The language of play—A powerful way to connect with your kids

Written by Terra Mattson
Published on August 10, 2021

Mom, will you play with me? 

Pause. 

Something happens when we become adults. We start to think about education, food, paying the bills, serving, and laundry. Oh, the laundry! 

Summer hits, and many of us don’t have the same luxury to toss caution to the wind and spend endless hours outside with our kids. (Note—if you do, own this privilege with all your might! These days pass so quickly.) 

Play is the language of children 

From a developmental and neurobiological sense, God designed children to help the rest of us see the world in all of its glory. The simple wonders and joys are all around us—a stick that becomes a sword, the taste of a popsicle, or the giggles that come in chasing a cricket. 

Some theology can squeeze the breath out of the pure trust and delight of what God, the ultimate artist, displays in creation. 

From Genesis to Revelation, we see God offering an abundant life to his kids—one that is mingled with overcoming trials, loving the marginalized, and playing joyfully. 

Serving, working hard, responsibility, character development, and manners are all good and important in raising our children.

But at the end of the day, if our children do not capture that they are seen, known, and loved just as they are—with mud on their faces, chasing butterflies—then, we have missed it,  friends. Play opens the door to children feeling the presence of a parent. Play is a simple, but profound way parents show children that they are delighted in. 

Play has a profound purpose

And get this—play therapy research reports that only thirty minutes a week of intentional play with our kids fills their relational bucket. There is even a positive shift in their behavior! 

Just as there are different seasons throughout our lives, there are different rhythms to our days. Playing is a “basic human need as essential to our well-being as sleep…,” according to Psychiatrist Stuart Brown.

Not only does God give us full permission to play for ourselves and with our children, but we were given the added benefit that play has profound purpose. “Play helps us recognize that life is about the process over the product and the effort rather than the outcome” (Mattson, 2020). 

Tips and learning styles

For some of you this comes easily, and you’re wondering why we are stating an obvious topic. For others, play seems foreign.

To help you, here are some practical tips for putting play into your own life: 

• If your daughter is a kinesthetic learner, she might value play that moves her body—kicking the soccer ball, going on a bike ride together, playing tag, or shooting baskets.

• If you have a visual learner, she may enjoy play that involves creating—painting, gardening, or playing a card game.

• If your daughter is an auditory learner, she might value play that is heard—reading aloud together, creating a storyline for her dolls or stuffies, or having a sing-a-long.

• For your tactile learner, you might find she enjoys getting her hands in her play—an art or painting project, planting flowers, or using sand or play dough.

Consider your child’s core values (CVI) heart wiring, which helps us understand their unique learning style:

• If your child has a builder heart wiring, their form of play may look like putting legos together, doing a project from beginning to end, or going on a bike ride or hike.

• If your child is a merchant they may enjoy creating art or crafting with the idea of gifting it to someone they love or creating a special dinner event or party for their pet where people can come together and have fun!

• A banker heart wiring may enjoy researching a specific topic, followed by a field trip or a game together that is heavy on organization and knowledge—chess anyone?

• An innovator may create an elaborate and imaginative storyline for figurines or a book or create a drama with costumes and music.

Known, loved, and seen

Have fun carving out a playtime this year in the midst of all the responsibilities and extracurricular activities in order to nourish the soul through presence and play. If you are really motivated, put thirty minutes on the calendar each and every week so you don’t miss it! 

It’s just as important as eating, sleeping, homework, and reading the Word. Play is to children what words are to adults. This is how they feel known, loved, and seen

The next time when the days are so full or you have many children with many needs, and you hear, “Mom, will you play?” Clearly state, “Not now, but we have our date to play at 3 p.m. tomorrow, and I cannot wait!” 

Watch her run along with delight as she anticipates a whole thirty minutes with just you and her imagination.


Read more from Co-Founder of Courageous Girls Curriculum, Author, Podcaster and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Terra Mattson in her book: Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace (David C Cook, 2020). Subscribe to the Living Wholehearted Podcast with Jeff and Terra Mattson. Episode 14 is on helping Big Emotions and the Power of Play.

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Terra Mattson

Terra Mattson (MA LPC, LMFT), a Christian Parenting spokesperson, is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor. Alongside her husband Jeff, Terra co-hosts the Living Wholehearted Podcast and are the co-founders of Living Wholehearted, a professional counseling and organizational development firm. Terra is the author of Courageous: Being Daughters Rooted in Grace. Terra is a mom to two girls, a novice gardener, loves to paint and bake, and craves reading a good book by a pool on a hot day.

Read more about Terra

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