The other night I was re-reading parts of Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book, The Whole Brain Child, and I was struck by how theoretical and practical it was (so my style!). While I read it originally in October, I’ve kept it out and around- it’s that kind of book. With cartoons giving examples of typical adult-child interactions, and ones written to read with kids, so they can start to understand how their brain really works, this book reminds us that there is the oh so important WHEN that comes before WHAT we say and HOW we say it.
One of the sections towards the end is all about family fun—how having fun experiences together taps into the brain’s desire to connect. Our brains are social, they are “wired for we”. I’ll take this a step further and add that the more fun our children have with us, the less they will look for extra fun outside the family, especially as they get older, especially into their teen years. When we have fun with our families, we are helping all our brains feel good about being together.
“Your brain cells receive what some people call “dopamine squirts” when something pleasurable happens to you, and it motivates you to want it to do it again.” (p.132)
This is why your child likes to play the same game, even though she knows the outcome. Combine this with “wired for we” and we know why kids, and us, like being with our friends. This is why you feel good when you giggle and laugh. This is why we can’t let days or weeks go by letting our day to day responsibilities prevent us from relaxing into casual fun, or planning big fun.
So, even though you already know that it’s good to have fun with your family, now we know what’s going on in our brains when we have that fun. Last challenge, to make sure we’re actually having it! Our days can be filled with a lot of getting from here to there, spending time in scheduled or structured activities, going places we need to go… are you having as much fun as you would like?
Easy ways to have fun on a regular day—eat part of a meal picnic style, or under the table for a change… have a dance party, take movies of each other or photos making silly faces, making up new words to a familiar song… with regular activities such as bath-time you can pretend to be different animals, or anything that seems funny and different.
And, for those of you with more than one child—this detail felt especially great. “Recent studies have found that the best predictor for good sibling relationships in later life is how much fun the kids have together when they are young.” (p.133) Statistics come and go, but I think it would be hard to dispute this. Creating space for siblings to have really fun play, to be off on their own, to get messy—those moments are critical for their bonding.
It may seem silly that we have to remember to make time for laughter and for fun, but for many of us a reminder comes in handy.