Strengthen Your Parent-Child Relationship Through Play

There’s lots of data that supports the idea that you can strengthen your parent-child relationship through play.

But, unless you are seeking that information out, you may not be keenly aware of how significantly spending time playing with your child can help strengthen your bond.

After one of my children suffered from speech delays, I learned how important it is to spend lots of time talking to my child at the earliest age possible to build communication skills.

I realized some of the easiest ways to have an intentional, engaging conversation with my young children are talking about daily tasks I’m already doing and surrounding our conversation around play!

Through play, I am able to spend time having lots of conversations and also spend time building our relationships.

Through activities and play, you’re able to see your child’s personality and creativity shine through.

Play is one of the most underrated parenting tools that any parent can start using today!

What is the importance of play in a parent-child relationship?

Play is not just about having fun; but play allows us as parents to bond, connect emotionally, and create trust with our children.

Through play, we enter their world and understand their perspectives.

While playing alongside our children, we can teach important life skills, encourage creativity, and allow our children space to practice problem-solving skills in a non-threatening setting.

Playtime with our children provides opportunities for our children to explore their emotions, work on social skills, and learn valuable lessons about sharing, cooperation, and empathy.


When we take the time to play with our children, it’s not just them who benefit – we do too!

As parents, we often get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, but when we make time for play, it’s like hitting the pause button on life.

We get to momentarily shed the weight of adulthood and tap into our own inner child.

We make funny character voices, laugh, and we let go of our worries.

Playing with our children brings a sense of joy, and reminds us of the simple pleasures in life.

We learn from our children what it means to allow our imagination to “run wild” and make room for creativity.

Through play, we reconnect with the essence of who we are and the joy of being fully present in the moment.

What are some age-appropriate play activities for different stages of childhood?

children's toys

0-3 Months:

  1. Tummy Time: Place the baby on their tummy for short periods to strengthen neck and core muscles.
  2. Visual Stimulation: Read high-contrast toys, mobiles, or picture books to capture their attention and develop visual tracking skills.
  3. Sensory Toys: Offer toys with different textures, such as soft fabrics, rattles, or teethers, to stimulate their senses.
  4. Gentle Music: Play soothing music or sing songs to provide auditory stimulation and promote a calming environment.
  5. Mirror Play: Use a baby-safe mirror to allow the baby to explore their reflection and develop self-awareness.

3-6 Months:

  1. Reach and Grab Toys: Provide toys that are easy to grasp, such as soft balls, teething rings, or textured objects, to encourage hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
  2. Interactive Play Gym: Set up a play gym with hanging toys and mirrors to promote reaching, batting, and exploring their surroundings.
  3. Peek-a-Boo: Engage in simple peek-a-boo games to develop object permanence and social interaction skills.
  4. Baby Books: Read board books with colorful pictures and textures to encourage sensory exploration and early language development.
  5. Gentle Sensory Play: Offer containers with soft materials like fabrics, or waterplay for the baby to touch and explore.

6-12 Months:

  1. Stacking Cups and Blocks: Provide stackable toys to encourage hand-eye coordination, problem-solving, and fine motor skills.
  2. Crawl and Chase Games: Create safe spaces where the baby can crawl or chase after you, rolling balls or toys, promoting gross motor skills and physical activity.
  3. Simple Puzzles: Introduce puzzles with large, chunky pieces that fit into matching holes, developing problem-solving and fine motor skills.

Early Childhood (Ages 2-5):

  1. Pretend Play: Encourage imaginative play with dolls, stuffed animals, or role-playing sets.
  2. Building Blocks: Provide large building blocks to help develop fine motor skills, creativity, and open-ended play.
  3. Sensory Play: Play together with play sand, or finger painting.
  4. Puzzles: Introduce simple puzzles with large pieces to enhance problem-solving abilities.
  5. Outdoor Play: Encourage running, jumping, or playing with balls.
  6. Storytelling: Read and tell stories together.

Middle Childhood (Ages 6-9):

  1. Board Games: Play younger age-appropriate board games or card games like Go-Fish or UNO.
  2. Art and Crafts: Draw, paint, or craft together.
  3. Sports: Explore sports for fun or organized team sports, such as soccer, basketball, or softball and show your support.
  4. Construction Sets: Play with more complex building sets, like Lego or K’NEX, to improve more logical thinking skills.
  5. Reading and Writing: Encourage independent reading and writing activities to build literacy skills then have conversations about the material.

