Happy New Year! You may be wondering “where has Beth been?” Well, I have been having a baby! My whole family is thrilled, and my older kids can’t wait to play with their new baby sister once she’s big enough. My posting here will still be a little sporadic over the next few weeks as we all get into the groove of new baby life, but I am also aiming for this new addition in my life to provide me inspiration and momentum to post more about play and human development.
As we start our own new adventures in 2018, several people may be thinking about new year’s goals and resolutions. I think any time of year is a good time to start something new, but sticking with a new habit or ritual has been proven to be quite hard for most folks.
While some goals need discipline and structure – quitting smoking, getting more organized – there are also many opportunities to “gamify” your challenges for yourself.
Rafe Kelley, founder and lead coach of Evolve Move Play (and co-creator of said new baby) presented a fantastic TEDx Talk last fall about this very topic. Listen to his take on how to integrate play into both mundane and daunting challenges:
Rafe’s talk was focused primarily towards a high school and college-aged audience, but the messages are valuable for people of all ages starting out on something new or holding themselves accountable to new goals.
In the talk, Rafe discusses how it is also important to build in rewards or fun elements into your bigger to-do list when working toward your goals.
As a great example of this, I happened to stumble upon this video of a bunch of traceurs challenging each other to do vertical back-flips. These grown men are challenging each other in a seemingly frivolous activity, but it in fact helps inform multiple aspects of their broader parkour training, and is therefore valuable from a fitness & training standpoint. It also encourages problem-solving and camaraderie/accountability, two things which are vital when trying to hold yourself to new habits or goals.
While very few of us will ever be able to do what these traceurs do, I want it to inspire people (me too!) that adding play to your training – whether you’re training for a marathon or starting a new business – is not a “distraction” it is essential to maintaining your motivation and drive.
Enjoy your new year’s resolutions! Mine are crafting more, writing more, and hiking more.
Introvert-extrovert labels have always intrigued me because I grew up in a house of introverts, where quietness was an essential part of the day. Yet we did plenty of things attributed to extroverts, like attending parties every week, having a house full of guests over the holidays, and going on road trips with other families and random friends of my parents.
There was always down time built into our days and nights. In high school, I assumed I was an extrovert because of all the tell-tale signs of things extroverts are supposed to enjoy based on the highly inaccurate and oversimplified checklist I used to self-diagnose. I enjoyed things extroverts are presumed to like that introverts supposedly don’t: playing sports, spending time with other human beings, going to crowded places like the mall, doing loud things like attending musical concerts and parties.
But at the same time, my personality seemed to be at odds with these things. There was always a caveat. I liked going to parties, but hated making small talk. I liked spending time with some people, but wanted my alone time. I liked martial arts, but hated having to perform in front of the class for promotions. I wrongly thought I must just not like these activities. I had neglected to take into account that introverts have a different approach to things like parties and learning sports than extroverts might.
Here are a list of five things I especially enjoy that are sometimes viewed as exclusive extrovert territory, yet can be very easily enjoyed by introverts without even much tweaking.
I grew up being enthralled by martial arts, primarily through Bruce Lee movies I watched as a kid. I’ve dabbled in kickboxing, kungfu, and recently capoeira, which all involve moving primarily by footwork: standing up, punching, or kicking. One of the things I really enjoy about this style is that you can have your alone time to just focus on repetitive movements, especially when using pads or heavy bags to practice.
Ground fighting styles like Brazillian Jiu Jitsu, on the other hand, seem like they’d be an introvert’s worst nightmare,because the assumption is you need outward extroversion to engage. There is no alone work, barring warm ups; you are constantly drilling techniques or “rolling” with another person from the moment you step on the mats. When Renzo Gracie Jiu Jitsu in Jersey City opened up a few blocks from us, I had no intention of signing up, but my adventurous seven-year-old ambivert daughter had other plans. I wasn’t surprised she took to it, although was a little surprised she wanted to sign up for the entire year and loves it so much she practically lives there. I was also surprised by the amount of time you’re in your own head in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once you learn a technique, it’s all about strategizing with your partner in order to pull off the move. I’ve been training for six months, and it is pretty impressive how few moves I can pull off given the amount I train. My daughter, on the other hand, can run circles around me without even thinking about the steps required.
