11/28/2012 02:04 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2013

Dr. Toy's Rx for Playful Spontaneity

Family life today is stressful and a bit too serious. Increased emphasis at school on developing academic skills at younger and younger ages means children have less time to play.

That's all the more reason why families need to make time to play together. It can change parenting from feeling like a job to a feeling like a true joy!

Children play in many ways and each way is beneficial to their overall development. Parents can add to their children's playfulness by being flexible, spontaneous and adding to the fun as it fits.

Recently, I watched a young mom play simple games with her child while they were waiting for food at a café; another time, I saw a dad add a few action figures to the construction his son was making, and they played easily together with the figures in and out of the newly created fort.

Parenting is full of diverse moments, some of which can be stressful, but mostly it's challenging. It requires your total attention, but it can also be a lot of fun.

While you wear many hats as a parent -- giving care, preparing food and being involved in the overall well-being of your family -- you also want to have as much fun as possible with your children. The fun moments with laughter and giggles are those moments that you both remember for a long time.

Yes! Parenting can be filled with many spontaneous fun moments. So despite the work and family pressures, let's try to remember that childhood is but a short time during which we need to influence the growth and development -- and also the personality and attitude -- of our children.

My playful friend Bernie DeKoven, also known as "Major Fun," shared the following:

If parents are actually interested in having more spontaneous fun with their kids, in expanding playtime and play experiences with and without props, then the best thing for them to do is let their kids show them how. Kids are the real experts in all these things -- in spontaneity, in play with and without props.

As adults, we still have that expertise, but we have had so few opportunities to exercise it that we need help remembering. The key, if we are looking for one, is playfulness, playing playfully -- letting rules change as they need to, letting games evolve as they need to. The key is not to take the game or the play seriously, but to take the opportunity to be with your kids completely and totally to heart."

There are moments when you want to lighten things up and bring a smile to your child's face, especially if you are feeling a change of pace is needed. Easy!

Make a funny face! See what happens as your child responds, giggles and makes you laugh, too.

Find space each day for some fun time that provides transitions between what has to be done. Singing a nonsense song or anything always is perfect.

Create free playtime in between the chores and, if possible, make the chores more fun by singing, talking gibberish, laughing and making chores seem like a game.

Playing "Peek-a-Boo!" is easy when your little one is just a few months old and always enjoys spontaneous surprises.

You can continue to play surprising, improvisational games from time to time and you can count on always getting a good response. You will also find board and card games and the new cooperative games delightful to your child.

Having fun as a parent does not have to cost you anything. You don't need anything but your creative imagination. When you are with your child be totally focused, and please take the time to play together. Do not get distracted with cell phones or TV.

When you add a few props from time to time you have an endless supply of good humor and joyful experiences together.

Just Be Yourself

First, just use yourself to have fun no matter where you are, especially if there is a reason to change the mood. Be ready to create change. You need only your imagination and willingness to try spontaneity.

Singing: You don't have to have a great voice, just sing what you know. Your child will sing along to a few rounds of "Row, row, row your boat," or "Skip to My Lou," and the giggles will start.

Gibberish: Make up words, phrases and different expressions and you will soon both be laughing.

Funny Faces: Easy to do, and you don't need a mirror to see the joy on your child's face. Add hand gestures -- sometimes hands speak better than words to express a move, a pose, or a feeling that they find funny, too.

Walking: Games are easy to play when walking outside. Try "Don't Step on the Crack," "I Spy" and "20 Questions." If you live on a busy street or in an apartment that overlooks major traffic, you can play, "Who sees the first red car, or who sees a school bus, ambulance, fire truck or dump truck or who sees someone walking a baby carriage, or carrying an umbrella?"

Games like these are endless, always fun and provide practice of observation skills. Add in Simple Props Props are easy, simple devices that increase the fun and allow for even more enjoyable playtime. Mostly, they don't have to cost very much for a lot of fun to happen.

More ahead on spontaneous fun

(c) 2012 Stevanne Auerbach, PhD San Francisco CA