Late Childhood (Ages 10-12):

  1. Strategy Games: Play more complex strategy games, like chess, Scrabble, or Monopoly to practice decision-making skills.
  2. Science Experiments: Engage in hands-on science experiment kits and exploration, nurturing curiosity and problem-solving abilities.
  3. Coding and Programming: Explore age-appropriate coding activities or software to work on.
  4. Physical Fitness Challenges: Encourage regular fitness and exercise together.
  5. Creative Writing: Write stories, poems, or journals to each other.
  6. DIY Projects: Work together on projects like building models, crafts, or woodworking.

Teens (13+)

  1. Outdoor activities like hiking, biking, swimming, or skateboarding can also be fun and provide exercise.
  2. Creative Pursuits: Teens can explore their creativity through activities such as painting, drawing, pottery, photography, or playing a musical instrument. Encourage them to express themselves through various art forms.
  3. Board Games and Card Games: Board games like chess, Scrabble, Monopoly, or card games like Poker or UNO can provide hours of entertainment.
  4. Cooking and Baking: Teens can learn valuable life skills by getting involved in the kitchen. Encourage them to try new recipes, bake cookies or cakes, or even prepare a full meal for the family.
  5. DIY Projects: Engage teens in do-it-yourself projects like building models, woodworking, or crafting.
  6. Volunteer together: Encourage teens to participate in volunteer activities within the community. They can contribute to a cause they care about, such as working at a local animal shelter, helping at a food bank, or participating in environmental clean-up projects.
  7. Family Activities: Activities such as going to a trampoline park, indoor rock climbing, laser tag, or escape rooms are fun and can still be enjoyed as adults!
  8. Video Games: While moderation is key, playing video games can be a way to play with your teen on the same or opposing team.
  9. Movie Nights and Theater: Arrange movie nights at home or visit the theater. Also, attending theater performances together can be a special way to spend time together.


toy boat on map

Good Communication

During play, engage in open-ended conversations. Ask open-ended questions, encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings, and provide meaningful responses. This helps develop their language skills and encourages effective communication.


Model cooperative behavior by demonstrating teamwork, sharing, and taking turns during play and emphasize the importance of working together. Guide them in brainstorming ideas, respecting each other’s input, and finding mutually agreeable solutions.


We can help cultivate an empathetic nature by helping our children understand and empathize with others’ feelings. Imaginative play can help grow compassion and a sense of understanding. Reading stories together that highlight characters facing various challenges, pausing to discuss their emotions, and encouraging our children to share their own all help children understand empathy.

Conflict Resolution

Turn-taking games provide opportunities for learning patience, self-control, and respect for others’ boundaries. If conflicts occur while playing, we can debrief and reflect with our child, discussing what happened, how it made each person feel, and exploring alternative ways the conflict could have been resolved.

Building Trust

During play, we can actively listen to our children, and validate their feelings. By consistently showing up and being reliable play partners, we demonstrate our trustworthiness. We can engage in playing games or working on projects that require teamwork, communication, and shared decision-making. This allows our children to experience firsthand the positive outcomes of trusting and being trusted.

Understanding Social Norms

As children play, skills such as sharing, taking turns, listening, paying attention, and involving others are social skills learned through play.


Free-play and structured play are equally important!

Free play refers to unstructured, child-led play where children have the freedom to choose and direct their activities.

It allows them to follow their interests, explore their creativity, and make decisions.

Free play nurtures imagination, problem-solving skills, and self-expression.

Structured play involves activities with specific rules, directions, goals, or guidelines. It often includes organized sports, board games, or guided crafts.

Both forms of play are valuable and have their own benefits.

Free play encourages independence, self-discovery, and spontaneous learning, while structured play promotes discipline and goal-setting.

Finding a balance between the two is the tricky part.

Allow time for unstructured play, where they can freely explore and create. And, at other times, engage in structured activities that provide guidance and promote specific skills.

Remember, each type of play has its place in children’s lives, so embrace the beauty of both!


Playtime is not frivolous time we’re wasting; it’s an opportunity for us to connect and bond with our children.

When we prioritize play, we send a powerful message to our children – that they are important, loved, and worth our intentional time.

Making playtime a priority doesn’t mean we have to spend hours of our day on the floor with the kids, but short bursts of time, throughout the day are just as important.

So, let’s make a conscious choice to carve out even a few minutes each day for play, whether it’s engaging in a board game, building with blocks, or simply having a conversation.

Remember, the dishes can wait, and the emails can be answered later, but the moments we spend playing with our children are fleeting.


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