I fell in love with karaoke when I lived in China, where it is a very intimate affair with a few friends and private rooms. Karaoke in the United States, with big stages in rooms full of people, would terrify anyone not drunk. Or anyone who can’t sing (not that I have that issue, cough, cough). But there are plenty of areas in many cities that have genuine Asian style karaoke with small rooms and a handful of snacks to order from. My favorite joints in New York City are the ones that allow kids. My daughter loves randomly picking a song in a different language, while I stick to familiar classics that I can introduce her to: British punkrock from the 1970s. Don’t let Hollywood fool you into thinking this is extrovert territory. The best thing about it is that you’re supposed to be off-key, just like you’re not meant to be some classically trained singer when you’re jumping on the bed belting out lyrics to a song with your friends, or you’re in the car and your jam comes on. The best part is when you make mistakes and get out of tune or read the lyrics wrong!
Fact: dancing is fun. While I prefer dancing at home with my kids, sometimes I am required to leave the house for adult social gatherings. I have exactly four moves I use at Punjabi parties that I learned when I was 13 and are still going strong. But there are plenty of venues for introverts to stomp those feet. If Salsa night or Bhangra night at a dance club are not your thing, there are plenty of other options. Many gyms offer dance classes as a form of exercise, rather than just the study of the dance technique itself.
There are many forms of dance from all over the world you can learn at a dance studio, which used to be relegated only to professional dancers, that now even casual dancers can try out. In addition to classes like breakdancing, salsa, or ballet, in places with high numbers of immigrant populations, there are also some wonderful schools catering to the art from those communities, ranging from traditional Indian dances to African dances like the Soukoss rooted in the Congo. I’ve always wanted to learn traditional Indian dances like Bharat Natyam or Kathak, with incredible footwork, facial expressions, and intricate details. In many areas of New Jersey and New York with large Indian populations (especially South Indians) you can learn these forms at dance companies like Navatman. And many of these dance studios have their own themed nights emulating a dance club, except they’re with people you know and they end at a reasonable time, allowing you to get home at a reasonable hour and read that book!
Family and Friends Road Trip!
I find it sad when introverts buy into the notion they could never survive a road trip with other people, especially family and friends. Of course, if there are deep-seated feuds happening, introversion is going to be the least of your issues. I grew up all over the world, and every country we’d live in, there would always be roadtrips whenever there was a long weekend. In Nigeria, we’d visit waterfalls, in Dubai we’d go on camping trips on the beach or to see the dunes, and in the United States we went on a big fat extended family trip to visit three islands in Hawaii. It is definitely a challenge when extroverts don’t understand the need for introverts to be alone because it’s so ingrained in our culture that this is the behaviour of someone who is angry or sad or depressed, and it must be fixed immediately. So rather than putting ourselves in a situation where we have to justify ourselves, we carved it into the schedule. Chill time, however we decided to use that time, was not optional. Without it, it feels like you’ve been scheduled for five museum visits in one day!
I once made the mistake of going on a dumpling crawl with someone I knew from work when I used to work at a company selling knives door to door (it did not go well). I got the idea from somewhere (I turned out to be wrong) that they knew what they were doing. The idea of a crawl sounded like fun – walking around exploring a city while stopping frequently to sample dumplings. It turned out to be planned with a very extroverted sense of fun in mind. There were long walks filled with awkward small talk and way too much food ordered at each dumpling joint, which gave rise to even more small talk. If Shakespeare had gone on that dumpling crawl, I’m pretty certain he would have centered his tragedies on food crawls. I can’t think of very many things worse than not being able to enjoy your food and being inconvenienced by needing to find something to say, over and over again. The dumpling crawls I subsequently planned, with my kids first and later with a select group of adults, took into top priority the enjoyment of maximum dumplings without too much time-wasting conversation. This is not to say we can’t have fun conversations, but there were no long walks, and definitely no long draining commute times!
Leisure time activities are often pre-scripted as “introvert” and “extrovert” activities, as if extroverts can’t enjoy a quiet evening at home with a glass of wine and a book, or an introvert couldn’t possibly go dancing because of the loud music and people.
