How dads can foster relationships with kids through play

How Dads Can Foster Relationships with Kids Through Play

As a psychologist, father and The Genius of Play expert, I love what I do and feel blessed to see kids show me who they are, what they feel, and what they are learning through the manner in which they approach play. Through their innocence, children’s actions during play can be an expression of their inner selves or what they have seen in their environment.

What I often observe in my work with families is that parents want to correct, steer, punish or even ignore what their child may be offering through the language of play. I encourage parents and caretakers to observe and participate in playtime. According to The Genius of Play, a national movement to encourage more play in children’s lives, research shows that play is not only critical to healthy child development—it’s an important teaching tool. Through play, kids build physical skills, improve cognitive abilities, learn communication and social skills, process and express emotions, increase creativity, and more.

One of the biggest challenges I see is that parents don’t really know how to play with their kids, and dads especially, can fall into the rough and tumble, sports, or teasing category and not be sure how to move beyond that. It’s important for fathers to be involved in their children’s playtime and here are a few tips:

  • Allow your child to lead the activities while observing how he or she interacts and taking note of recurring themes and favorite forms of play.
  • Be sure to ask questions and communicate with your child to learn more about what they’re feeling and thinking.
  • If issues or conflict presents itself in their communication to you, see if you can help them find solutions.
  • Most importantly, let their imagination run free, be fully present in the moment and enjoy your time together!

Playing games is another great way for dads to interact with their children, as it allows you to gain a better understanding of how your kids approach life. Games provide insight into your child’s persistence, resilience, values and sense of fairness, impulsivity and planning ability while letting you model the behaviors you would like to see from them. Furthermore, games are a way to teach life lessons about taking risks and reaping rewards or consequences of those risks, through planning and observing, anticipating the moves of others, and even winning and losing with grace, honor and dignity. For even more info on all the benefits that games provide check out this article I wrote for The Genius of Play.

As your kids grow older, it may take creativity on your part to keep them engaged, but you never have to stop playing. The games may change, but the relationship can keep growing and the memories will last a lifetime.

For more inspiration and play ideas that you can do with your child today, visit

About Dr. Erik Fisher is The Genius of Play Ambassador, licensed psychologist, author, media consultant, and public speaker. “Dr.E” has helped thousands of adults, children, families, and couples develop healthy life perspectives and relationships. You can follow him on YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, and The Genius of Play on Facebook


Join a great bunch of dads (and mums). Subscribe now.