When was the last time you let yourself play? I’m not talking about sports. They’re competitive and therefore the territory of adults. Most games are competitive, too. I’m talking about FUN! Dancing, twirling, skipping, hand-holding, giggling, make-believe…. Do you remember how to be a kid? Many of us have been so immersed in adult responsibilities for so long that we can’t even remember. Or we’re so entrenched in what is “respectable,” that we’re embarrassed to be seen doing anything playful.
How can we gently allow ourselves to re-member how to play? (To “re-member” is to reattach something that was dismembered. Many of us have detached from our childhood self and it may take some doing to re-attach or remember that part of ourselves.)
Here are some suggestions:
- Take yourself to the local library or bookstore and browse through the kid section. Let yourself re-read several books that were favorites when you were a kid. Or choose some new ones that look interesting. If you’re like me, you’ll gravitate toward “magical” books – books about fairies and witches and elves. If you’re like my friend, Kayt, you’ll gravitate toward stories about cats, while Kim likes any book about horses. When I asked on Facebook “What were your favorite books as a kid?” I got a wealth of immediate and enthusiastic responses. Several people mentioned The Wind in the Willows, Little House on the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy, Treasure Island, Anne of Green Gables, Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, and Charlotte’s Web. Reading these books may rekindle your childhood fantasies and may help your imagination be re-awakened – a crucial first step in recovering your sense of play.
- Start talking and playing with babies and children more. When I see a baby – especially one which is being toted around in a carrier, I often try to engage her. I feel sad when I see adults going about their business and not engaging the little one, who is often, due to his position in the carrier, left to look at boring ceilings and bright lights and people’s legs. I will often “flirt” with the baby. Just smiling at the little one often brings her to life. Then I will start to play peek-a-boo. I may never say the words “Peek-a-boo,” but I will look at the child and smile, then hide, then pop back up just a few inches away. I love how quickly they catch on and play.
- Play with dogs and cats. Get down on the floor at the pet’s level and let them climb on you or lick you on the face. Throw balls or Frisbees or sticks for the dogs. Pull or dangle string or yarn for cats. They so love to play. And we are often so darn boring. Let yourself engage. Animals will help you remember how to play.
- Lie outside on the grass and watch the clouds. Just let yourself be in daydream mode for a while. Look for shapes in the clouds. Watch the birds and butterflies. Feel the sun and the breeze. See if you can let yourself drift into a time of nothing to do, nothing to decide, nothing to figure out. Believe me, we all need this kind of time. It is not good for us to be so driven all the time. We all need lazy do-nothing time.
- Take more naps. You were “allowed” to take naps when you were a kid. Sadly, it’s not so much encouraged when we’re adults. The other day a grown man, retired early in his ‘40’s, sheepishly admitted to me that occasionally he took naps in the afternoon – often after long bike rides or hikes. I felt sad that he felt embarrassed about taking a nap. Naps are good! They let us drift away for a while, they let us dream, they help our conscious minds to rest so our subconscious minds can do their work (and play!)
- Get out some crayons or markers or watercolors. You don’t have to be an artist to doodle. Just enjoy the colors. Draw different shapes and make patterns. Draw hearts or boxes or circles or spirals. Draw trees and cats and dogs. Draw balloons or stars or suns with rays. Draw flowers and bugs and butterflies. Or just lay down some color and then cut up the paper and make a collage with the pieces. Don’t try to make a masterpiece, just let yourself play.
- Play dress-up. Put on some costumes even though it’s not Halloween. Putting on someone else’s clothes, or wearing a costume, or putting on a mask or some wings or even a different hat… all these things can help get you out of a rut and fast-track you into a different personality. Be a superhero or a superstar. Be a fairy or a bad guy or a Martian or a ghost. Talk in a different voice. Walk in a different way. Enjoy being someone else for a while. This is called play!
What are your favorite things to do when you’re not being responsible? What makes you laugh out loud? What makes you smile? What awakens your imagination? What helps you forget about your freakin’ “to do” list? DO MORE OF ALL OF THIS!
Life was truly not meant to be so serious. Sometimes it takes some effort to let go of the serious stuff and let yourself play, but do it, because JOY IS IMPORTANT!
Let your inner kid out to play. You’ll be oh so glad you did.