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Thoughts on Play

Can Rest be Playful? And Play Restful?

2021-09-29 by Dr. Jenny
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Hi parents! I hope this summer was restorative for you. With Melissa & Doug’s help, I’m back to continue providing playful ideas for coping through what has been the most exhausting year and a half of our lives.

We all need some time for recovery and healing. In this post, I’d like to think about ways to sustain time for rest and self-care, and how play can be part of that solution.

As I’ve said before, “play” shouldn’t mean an obligation, a to-do list, a perfect product, or something you’re going to be judged by other parents about! I want to brainstorm ways that play can be the opposite of the non-stop hum of our everyday lives. Can play be rest?

I’m focusing on rest for a few reasons. 1) Rest restores us. It helps us feel centered and ready to adapt to the next parenting challenge. 2) Rest is an act of resistance sometimes. The world is moving faster and faster, with people expecting us to do things rapidly while packing perfect parenting into days filled with many other work and family obligations. We all deserve to take a rest and think about what matters.

Mother and baby reading Melissa & Doug book on living room floor.

4 Ways Play and Rest Can Go Together to Revitalize You

Here are a few ways I’ve mashed up play and rest together the past few months:

1. Listening to my kids. This summer, I tried to rest the non-stop to-do list of my brain, and just let go and follow the stream-of-consciousness, non-linear, and outside-the-box thinking that kids’ minds do. Sometimes just asking “What if . . . “ questions (the more outlandish, the better) can spark surprising and delightful conversations. Some inspiration:

  • What if a genie granted you three wishes? (Try adding this: And you had to use them to help someone else?)
  • What if you could be an animal for a day? What would you be and do?
  • What if your toys could talk? What would they say?

2. Getting on the ground. Lying on the earth is, literally, “grounding” — a term used to describe organizing our minds and bodies. This could involve looking up close at grains of sand and blades of grass. Taking note of muffled sounds and different smells. Try to join in playful ways of thinking with your kids while you lay there: what does the world look like to a bug?

3. Being an observer. Taking my son to occupational therapy this summer may not sound like rest, but I just had to sit there, for 50 minutes, not look at my phone or do any work, and observe. I slowed down my breathing and wondered what my son thought of these new challenges. And I learned more by watching than I would have by splitting my attention with email!

4. Solitude with my dog. Physical activity — like slow swimming around a pool, taking a stroll in the park where the leaves are starting to turn colors, is mindful, restorative rest. Walking the dog doesn’t need to feel like a chore or a calorie-burning goal!

All of these ideas involve getting off the treadmill of our busy lives and away from the mental to-do lists we’ve created to keep up with daily expectations. But rest lets us sit back and sometimes realize those devices pinging for our attention, floods of emails, and demands of perfection are things we’ve habituated ourselves to expect, but they aren’t necessarily what’s good for us. It’s important to take time to let the tension drain out of our wound-up bodies and return to a busy day with a new perspective on what to prioritize.


For more on play and wellness, check out these articles by Dr. Jenny:

How to Communicate to Kids Through Fun Activities & Play Ideas >
Kids Feeling Down? Here’s How Play Can Help >



Dr. Jenny

Jenny Radesky, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician whose research focuses on family digital media use, child social-emotional development, and parent-child interaction. She graduated from Harvard Medical School cum laude in 2007 and is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Her clinical work focuses on autism, traumatic stress, ADHD, and self-regulation. Dr. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to help parents understand the individual ways their child thinks, learns, and feels; to help parents provide the best therapy and play experiences for their children; but to also allow parents to sit back and let their child’s mind take the lead sometimes. She authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children.

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