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Take a Break to Play this Holiday Season: 4 Games to Play with Your Kids That Will Strengthen Your Family's Connection

With all of the after school activities, friend play dates, extended family visits, work that's brought home, daily and weekly chores, home improvement projects, and general stress that being in a family presents, it's hard to find time to relax and really connect.
*This post contains affiliate links, but all opinions about these products are my own* 

Personally, my husband and I have four children; twin boy/girl 7.5 year-olds, a 4.5 year old boy, and a 1.5 year old boy. Life is, to say the least, hectic. We struggle to find time to think! And connecting one-on-one or as a group with our children is sometimes put on the back burner. But research has shown time and time again that spending quality time with your children on a regular basis can have profoundly positive impacts on them (see Madigan, Atkinson, Laurin, & Benoit, 2013; Pallini, Baiocco, Schneider, Madigan, & Atkinson, 2014 for reviews). Lasting impacts that can shape the way they make friends through out life, maintain romantic relationships, and develop families of their own as adults. The bottom line is that building a strong relationship with your children when they are young and fostering strong bonds between siblings can seriously benefit them later in life.

Playing with your kids is one way to build these connections. Whether you're wrestling around before dinner, flipping your children over your shoulders and ending in a tickle war or sitting down and playing chess while talking about your vacation plans for next summer, playing with your children, while giving them your undivided attention, even if it's only for 10 minutes, should be integrated into your daily routine.

This isn't really new news. We have known for some time that play is good, and even necessary, for a wide range of benefits. For instance, we know that active, unstructured, outdoor play can have a positive impact on mood and ability to pay attention to tasks  (Burdette & Whittaker, 2005). We also know that imagination play is crucial for brain development (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). Play has even been successfully used in therapy to help improve attachment bonds "to engage children in interactions that lead to competence, self-regulation, self-esteem, and trust" (Booth & Jernberg, 2009).

What lots of us struggle with is finding the time to play. And finding something to play that everyone likes- kids and adults! Because when we play something that's enjoyable for everyone, we're much more likely to find the time. Need some help figuring out what to do? Here are four suggestions I have that my family REALLY loves to do together (besides playing outside, which is our go-to activity when the weather permits). I hope your family will like these activities, too.

1. Pie Face Game
Oh. My. Golly. We love this game! Grab yourself some whipped cream and a video camera and this game is SO MUCH FUN! We got this game for our family last Christmas and have had a BLAST playing about once a month since. Kids and adults of all ages will LOVE this game. Your house will be filled with laughter and squeals. Hasbro even created a new version of this game for this holiday season called, Pie Face Showdown Game.

2. Watch Ya' Mouth Game
We don't have this one yet (Shhh! It's hidden in the attic!), but I can already imagine that it's going to be a HUGE HIT in our house. Again, laughter and squealing will likely fill our living room.

3. Head's Up Game
This is one of our favorites. And yes, we have played this with our son when he was only three. It takes some creativity ("You can be on Mommy's team for now"), but he plays. And he has a blast doing it. We all do. You can play for a few minutes or an hour. It's really up to you.
 And the best part is that it's fun for kids to play with each other, adults to play with other adults, and it's especially fun to play with the whole family involved.

4. Lego Building
I don't know about your kids, but our children are OBSESSED with LEGOs. We even have a LEGO table that we built for our kids' joint birthday present this past May (all four of our kids were born in May- it makes for an interesting month!). And let me tell you, they LOVE it when we sit with them, build, and talk. That's it. Just sit with them and build. No TV, no phones; just us and them, building cars, trucks, houses, and villages. Need some help getting your LEGO game up and running? You can't go wrong getting a LEGO Classic Brick Box.

No matter what you decide to do with your family, spending quality time with together can immensely benefit them... and you! And remember...

  • Booth, P.B. & Jernberg, A. M. (2009). Theraplay: Helping parents and children build better relationships through attachment-based play. Jossey-Bass.
  • Burdette, H. L. & Witaker, R. C. (2005). Resurecting free play in young children: Looking beyond fitness and fatnessto attention, affiliation, and affect. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 159, 46-50.
  • Ginsberg, K. R. (2007). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 182-191.
  • Madigan, S., Atkinson, L., Laurin, K., Benoit, D. (2013). Attachment and internalizing behavior in early childhood: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 49(4), 672-689.
  • Pallini, S., Baiocco, R., Schneider, B. H., Madigan, S., Atkinson, L. (2014). Early child-parent attachment and peer relationships: A meta-analysis of recent research. Journal of Family Psychology, 28, 118-123. 
  • Shonkoff, J.P. & Phillips, D.A. (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.


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