The Genius of Play is an organization that understands how important it is for children to play and enjoy their childhoods. The organization collects data that outlines the benefits of play, such as a recent article by The American Academy of Pediatrics that released report titled “The Power of Play.” The article recommends play for children to buffer toxic stress, build parental relationships and improve executive functioning. The report went as far as to recommend that doctors write a prescription for play, because it’s that important!
The Genius of Play expert, Dr. Erik Fisher, regularly offers examples of how the value of play in our society can be reinforced to parents on www.TheGeniusofPlay.org.
As a leading Emotional Dynamics expert, Erik Fisher, has been changing the lives of children, teens and adults for two decades. As a psychologist, media consultant, and author, his unique and creative approach to his work has earned him the respect and accolades of his clientele, his colleagues and the media.
On the radio, he has been providing interviews for more than 15 years on stations across North America and has been interviewed for countless print articles in magazines, from Parent to Cosmopolitan, and newspapers across the country from The Atlanta Constitution to the Chicago Tribune to the L.A. Times.
Dr. Fisher has two published books, The Art of Empowered Parenting: The Manual You Wish Your Kids Came With and The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict: Understanding Emotions and Power Struggles and proposals for three book concepts.
Dr. Fisher recently discussed his career, the benefits of play and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in becoming a psychologist and why did you gear your focus towards children?
Dr. Erik Fisher (EF): I had actually been working towards being an orthodontist at Ohio State, and realized that it wasn’t right for me. Simultaneous to this realization, I had been in a relationship with someone who was experiencing the challenges of an Eating Disorder and wanted to understand more about what she was going through and why, while realizing my interest in psychology. From there, I started doing research in Eating Disorders as an undergrad and began to love psychology.
Regarding my work with children, I have always enjoyed working with kids. In high school and after graduation, I was a soccer coach for kids ages 6 through 14. I have seemed to connect with them, and when I began to work in my post-doc year, my supervisor commented that I had a gift with kids. I have always enjoyed working with kids to help them feel like they have someone who is supporting them, not someone who is judging them. I often tell parents that the important part of parenting is not knowing how to be a parent, but remembering what it was like to be a kid.
MM: What initially got you interested in the benefits of play and were you surprised by the amount or benefits play actually has?
EF: In my years of practice, I have come to realize that children, regardless of age, talk and share more when they are playing, this is even true for adults. It’s a way to help them feel comfortable, teach without them realizing and have them teach you about themselves through the way they approach a game or activity. The benefits I saw with kids was impactful in countless ways. Too many times, I had parents feeling that play was a waste of time, and I would have an uphill battle helping them to see differently. When The Genius of Play approached me about becoming an expert for their program, I saw it as a great honor and opportunity, and their research to support the value of play is exceptional.
MM: What are some of the dangers of denying children the opportunity to play?
EF: Play is often kids’ primary way of learning social skills, as well as helping their brain to evolve. We are finding more and more that test scores in school are not going up the more that kids are in class. Play helps kids to problem solve, develop cognitive skills, learn perseverance, get much needed exercise, and so much more. The more we limit play, the more kids may miss out on these wonderful benefits. Lack of play adds to stress, and I would venture to say that not getting enough balanced time in the various realms of play may be adding to the behavioral issues that we are seeing today. We need to find balance in many areas of our life, and as suggested by The Genius of Play, each of the six benefits of play require some attention, including Cognitive, Creative, Communication, Social, Emotional, and Physical.
MM: Which countries are most progressive in their acceptance of play?
EF: That’s a hard question to answer. I can’t really say that one country is more progressive than another; however, in areas of education, many European countries and in countries such as China, they realize the importance of kids needing free “play” time during school and build in times for breaks and free play throughout the day. In the U.S., we seem to be getting further and further away from this and are missing the boat. After all, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I think we expect our kids to be young adults rather than kids, and it’s not fair to them.
MM: On a recent world happiness chart, America scored quite low. What changes do you think America needs to make to produce happier children?