While extroverts can spend hours surrounded by people, going from one activity to another, without any people-break, and be totally sane afterwards, introverts like myself would end up eating somebody. Strategies are important. What are some of yours?
I read a fantastic article written by former U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy about the physical and cognitive damage brought on from isolation and loneliness, which many of us suffer, especially at work. We’re so focused on working, and for long hours, we often forget to stop and check in with each other and learn about each other *raises guilty hand*.
Murthy discusses this in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic.” He shares some statistics and the impact this loneliness has on our individual work productivity and how that effects businesses’ bottom line.
Rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980s. Today, over 40% of adults in America report feeling lonely, and research suggests that the real number may well be higher. Additionally, the number of people who report having a close confidante in their lives has been declining over the past few decades. In the workplace, many employees — and half of CEOs — report feeling lonely in their roles…
During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness…
Loneliness and weak social connections are associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity…
At work, loneliness reduces task performance, limits creativity, and impairs other aspects of executive function such as reasoning and decision making…
Researchers for Gallup found that having strong social connections at work makes employees more likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work, and less likely to fall sick or be injured…
He also offers a suggestion to combat this: setting up time at work for an “Inside Scoop” session, either as part of the weekly team meeting or other routine meeting.
People were asked to share something about themselves through pictures for five minutes during weekly staff meetings. Presenting was an opportunity for each of us to share more of who we were; listening was an opportunity to recognize our colleagues in the way they wished to be seen.
These sessions quickly became many people’s favorite time of the week, and they were more enthusiastic about participating at staff meetings. People felt more valued by the team after seeing their colleagues’ genuine reactions to their stories. Team members who had traditionally been quiet during discussions began speaking up. Many began taking on tasks outside their traditional roles. They appeared less stressed at work. And most of them told me how much more connected they felt to their colleagues and the mission they served.
This experience rings very true for me on my own team; during our team meetings, one of our senior managers on my team would always make sure there was time in the meeting for everyone to go around the room and share what their weekend plans were. People could say as much or as little as they wanted. But it gave us all a glimpse into their outside lives and helped us all feel closer. We learned about shared interests in music and art, got to hear about personal successes like their cover band scoring a gig or going to a sister’s wedding. We all became closer and would ask each other on the progress of our personal projects, and offer support or gentle teasing if we felt a project wasn’t getting the attention we all thought it deserved, whether it was finishing their degree or sewing a dog bed. It made us all closer and feel more connected.
As the team ebbed and flowed after awhile we stopped doing this practice, and although the change went unnoticed (until now), the change in team dynamics, camaraderie, and effectiveness has shifted.
It would be worth bringing it back.
In an age with more population density and a literally globally connected world thanks to the Internet, we are all experiencing more loneliness. The good news is we also have the power to combat it. It doesn’t have to be formal; as Murthy says:
I share what my office did not as the antidote to loneliness but as proof that small steps can make a difference. And because small actions like this one are vital to improving our health and the health of our economy.
There are other practices that can help combat loneliness too, like offering to help out others, and be willing to accept help when offered. Being proactive is hard, but worth it. And it doesn’t have to be big.
We can start simply by asking how somebody’s weekend was, and actually stopping and being present to listen.
Ash [Perrin] and his team of clowns, musicians and dancers are ‘play specialists’ who work with children in refugee camps across Europe. The aim is to allow the kids “to feel good, feel daft, and feel playful”.
This kind of outreach and human interaction is so powerful, not just from the viewpoint of lifting up people’s spirits, but especially for children’s mental well-being. It is incredibly beneficial to everyone but especially children to provide play and laughter as a respite from a really scary situation, at a time when they need a village of support at the exact time they have lost that village, as their parents try to cope with their new situation as well.
This kind of outreach is crucial especially as the refugee crisis intensified and continues to grow and more families are displaced and their lives put into turmoil. Play is how children process their emotions, explore and understand the world, and this kind of work can help children process trauma.
