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In the depths of a Christmas box, the kids found a game –  Holiday Charades.  They had no idea how to play, so Russ explained it and before we knew it, we had a rousing game of charades going. The room filled with laughter and we were all (or almost all) having a great time.  

When the kids went to bed, we were still smiling and my heart felt lighter. While being a nurturing mom comes fairly naturally to me, being playful isn’t quite so easy. I’m pretty sure I used to be better at it, but with so many challenges and so many needs, I tend to hunker down, focus on what needs to be accomplished, and plow through each day.

The final chapter of The Whole-Brain Child  is “The Me-We Connection: Integrating Self and Other”.  It focuses on developing insight and empathy, which together create what the authors call mindsight.  The chapter is packed with good things, but I was particularly delighted – and challenged –  when I read “Whole-Brain Strategy #11 Increase the Family Fun Factor: Making a Point to Enjoy Each Other”.  We’ve all heard that there is value in playing with our kids, but this is neuroscience, folks, so I was paying close attention.

Listen to this:

With every fun, enjoyable experience you give your children while they are with the family, you provide them with positive reinforcement about what it means to be in a loving relationship with others. One reason has to do with a chemical in your brain called dopamine.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which means that it enables communication between brain cells.  Your brain cells receive what some people call “dopamine squirts” when something pleasurable happens to you, and it motivates you to want to do it again…

…We can help produce dopamine squirts that reinforce positive and healthy desires, like enjoying family relationships. Dopamine is the chemical of reward – and play and fun are rewarding in our lives.

[Play] strengthens the bonds between you and teaches your kids that relationships are affirming, rewarding, and fulfilling. p. 132

When we play with our children and have fun with them, we are laying a foundation for future relationships and healthy attachments.  I find that very motivating; it’s not just about having fun in the moment, it’s about creating a desire for healthy relationships in the future and even preparing them to be good parents to our grandchildren.  That’s a pretty big payoff for a relatively small investment.

And hear this:

Recent studies have found that the best predictor of good sibling relationships later in life is how much fun the kids have together when they are young. The rate of conflict can even be high, as long as there’s plenty of fun to balance it out. The real danger comes when the siblings just ignore each other. There may be less tension to deal with, but that’s also a recipe for a cold and distant relationship as adults. p. 133

I know that many of us are thinking that maybe this doesn’t quite apply to our families, where trauma and drama consume so much of our time and energy.  But I want to encourage us all to find tiny pockets of fun in our days with our children.  Let’s pray that it reaps a harvest of healing and preparation for future relationships.

Book group friends, I will post a couple of questions for our last chapter later today.  I hope you have a moment to stop by and leave a comment.  Thank you all for reading this book with me – for making me slow down, underline and truly take it in.

Question: How do you have fun with your children? 

Reflections on other chapters:

My reflections on Chapter 1: The River of Well-Being

My reflections on Chapter 2: Connect and Redirect

My reflections on Chapter 3: Three Steps to Regain Control

My reflections on Chapter 4: Memory – I Cried and Nobody Came

My reflections on Chapter 5: Feelings Come and Go

My reflections on Chapter 6: Why Fun Truly Matters

Encourage one another,


  1. Emily (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    I absolutely love these concepts. The high high value of time together, play, laughter, affection, fun…

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Emily, you are naturally gifted at this – that is part of the blessing you bring to our family.

      • Emily (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

        Aww!!! xoxoxo. i love your family.

  2. Kim (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    Oh wow. The last part about siblings hit me. (I'm not to this chapter yet. I tried to read too many books at once.) The boys occasionally have fun together, but mostly they seem to coexist. Now I want to be more intentional about creating fun experiences that they share together, too. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Me too, Kim! In fact, we're considering using grandparent Christmas money to have a family experience (maybe an overnight trip?) rather than individual gifts for the kids. We need to have more fun together.

