Let’s just jump in with a question could stir up some controversy, shall we?

If you see two preschool kids fighting, should you step in and make them stop?

Prior to listening to a most interesting interview between Stuart Brown and Krista Tippet, I thought I knew the answer. Yes, yes you should stop them. It turns out that fighting, wrestling, and playing are necessary for the soul. I don’t know how you feel about rats, and I’m not asking you to like them, but when adolescent rats were denied this kind of play, it had grave ramifications in their adulthood in terms of knowing who is friend or foe. How much more so in humans?

play is good for the soul

I have two sisters and there are only 31 months between me, the first born, and Laura, the last. We were raised in a herd. I have no memories when there weren’t three of us. And some of those memories include, shall we say, um, fighting. It all changed when Laura went through a growth spurt and outgrew Elizabeth and me. Suddenly hand-t0-hand combat lost its appeal. What our parents didn’t know all those years ago is that we weren’t simply fighting, we were learning trust and empathy and patterns for play that far outlast the fights themselves.

Not convinced, here is the show summary of the podcast:

Who knew that we learn empathy, trust, irony, and problem solving through play — something the dictionary defines as “pleasurable and apparently purposeless activity.” Dr. Stuart Brown suggests that the rough-and-tumble play of children actually prevents violent behavior, and that play can grow human talents and character across a lifetime. Play, as he studies it, is an indispensable part of being human.

Recently I worked with a  group of interns who spent two months playing with and investing in kids from lower income homes. Did they know they were doing far more than filling time? They were fostering trust and problem solving and maybe giving kids skills to keep them out of prison later in life.

Isn’t that empowering! More so than thinking of it as filling time?

Isn’t it?! When you spend time with your kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids, neighborhood kids, kids at church — any kids — you are feeding their very souls.

I have found my mind returning to this podcast again and again. In part because we so often associate the word “play” with childhood. Not so in China. It took a while for my Chinese friends to refer to playing and not internally jolt from the childish or sexual nature this word has taken in association with adults. And isn’t that a shame!

Thanks for many years in China I have reclaimed the vocabulary of adults and play. In the most life giving, soul feeding sense. Why?

We adults need play too. As much as kids do. Regardless of the season. Sure, summer is most often associated with playing; and there is a certain relaxedness to the season, but isn’t it good news that we have been made by God not just for work? And when we are playing, we are not simply resting or relaxing, we are fostering our very beings?

This news touches something deep in me and invites me again to being the type of person I want to be. One who works and plays.

I think this is why I’m drawn to Zumba, reading, card games and the Broncos so much. They foster my personhood in ways work (whatever your work is), simply can’t.

Please listen to the interview. It is one of the rare ones I think could change your life.


How do you like to play? Who do you like to play with? Does this touch something in you?

Photo credit Nabella Is via flickr

Leave A Comment

  1. Sarah S August 5, 2014 at 11:03 am - Reply

    I love this post. My husband and I have been enjoying game night with some of his coworkers (engineers). Playing games with a bunch of engineers is so much fun. I grew up playing cards and games with my family where someone always got mad, frustrated, annoyed, or just refused to play. Picture the monopoly board (or entire card table) being tossed upside down almost every time. Playing board games with a group of engineers is less emotional and much more mentally challenging. It is a lot of fun!

    This post made me think about the fact that I have three brothers and no sisters. We were home schooled so I didn’t have many friends outside of my brothers and cousins. I have always struggled to understand how girls ‘play’. I get along quite easily with guys. I understand them. I can relate. Their style of competition is obvious. With women, except for my two best friends, I have always struggled to recognize who is sincerely a friend and who is not.

    • Amy Young August 12, 2014 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      Tossed upside down almost every time?! Yikes, that will suck the fun RIGHT OUT! Glad you’ve found some level headed engineers to play with :)!!

      And interesting to see how our childhood form us! Thanks for sharing some insight from yours!

  2. Aashdoda August 5, 2014 at 11:35 am - Reply

    Amy: Your question is not a straight easy answer. It depends on the fight. If it’s physical there is a point at which boundaries set should be enforced. How girls fight I wouldn’t know, no sisters here. Like Sarah S. I only had a brother.
    I like your post but the question threw me to know what type of fight you are speaking of. Children learn the hard way sometimes but I’m not been given to ever allow physical altercations unless it was to defend themselves.
    Children learn so much from play and arguing. I say let them do it. They need to know the consequences are their own to take if they choose the behavior. Occasionally parental limits need to be imposed but for the most part I love to watch them learn.
    I remember my mom’s aversion to us arguing for the sheer fun of it. She told us go ahead but you have to do it outside, and no whining about it later on. Thought my brother was headed for politics there for a while but he ended up a Chemical Engineer, literally took on the world when it led him into an amazing career that’s taken him everywhere he can’t talk about.

    • Amy Young August 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      You’re so right that all “fighting” is not the same — there is most definitely a place for adults to step in :). I think the problem is that many don’t allow (especially) boys to “fight” not realizing it’s a form of play :)!

  3. Phyllis August 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    My cousin told me years ago that we never really learned to play growing up in th 50’s. Work we did know. I am finding I struggle with how to play in my retirement years. I keep hoping for insights to additional ways.

    • Amy Young August 12, 2014 at 2:33 pm - Reply

      Your comment has stuck with me all week … the thought of what play looks like as we age. My biggest model are family members (aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents) and it’s looked different for each. But I think this is an important thing for me to start considering now :) — I know that one thing my mom is really going to miss with Dad dying is going to the symphony with him.

  4. Lisa Matejka August 12, 2014 at 10:31 am - Reply

    Amy, thanks for posting this! I didn’t think I would, but I ended up listening to the entire thing while I was cleaning (working – ha!) this morning. This is a slightly different context, but it made me think about articles I’ve read on Finland’s school system and their emphasis on play/recess…rated either top or near the top in the world! I felt awful for the middle school kids I taught in the US. Very few breaks, lunch was rushed, and even walking in the halls and to the lunchroom was monitored. It’s creating the opposite effect of what the schools are trying to achieve. Ahh…the idea of play really is counter-cultural – thanks for the reminder!

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      Amy August 12, 2014 at 11:21 am - Reply

      Lisa … you are funny! Listening to a podcast about the importance of play while cleaning :)! Now, I know cleaning is a form of plain for some people (I am not one of those people!). I agree that our schools could benefit for a major overhaul when it comes to how time is structured. I know teachers are working HARD, this isn’t about working harder, but smarter :)!

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