Unstructured play is crucial as well, but having guided play like this is important in a situation where the rules and conditions have changed for children – they need guidance from others to say “this is allowable here.” It is okay to laugh, to sing, to feel silly.
There are clowns who also work in children’s hospitals in the U.S. and around the world, providing similar services. Being able to go to where the children are, in their time of need, and say, “let’s play!” can be incredibly healing.
I and my partner in play research Rafe Kelley, founder and Executive Director of Evolve Move Play, got to present on the importance of roughhousing from both a physical and emotional health and development perspective at this year’s Ancestral Health Society Symposium in Seattle, WA.
It was such an honor to be able to present and be surrounded by great thinkers around evolutionary health and wellness like Stephan Guyenet, Katy Bowman, Robb Wolf, and Frank Forencich.
We got a great response from attendees who came to view our poster, chatting about the often overlooked health benefits of roughhousing, both for children and adults. Besides discussing our points on the poster, we had lots of great related questions about risk, differences in how boys and girls (and men and women) approach and engage with roughhousing, how to start roughhousing if you’re a little out of practice, and other ideas.
You can view our AHS 2017 EMP Poster here. We are hoping *fingers crossed* to develop this into a full paper in the near future, so stay tuned!
These “prescriptions” follow the principles of Exercise in Medicine (EiM), a global health initiative to promote physical activity.
In some ways this is just a promotion for Vermont’s state parks, but so what?! In an era when we are taking less vacation, park budgets are being slashed and use is being restricted in other ways, including parks potentially being shut down permanently, this is a great way to encourage people to get out into nature and just breathe fresh air, stretch their bodies, and move!
“Studies have demonstrated that outdoor exercise is associated with increased energy and revitalization and decreased depression and tension,” said Dr. Elisabeth Fontaine, a physician at Northwestern Medical Center and a member of the VT Governor’s Council.
“The sun also helps to create through your skin Vitamin D3, which is important for bone health and metabolic function,” Dr. Fontaine continued.
In addition to handing out state park pass prescriptions, the VT Governor’s Council is also encouraging doctors to talk with patients about the importance of exercise.
“The Park Prescription program is a perfect way to highlight the connection between outdoor recreation and personal health. Spending time outdoors, connecting with nature and being active all help keep us strong in both body and spirit,” said Director of Vermont State Parks Craig Whipple.
“And state parks offer the ideal settings for valuable outdoor time,” Whipple added.
I don’t normally promote my husband Rafe Kelley’s work with Evolve Move Play all that much, but this challenge is too good to pass up.
Starting on Arbor Day (but you can really start any time), Rafe is inviting people to climb a tree for 30 days, and tag their friends to climb three trees or donate to the Arbor Day Foundation, or plant a tree! Use the hashtag #treeclimb30 to tag your posts.
Rafe is doing this for many reasons, including…
Promote outdoor physical play and movement,
Foster a love of trees and the outdoors,
Get people playing in their local communities,
Remind people that it’s okay to climb trees, and
To have fun!
This is an international push, bringing in participants from Europe as well, including certified Evolve Move Play (EMP) coach Ben Medder, based just outside of London (UK).
He is also trying to motivate participating with prizes, so stay tuned to his channels for more details:
Preface to anyone who has children in a corporate-owned daycare that could be encompassed in the below description: I in no way mean to critique you or your child-rearing decisions, I am criticizing the system that has built up around these behemoth corporations that are more interested in making money rather than caring for kids.
The push for large corporate, academics-based daycare and preschools in the U.S. to monopolize the industry and childhood development practices has gone too far!
My daycare provider this month had to bump up her prices 150% due to new regulations passed by legislators that were pushed through by big daycare corporations; supported with the sole intention of driving smaller in-home daycares like my provider’s out of business.
This kind of “pay to play” legislation is not only unethical, this particular one is supporting a system of large, low-personalization, academics-driven style of daycare that is not only inappropriate for children but downright HARMFUL to their development. Eight-month-olds do not need to be studying the alphabet! They need to be playing blocks with their friends and learning colors and counting through unstructured play time, not forced circle time and flash cards!
It is better for children to have smaller groups of kids to play together, with regular, consistent caretakers that can provide personal touch and unstructured play time.
