities to not only have fun exercising together, but also connect with them on issues close to our hearts.”
While many parents lament how their children only enjoy spending time on their games or internet, these families show us that with the right effort, you can have fun together with your kids.
For Helen, she is glad she made the effort to understand and connect with her daughter, and get their relationship back on track.
“It’s never too late to start making things right. My daughter and I didn’t use to talk. But now we are dancing together! It’s just amazing how having fun together can transform a relationship. If I can make it right, any parent can.”
Here are some tips on how to make the best of play time:
- Less is more, according to the Chief of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Centre of New York, Dr Andrew Adesman. The published study on play and parenting states that children are happiest when parents direct and dictate less.
- Let your children lead. Giving them space to explore what they like and want to play is as important as being their playmate. Jean Ispa, professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri, noted that parents should not be over-involved. Children should be allowed to make their own decisions about what they will play with, how they will play and the pace of play.
- Engage in age-appropriate play. Play is an activity that thrills children of all ages. According to the Child Development Network, activities that incorporate motor skills or hand-eye coordination such as painting or kicking a ball would be ideal for toddlers. As your child displays more independence, you can expand their world through more organised sports like netball or frsibee. Through interacting with others, your child will also develop social skills like empathy and turn taking.