Editor’s note: As you think about Halloween costume ideas for girls, remember that Halloween is one of the times when your girl gets to engage her “playful” side. This article will give you tips for keeping your daughter playful all year long.
When our daughter was six years old, I asked her to do some chores one Saturday morning. After she stripped the sheets from her bed and begrudgingly dragged them to the laundry room, I asked her to help me fold some clean towels. Instead, she ran out the door and down the sidewalk.
“Wait! You haven’t finished your chores!” I yelled after her.
“But M-o-o-o-o-m,” she yelled back with equal lung power. “Don’t you know anything? I was born to play!”
I burst out laughing—and so did she. She came back, we hugged, and I let her go to a friend’s house. Of course, the towels did get folded; we did it together later. But her six-year-old wisdom has stuck with me, and we’ve tried over the years to keep our household playful and full of laughter.
It’s not just because it’s more fun that way. A slew of experts have documented how humor and playfulness improve mental and physical health as well as lessen stress. But it gets harder as our daughters enter the tween and teen years. Many girls give up “childish” activities, afraid of seeming “uncool” around friends. At the same time, her sometimes challenging behavior—and our short-tempered reaction to it!—can make a goal of increased laughing and playing seem even more remote.
The first step toward establishing a more peaceable kingdom at home, which could lead to a more laughable kingdom, is to do a quick science lesson together with your daughter about the teen brain. In a nutshell, the prefrontal cortex of her brain, which governs skills such as impulse control, inner reflection, and rational thought, is still in development and won’t be fully hardwired until her young adult years. Right now, her brain is more influenced by the amygdala, which tends to rule one’s life with feelings, impulses, and instincts.
The results can actually be moments that lead to mutual giggles rather than battles. Consider: Your teen stomps out of the kitchen one morning screaming, “I hate you for not letting me go to the party!” Ten minutes later, when you’re running late for work, she gives you a hug, saying, “Mom, do you think you could drive me to Cindy’s instead?” At the least, you could respond not with a scream, but with a deep breath and silent curse of the amygdala. At best, you could return her hug and help her see how humorous her behavior has just been. Chances are, she’ll laugh along with you.
“Sharing a giggle is a basic way to join and connect,” says Lawrence Cohen, psychologist and author of Playful Parenting (Ballantine, 2001). “Laughter automatically brings people closer.” Talk with your daughter about the silly things that made the family laugh together when she was young, and assure her that you know that she’s older and finds different things fun and funny.
Find out what she thinks is funny these days—a comedy movie or comedian—and watch it together. Introduce more comedies in family movie nights, or go together to a comedy club. Get a collection of humor writing—Dave Barry might be a crowd pleaser—to read together. Or keep joke books handy, and put a joke and riddle jar on the kitchen table to sample with dinner.
Of course, doing a humor makeover won’t be an overnight process. “Follow their lead,” advises Cohen. “Be patient and wait for playful openings.” Remind your daughter that laughing has real benefits. Laugher releases “feel-good” brain chemicals such as dopamine and stems destructive stress-related chemicals such as cortisol. Research shows that sick people who watch funny movies and read funny material recover more quickly and experience less physical and emotional pain, according to the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.
Play can also relieve stress and lead to more laughter. Your daughter isn’t likely to crave playing childhood favorites, but she might enjoy doing something like creating a crazy sculpture with found objects or a pick-up kickball game with grownups and kids, says Joe Kelly, author of a forthcoming “playbook” of ideas on playful activities with daughters. And she might find a return trip to the local zoo fun. After all who could not laugh aloud watching the chimpanzees?
Nancy Jacobs, M.Ed., is the director of Sundance Family Foundation. Nancy and her husband are parents of a teen daughter and a preteen son, and the family joke jar on their kitchen table is huge!