      • Mary B (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

        We certainly have our share of conflict around here…but our children are the best playmates! Much like you I don't find that " playing" comes to me naturally. To foster more play among our children I'm changing things for Chrstmas. Everyone will be receiving ONE personal item (a favorite toy, book, or stuffy) but the majority of our fs I'll be "family" gifts that everyone can enjoy. Sharing becomes a "must" rather than a "control or power" struggle. I hope it works. I'm excited as many of the toys and games are things I'll actually enjoy playing with them too. Bring on the dopamine! Merry Christmas!

  3. Mary (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    kids wrestling with daddy. silly poems at lunchtime. forts. dancing in the kitchen. playing hide and seek when I would rather just hide. my favorite is something that my husband came up with–whenever we are enjoying each other, he just says right out loud, "does anyone have more fun than the (insert your family's last name) family?" Now the kids are picking up on it and even if we just get giggling in the car over a joke, one of them pipes up with that little phrase. also a good old fashioned sock fight that starts when i am matching all the mismatched socks and then we just start pegging each other with them.

    i have been in stress mode, ploughing through the days, oh man, and i am not having fun. thanks for the reminder to prioritize fun. i forget about it sometimes.

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Mary, I am so impressed. If I asked my kids that question I'm pretty sure they wouldn't say, "No, we have the most fun!" I really need to work on this. Thanks for the great examples.

  4. Marissa (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    This is something I'm a big believer in, and I'm glad to see that there's a biological basis for it. I've always wondered why my kids get along so well. Could it be that the shared experience of fun together? I hope so!

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Marissa, you have mastered this with your kids. Mine still talk about the time you walked around the table spraying whipped cream in their mouths. I wish I were as naturally fun as you are.

  5. Michelle (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    Tears right now. This is where I am being convicted the most, especially since attending ETC, but it is so sadly the hardest thing for me. Even as a child it was hard for me. Working to create it but still find myself struggling to relax…which really means no laughter. Need this so bad in our home.

    So thankful for the book and you sharing it (I have told everyone about it). Been a dark time for us these last few months so I didn't join the conversation but so thankful for it. It has even helped my husband and I understand ourselves more. Combining it with Purvis, we are seeing such great changes in all of our kids. So thankful! Just need laughter and fun….

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Michelle, this last chapter really hit me in terms of how we relate as adults. The end of the chapter where it talks about making sense of your own life narrative was particularly good. We should meet in the McCall and force ourselves to have fun with our kids, whether we like it or not :-) I'm sorry you are having some dark days – wish I could help.

  6. Mary (Owlhaven) (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    I find this a great reminder too. One tiny way I can usually pull off a bit of silliness even with a grumpy kid is to grab them and proceed to kiss them all over the forehead and cheeks. It takes an incredibly bad mood not to at least grin a little when someone is showering you with kisses.
    Mary, momma to many, including 2 from Korea and 4 from Ethiopia

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Mary, you make a good point – even small, fun moments help. I especially see this with Bee, who lights up if I do something silly.

  7. AmyE (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    Have been loving the book … not keeping up with the Book club, but has been one of the best books I've read since bringing our youngest home 2 years ago … but goodness … having fun with him? I don't even like being near him most days … Have been having a particularly hard time of late … as most of us do during the holidays. Thanks for the encouragement … may have to start with bite size moments of fun.

    • Lisa Qualls (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

      Amy, I'm sorry – I really understand. Tonight I'm watching for moments of sweetness when we can connect. Also, today we did the storytelling game recommended in the book on page 132. The kids were surprised when I started it off, but they got into it and we all laughed. It probably took 5 minutes and no advance planning – pretty great.

  8. Tricia (Reply) on Thursday 13, 2012

    Lisa, I must admit that though I started strong with the book, the season probably led me to drop it quicker than I normally would do. I have loved reading "together" with others. Hope to finish this up after Christmas and look forward to another one. Thanks for reminding us of the value of play – something I have had to learn to do but it truly is fun!!