When we think of spending time with our children, we probably consider engaging in a scheduled or structured activity. We may even have back-to-back scheduled activities to fill our weekend, which can be exhausting for parent and child alike.

But then we’re missing out on a very different and important need when we over-schedule ourselves: The need for time together with no agenda.

It can be challenging to shift from being busy all the time to slowing down. It is a lot easier, in theory, to put away our phones, to say “no” to another birthday party, to postpone running errands, or to hold off on feeling productive.

As you begin to make room in your schedule for more free time with each other, you are investing in your child and your relationship, and it will pay off now and in the future.

This can look like sitting down to play with your child and allowing them to lead the play. The time you spend with them and follow their lead will help them feel empowered in their lives, give them a chance to feel in control over one aspect of their lives, and make them more likely to willfully follow your requests when they need to.

These moments that you spend playing, joking and laughing with your child also sends them a message—you are showing them that you love them, value them and enjoy their presence.

Know that despite what they may say when they are distressed, they love you, respect you and enjoy being in connection with you. They might just struggle to show it at times, especially if they have no breaks and have a tough time transitioning between the several activities crammed into a day. But small changes can go along way.

Even a few minutes of play before heading off to work or before tidying up for bed, can help them feel more connected with you, and more at ease upon transitions to school or bed.

Once you begin to play or be playful with your children, you will notice how easily smiles and laughter can come about, bringing you closer together. Laughter will result from the freedom you give you and your family, the connection you build with your children, and the peace that overcomes you.

When we are in this state of being able to enjoy one another’s company and laugh together, we may experience benefits that go well beyond our children following directions more easily (although that is really helpful in addressing our own parental stress).

Laughter can help improve mental health, physical health and our relationships. Laughter can help relax our bodies, improve our immune system, release the feel-good chemicals in our brain, protect against heart attack, diffuse tension, help us live longer, and even burn some calories.

We are also building positive memories together and increasing our ability to bounce back from being stressed. No wonder we hear that “laughter is the best medicine.”

Shifting our lives to fit in “free play” or playfulness can be challenging though. It requires us to look inward to see if we have really made room for what we truly value and then to make time by saying “no” to those things that are getting in the way of what means the most to us.

This may mean that we reconsider how many activities, birthdays or other scheduled events we sign up for. But once you shift, you can experience an increased sense of peace and joy and so can your child.

As Courtney Carver says in her book, Soulful Simplicity, “If you don’t have time for what matters, stop doing things that don’t.”

“Unbusying” our schedules helps us make room for each other. As you start to slow down, you may find it easier to explore the world through your child’s eyes, leading you to appreciate them more, laugh with them more, and strengthen your bond.

For instance, you may notice how much they appreciate the outdoors as they find “treasures” and engage in pretend-play with only sticks and rocks, bringing a smile to your face as you see how much joy there is in simplicity.

The time that you spend with your child laughing and playing does not just benefit their sense of self and well-being, it benefits ours too. Play can help adults feel more energetic, happier, less stressed and even improve our brain functioning.

As adults, we don’t really consider the need for play… there’s just “no time” for it. But it is as much an investment for us, as it is for our child. Taking breaks from our daily to-do’s helps us feel rejuvenated and gives us the strength to continue with our day.

So look inward, see what is important to you and your family, and carve out that time to laugh and play a bit longer. You won’t regret it.

[This story was originally published on March 1, 2018.]