My new book with Dan Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child, comes out on October 4, three weeks from today! Below you’ll find the second in a four-part series where I post excerpts from the book. I hope you enjoy it.
Do you ever feel like you’re spending most of your time disciplining your kids and carting them from one activity to the next, and not enough time just enjoying being with them? If you do, you’re not alone; most of us feel this from time to time. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to just have fun as a family. Yet we are hardwired for play and exploration as well as for joining with one another. In fact, “playful parenting” is one of the best ways to prepare your children for relationships and encourage them to connect with others. That’s because it gives them positive experiences being with the people they spend the most time with: their parents.
Of course children need structure and boundaries and to be held accountable for their behavior, but even as you maintain your authority, don’t forget to have fun with your kids. Play games. Tell jokes. Be silly. Take an interest in what they care about. The more they enjoy the time they spend with you and the rest of the family, the more they’ll value relationships and desire more positive and healthy relational experiences in the future.
The reason is simple. With every fun, enjoyable experience you give your children while they are with the family, you provide them with positive reinforcement about what it means to be in loving relationship with others. One reason has to do with a chemical in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which means that it enables communication between brain cells. Your brain cells receive what some people call “dopamine squirts” when something pleasurable happens to you, and it motivates you to want to do it again. Scientists who study addiction point to these dopamine surges as factors that lead people to maintain a certain habit or addiction, even when they know it’s bad for them. But we can also Continue Reading »