This kind of system is also a HUGE burden on working parents. This kind of price increase – $100’s of dollars in my daycare’s case – is unmanageable for so many working families, and the high prices of childcare means that it pushes hundreds of thousands of well-educated, highly motivated parents out of the workforce during their prime working years. In-home daycares are also more flexible on hours and more understanding if a parent is 5 minutes late with pick-up.
This is also incredibly anti-small business; my daycare provider is strongly considering retirement after this last batch of legislation and required price increases, not to mention potential loss of revenue due to parents pulling their kids out of her daycare because they can’t afford it. I can only imagine other daycare providers are struggling with the same dilemma.
I support paying higher prices for higher quality child care, but this price increase is purely due to new legislations, fees, and bureaucracy that can be absorbed by larger corporations but not smaller businesses. I support safety and regulations of childcare, but not to the point where businesses are required to feed children only cow or soy milk (yes, that is a rule in Washington State).
If the government is really interested in creating a strong, resilient, competitive workforce, AND/OR is really interested in supporting small businesses, this is NOT the way to do it!
As soon as I figure out which congress person to write to I will do it and share it here! If there is specific regulations you are aware of that are impacting costs or food options, or even play time, please comment and post them below, so when we write our emails, postcards, or angry YouTube video rants we’ll know exactly which regulations to call out as unjust.
In the meantime, please give your daycare provider a hug, no matter who they are, and let them know we care.
After posting a blog about why I choose to play fight with my kids, I got a great response from parents and non-parents alike. What surprised me however was how many people – moms, uncles/aunts, non-kid affiliated adults – reached out to me and asked, “How do I even get started?”
It turns out a lot of people never play-fought as a kids…
They were told to never hit, never push, never poke.
Or they just never had a good example from their parents or older siblings or relatives.
Or as parents now, they have played with older kids but when they try to do the same thing with their little one she just cries and runs away.
That makes me so sad. There are so many benefits to play-fighting as a kid, and as a grown-up. Both my husband and I are huge advocates of physical play, including roughhousing. Play-fighting doesn’t have to be rough and tumble all the time either; there are some great games that involve the same elements as physical play but are more gentler on the body than traditional wrestling or punching games (pretending to be movable mannequins is one of my favorites).
Based on my research of studying physical play behaviors, and my own experience with my kids, not to mention observing my husband coach and facilitate grown-ups on how to play for the past 10+ years, here is what I’ve found to be good tips to get started:
Let the kids lead: Young animals of all species, including kids, are naturally the best players in the entire animal kingdom. It is how they learn about their world. So let them lead. You can come up with the game, but often times the kids already have a game in mind. Or, give them a gentle poke or push and see how they respond. Sometimes they might not be in the mood, but sometimes they will take your cue and run with it.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed often girls will be done rough-playing sooner than boys or need more breaks, whereas little boys will often go and go until they start to cry, so don’t be surprised if either happens.
Match their strength…: When we see big dogs and little dogs play together, often the big dog will handicap themselves; they won’t push as hard, or they’ll get down on the ground so the little dog can actually reach them. Similarly, match your play partner’s strength. Push only has hard as they push, or hit only as hard as they hit.
…But show off yours too: Of course you can and should try doing lifts, carries, spins, gentle knock downs, and other things that require you to have more strength. That’s part of the fun of playing with someone bigger than you!
Let them win (sometimes): Similar to the dog play example above, if you want the game to keep going then make sure they’re having fun, which means letting them get a few punches in on you or knocking you down. (If you aren’t comfortable yet with falling down, think of this as a great way to practice slowly falling down in a safe way.) But that also means you get to win sometimes too; don’t be a punching bag, but it’s all about taking turns so you are both having fun.
Communicate: Check-in, see how they are doing. Ask if they want to switch up the game, or if you’re ready to switch it up or take a break, tell them. Which leads to…
Teach them no: The whole joy of play-fighting is the give and the take (have I said this enough times yet?). When it’s not fun anymore, both you AND your child get to say no, stop, time out, or I’m done. At any time. And, as the grown-up, you also need to be able to read your play-partner’s cues and tell when they’re not having a good time, even if they’re not specifically saying no.
