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It’s science: Playing with your kids is actually good for you, too

Whether they’re arranging their stuffed animals on the bed or running in circles outdoors, kids never run out of ways to play. According to a new report, we adults could learn a thing or two from our little fun seekers.

We know play is a crucial part of childhood development, but it’s also important for the health and wellbeing of adults. According to IKEA’s 2017 Play Report, you’re never too mature to benefit from play, and parents should set aside some time for playtime.

The report identifies five key benefits to play that apply to kids and adults. It helps us to:

  • Recalibrate and relax
  • Connect with each other
  • Escape
  • Explore
  • Express ourselves

“In fact some of the most beneficial play is when children and adults play together,” the report’s authors note. “They connect and strengthen intergenerational relationships and learn from each other.”

IKEA’s team spent eight months connecting with 300 people—from 2-year-olds to 90-year-olds—in Germany, the US and China. They found that while kids play as a way to comfort themselves and make sense of the world, adults play to seek power and creativity, to explore the world and feel liberated.

In a world where our lives are increasingly lived online, play is a great way to connect with our families, our friends and ourselves. More and more adults are turning to the games they played as kids when they need to unplug. “Our research has strengthened our belief that play is critical for a better everyday life at home,” says Maria Thörn, Range Manager for IKEA of Sweden.

When we get down on the floor and play with our kids, or bust out that board game, we’re allowing ourselves an escape from the stressors of adult live while giving our kids a chance to develop creatively while mirroring adult behavior.

Playing together connects families in a way no other activity can.“When caregivers and children play together, they’re actually making emotional connections,” says Yesim Kunter, a play expert and futurologist. “They are learning about each other. They are learning about who they are as well as about the other person, and they are exploring together. At the same time, they are learning how to observe things together and how to take risks together.”

Free-style play in a world of a child’s making is just one way parents can playfully interact with their kids. Mirroring play, building play, outdoor play; formal play (like board games); and “out-of-the-box” play (like dancing or coloring), are all ways for moms and dads to connect and explore with their little ones, but it’s not always easy for parents to do this.

IKEA’s report highlights several reasons that adults gave researchers for not engaging in play. Common themes include too much stress and responsibilities at work, and rigid daily routines. A lot of adults also just feel that play is only for kids.

"As adults, we get scared of making mistakes. Failure is frowned upon and, as a result, we forget how to play, we’re scared of taking risks, of asking too many questions and we often close the door on our own curiosity,” says Kunter.

If we want our kids to be curious, we need to allow ourselves to be. And whether that means throwing a football or playing pretend, we owe it to ourselves and our kids to try to play as much as possible.

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