EF: I think there is too much pressure to “succeed” and no consistent definition of what success is. Many see success as wealth, fame, appearance, career, and others want to have easy lives and the “American Dream”, and feel we must keep working to get there, never feeling that it’s enough. We often look for happiness outside of ourselves rather than inside. We look at our accomplishments, the number of friends we have, the jobs we have, and money we make, and we are missing what is important – the quality of the connections we have with the people around us. I think we are passing those dysfunctional beliefs down to our kids, and I think they see that from an early age, not only in what they see at home, but all around them. I believe that we don’t play together and truly interact enough, so our relationships are not what they should be. I strongly believe that we shouldn’t put as much focus on winning the game, but instead focus on the journey through the game – the sharing of time, the enjoyment of being in the moment, the lessons we learn about the game, ourselves and our comrades in the play process. I often teach and demonstrate that the way we play games is often no different to how we approach life. In that process, there is much to learn and teach, if we are truly present. And when we are truly present, I believe that we will find more of our happiness within ourselves.
MM: How did you get into writing books and what subjects do you focus on?
EF: I wrote my first book after my clients were wondering where they could read about what I was teaching about the role of power and emotions. The information was not out there for people, so I started writing the book. In working with parents, they were also looking for much of the same information relative to their kids, and I didn’t know of anything that was out there that had the information I was teaching, so we started working on that book, as well.
MM: How did you get into radio and other media, to the point of becoming a consultant?
EF: I have always enjoyed speaking and was lucky enough to get the opportunity to be called for some engagements. As Hamilton stated, “I’m not throwing away my shot.” I have taken some media training courses from producers to up my game and with practice and being firm in what I want my brand to be in my message, I have continued to get calls from CNN, HLN, FOX, NBC.
MM: How did you get into working with the toy industry and The Genius of Play?
EF: I had a friend who is the Executive Director (ED) of Women in Toys who I had helped with strategy and promotion of a toy she invented before she was with the organization. Upon her becoming the ED, she thought of me when she met with the executives at The Toy Association and heard about The Genius of Play. She knew my brand and what I represented and thought I was a perfect fit.
MM: You now give speeches and live online events, so how did that come to be?
EF: I have kept a focus on my brand and the direction I have wanted to take. My sincere goal is to speak and teach around the world to make this a better world for our children. What I teach about is finding our power within ourselves and understanding the journey we are on. Life happens for us, not to us. My work in Haiti in teaching how to build stronger communities is my proving ground for the bigger work I want to do in taking that model to other countries. So far, the results have been very positive. In fact, one of the people who works at the school I work with and has been a part of my workshops wants to become a politician and also have me come speak in his community in the mountains. Already, people have traveled from as far as two hours away to attend. This is my passion, because I can see the difference it makes with children, as the adults grow and change around them. This is not different than what is happening with The Genius of Play, as adults learn the value of play and let their kids be who they were meant to be, kids will play more freely, as they already innately knew how to do.
MM: What play-related subjects do you think need to be studied more academically?
EF: I would like to see continued research on how play can influence skills in STEM subjects. Many kids learn kinesthetically, and these areas lend themselves to more kinesthetic learning techniques that can easily incorporate play.
MM: What experiences with fans have been most memorable to you and why?
EF: Wow, I’m honored for you to think that I have fans! When I hear that the information I have shared has been a positive impact in changing their lives or the lives of their children for the better, that is the highest honor. In Haiti, I had a pastor come up to me after my workshop and tell me that as a result of my workshop he was going to be a better father, a better husband, and a better pastor. He saw how he had used fear and intimidation as a tactic to effect change and realized the wisdom in using love and trust.
MM: What is most fun about working in the child psychology field?
EF: I love working with kids. I love when they teach me things, and I enjoy seeing them smile, especially when they did not feel able to when they may have first come.
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
EF: I still want to travel the world and teach how to build stronger communities. Included in that is teaching about the importance for us all to play. I am not sure if you watched this video from my work in Haiti, but you will see how in the string activity, where I teach about building community connections, the children turned this into play and went into the center of the circle. This was kids being kids, and what we did there helped this transition to happen in letting them be who they were meant to be. Children are our pathway to a better future, and they are our future. We just have to get out of the way and listen to what they are trying to tell us. I honestly believe that it is through play that we will be able to hear them.
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