Tickling is a great example. A lot of people see ticking as “harmless fun” and it’s tricky when a little kid is laughing and saying no at the same time, but it can be quite scary for a kid (or a grown-up) if they mean no and it isn’t respected. But, it’s also a great way to build trust with your play partner, whether they are a kid or a grown-up. Now, I HATE being tickled! HATE it! No tickles ever, thank you! Ever since I was little. My mom has stories of her trying to tickle me as a tiny baby, and even so much as putting her fingers out to say “coochie coochie coo” and I would just freak out! And she listened. So no tickles. As a grown-up I have not always had partners that understood that tickling is not fun for me, or when to stop tickling (as in immediately). But thanks to my mom I knew that I could choose to say no and that needed to be respected.
The same goes for tickling your kid; if they say stop, even if they’re laughing, stop. If they want more, they will ask for it (kids are good at that sort of thing).
And this can be expanded to all kinds of physical play; we need to learn how to listen to our bodies and our limits. If we get scared or frustrated, we need to learn to take a step back and regroup, and that we’re safe to do so. Physical play with a safe person like your parents is a great place to practice that.
Have fun!: In the end, that’s what this is all about. Sometimes you’re not in the mood to wrestle, and sometimes you are, or maybe you’ve got knee pain and can’t get on the ground, so just go with what feels right in the moment. Make up stories (“we’re bears, rawr!”), give yourself challenges (you can’t move from one spot; you can only use one arm), and just see what happens.
In some ways this seems like an overly obvious, unnecessary post. Of course parents play fight with their kids! Right? Yet I am surprised by how few MOMS play fight with their kids.
I do. And I love it! I didn’t think I would enjoy it as much as I do, but I do. Here are my top reasons why.
1. It teaches them body awareness – How hard do I have to push to make something happen? How strong am I before I get pushed over? How do I get myself back upright? How hard is too hard to hit? Also being aware of how strong they are now versus a month from now is important too as they grow and get bigger and stronger; I’ve known too many bigger little kids that don’t know their own strength.
2. It teaches them spatial awareness – How far away is that body I am playing with? Where are my legs and arms while I’m wrestling? Oops, now I’m upside down, how does that make me feel?
3. It makes them feel loved and given attention.
4. It’s fun! I’ll bet almost everyone at one time or another has played slug bug, tickle time, or wrestled with your sibling, or started a real fight with your sibling that by the end you two were both on the floor laughing.
5. They feel safe acting out being big and strong and knocking me down or punching me and knowing that I can take it.
6. Kids who play fight with their dads are being shown that men are big and strong. For somewhat feminist but mostly totally selfish reasons, I want them to know that women (i.e. ME!) can be big, strong, and tough too.
7. Along those same lines, grown-ups who play fight with kids are demonstrating that when people play or play fight, they are being respectful of each other’s boundaries, and if you don’t feel safe you can and should ask the other person to stop. If the other person doesn’t respect your boundaries then kids learn that’s not okay and they get time out or kids or grown-ups stop playing with them. This is a super-critical skill that is missing in so much rhetoric, both physical and verbal, in our society today.
8. As their mom, it is so fun to watch my kids get stronger, faster, more coordinated, and more creative in their physical play. They mix strategies, including saying silly things to catch me off guard, which is all part of the art of play.
9. Finally, I want to promote physical play of all kinds with kids and grown-ups alike. Whether that’s boxing, hiking, jump rope, tricycles, making forts, tree-climbing, or just going for an exploratory walk around the neighborhood, I support it.
I’m sure there are other reasons I’m forgetting, but those are my main ones.
My husband teaches natural movement classes, and before that parkour and martial arts. Slowly more women are joining the adult classes in all of those fields. But especially in the kids’ classes, the moms are just as likely to join their kids, but almost none participate given the opportunity. Why?! Some women (and men) don’t like physical contact activities. And that’s totally fine. But more often than not women are intimidated. I say no more fear! Get in there and push someone.
Why do you play fight with your kids? Or why don’t you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
UPDATE: I wrote a follow-up post about safe ways to roughhouse with your children that you can find here.