You saw in last month’s edition that I launched an offering for a free 4-week educational forum in which I am sharing some key foundations I believe my patients need to have in the areas of mindset, nutrition, movement and environment in order to create a life of health and happiness. Working on that project has also meant continuing to participate in my own learning, review of emerging health research and re-evaluation of my own habits that might not be ideal. Two things happened recently that highlighted one area that I have known I need to improve on.
The first was a birthday party my girls were invited to. My natural inclination was not excitement…. I did not particularly want to get in the pool with a bunch of kids, let alone in the only swimsuit I have (an itty-bitty but not polk-a-dot bikini). I know the swimsuit alone is what keeps so many of us women from getting in the pool with our kids – the struggle is real! However, the day of, I decided that my youngest just could not go in the pool without me. She’s only three, she would not be able to touch the bottom and keep her head above water and she does not know how to swim. Then this happened – I was the only mom who got in the pool. Truth. A couple of dads did get in the water. The moms all huddled next to the pool visiting with each other; hair and make-up perfect and clothes on. It just made me sad. In that moment, I was ashamed. The shame was not that my body maybe did not fully reflect my health values in that tiny swimsuit, but that my mindset was such that I had even let the thought of how others might judge my shape even matter. I tell my patients all the time – You can LOVE your body and still want to improve it. That should not ever mean hiding until you have seemingly perfected that change. Donning a swimsuit is just historically a vulnerable thing for many women. It should not have to be. I can guarantee that if someone judges you in a swimsuit, they have already judged you in your clothes. Those people are NOT your people. Let them and their opinions go. This pool party ended up being one of the most fun times I’ve had with my girls in a while. We laughed and splashed and dunked and sprayed water. We connected in what they love most: play. I hope other moms who watched us from the dry side of the pool left inspired that they too could abandon self-consciousness and shed body shame to embrace the joy that unbridled play brings them and their kids.
The second thing that highlighted this same theme for me was a recent lecture I listened to that reminded me of a simple and hugely important aspect of creating a healthy and happy home. As I mentioned before, I have recognized this as an area of struggle for me – maybe it is for you too. Play. How much play happens in your home?
Play is critical to appropriate child development. So much so, that in 1989, the United Nations included the right to play as Article 31 in their Convention on the Rights of the Child. The American Academy of Pediatrics believes play to be so critical that they have issued guidelines to help parents and caregivers address some of the obstacles to play for children. To be clear, when experts in the field are advocating play, it is defined as free child-directed play, not organized activities that are highly adult driven or supervised. Play in this definition does not include video games, ipads and television. It may include board or card games into the play category here. The core concept is that play should be imaginative, creative and active. Pioneer in the area of child development, Joseph Chilton Pearce, wrote the book The Magical Child in 1977.
This publication expanded on the work of psychologist Jean Piaget’s early work in cognitive development. Piaget showed that children are not less competent than adults. They instead actually think in an entirely different way than adults. I love this RIE approach to honoring the natural biological design for intellectual development that we seem to struggle against. RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers® and was founded in 1978 by Magda Gerber and pediatric neurologist Tom Forrest. It was based on Magda’s life time work in developing Educaring®. Educaring® and RIE principles and methods have continued to be advanced by Janet Landsbury through her book Elevating Child Care. The premise is that an infant or a child, are whole people deserving of the same courtesy and respect we would want to receive as an adult. Parents are encouraged to do this through observation, authentic communication, trusting that their child is already experiencing deep thoughts and emotions and giving them freedom to express their feelings. The parent’s role is to acknowledge and then model confident and empathetic leadership with clear boundaries. I strongly encourage you to read through Janet Landsbury’s on-line article RIE Parenting Basics: 9 Ways to put Respect Into Action. All that to circle back to this common theme in these experts philosophy of child development. All firmly agree on the idea that children require uninterrupted, self-directed play to fully develop on all plains – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I can not emphasize enough that historical study of child development and emerging science is proving this true for children AND adults. Yes – adults. More and more medical research is showing that as adults abandon their intuitive desire and practice to play, it has a profoundly negative impact on their psychological and physical health. “Laughter is the best Medicine.” What more naturally elicits deep joy and laughter than imaginative and active play? Play relieves stress, improves brain function and productivity, enhances social and intimate relationships, encourages cooperation and creativity. At a most basic level it does this because of endorphine release and proteins that help re-shape the brain. But the physiology is actually quite complex and not isolated to any one system of the body. Movement in play helps maintain or improve balance, strength, coordination and flexibility. According to Dr. Stuart Brown, MD, because of all these benefits, play is as crucial to our overall health as sleep or nutrition. That is huge! Dr. Brown has dedicated his medical career to the study of how play shapes health. To share his findings and resources with the public at large he founded the National Institute for Play (www.nifplay.org) and wrote the book simply titled: Play.
If you have children, establish a routine play time, ideally daily – even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Worry far less about the length or even quality of the play and instead focus on the commitment to undistracted attention and consistency. If you take away one positive action from this article it is this: choose a length and time can you stay committed to and make it happen. Perhaps designate one evening a week that is just for family play. Let your children be the leaders in whatever you choose to play. That should mean setting aside your technology for that period – phone, email, text, etc.
You do not have to have children to incorporate play into your life. Some ways to engage other adults in play is to host a game night or attend one. Instead of just walking your dog, engage them in play (ball, Frisbee, chase, etc. – pets can very much love the game as much as a child). Join a community sport or an athletic work team. The win is not in the goal of the play but in the experience. The goal is simply to consistently show up and participate.
I am confident that play is one of these foundations of a healthy home; the more active and imaginative play you incorporate into your home – the healthier and happier all members of the family will be.
“RIE helps adults raise children who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware and interested”. ~ Magda Gerber
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw
Dr. Summer Beattie,ND was born and grew up in Southeawst Alaska – it will always be home. A 2004 graduate of Bastyr University, she served two terms on the board of directors for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and has worked in a variety of primary and specialty care settings. This has given her a broad wealth of experience that she now uses in a unique clinical practice with a focus on rejuvenative physical and aesthetic medicine. Dr. Beattie,ND offers comprehensive care as it relates to physical rehabilitation from a Naturopathic Orthopedic perspective. You can find her and on-line patient programs at www.onehealingmedical.com