One of our new Teach One Reach One workshops is for parents of children who have experienced trauma and abuse. As I was working through it, I realized just how much we can teach our kids about what God wants for them and from them by being more intentional when we play with them.
Playing with your kids is so important.. Learning through play only works well when your kids are playing with you. Playing with other kids the same age (with no adult interaction) doesn’t work well for learning godly principles and behaviors. In fact, it can reinforce bad habits. Having an adult interact with them during play is what really helps kids learn godly principles.
How do you play intentionally with a child? Sounds boring and stilted, but it really isn’t. The trick is to notice what is happening and process what needs to happen next from a godly world view. Still confused? Here’s an example.
Suppose you are playing a board game with your kids. Suddenly, the game is very close. Most likely, whoever has the next turn will win. Your youngest wants to skip your turn so he can win. Some parents would allow that to happen to keep the peace or to make their child happy. Intentional play though, realizes the godly principle of treating others the way you would want to be treated would not be learned by your youngest if he is allowed to break the rules. He would also have learned that it’s okay to break rules if you get what you want in the process. So, you make the intentional choice to take your turn and make him wait for his turn.
Here are some other godly principles that can be taught or reinforced through play:
- Empathy – How do others feel when you are unkind to them while playing?
- Encouragement – Encouraging other children who may be reluctant to take a turn or try something in the game OR who tried and failed.
- Honesty – Cheating is a form of dishonesty. Kids are often tempted to lie or tell partial truths in order to win a game.
- Helping others – Often games are tough when younger kids play with older ones or if someone is struggling with a needed skill. Learning to help those who lag behind is important.
- Giftedness – Games are often one of the first ways we learn God gives people different gifts. Instead of allowing your kids to become jealous, you can encourage your children to start searching for their own gifts from God.
- Responsibility – If your kids don’t take good care of their toys and games, they will eventually be unable to play with them.
- Perseverance – Some games take a lot of practice in order to do well. Sticking with a game they enjoy (until they practice enough to get really good at playing it) teaches perseverance.
- Patience – Some games, like chess, have patience built into them. Other games involving waiting for players to take their turns can seem like it takes forever to a small child.
- Forgiveness – Games requiring partners can be great teachers of forgiveness. What do you do if your partner makes a mistake, causing you to lose?
- Godly behaviors in “real” life – Role playing games, dolls, even race cars can give opportunities for modeling godly behaviors as you play with your kids. Playing store? What if the “cashier” gives you too much change? What happens if you spill something in the store?
- Priorities – Is it more important to win at any cost or to play fairly and treat others well – even if it means you lose? Competition isn’t bad – to a point. Uncontrolled competitiveness destroys others in its path in unkind and unloving ways. It’s a process to teach kids how to do their best without destroying others in the process.
There are probably lots of other godly principles that can be taught through playing with your child. Entering your child’s world to play also improves your relationship and gives you opportunities to mentor. To a child, there is almost nothing better than playing with their parents. They feel loved and valued when you share their play with them. So grab a board game or some toys and go play with your kids. Believe it or not, it’s a great way to strengthen their faith foundations.