How to Enjoy Playing with Your Children (Even When You Don’t)

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 “Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

One day last week, after hours without seeing my children, I came home with a strong desire to play – to spend hours of uninterrupted quality time with them, just playing. But my desire soon turned to frustration when:

  • I realized that I didn’t really know what to play with them;
  • when my suggestions fell flat; and
  • when my presence seemed to cause more bickering and less enjoyment between my children.

My elation upon seeing my children and finally having some time with them, fizzled into dejection and the afternoon ended flat.

Afterwards, I found myself wishing that I was more playful, more imaginative, more fun.

I thought back to how often I’d been distracted when playing pretend games with my son and his little plastic animals;

how many times I’d brushed off my daughter’s requests to play because there was something “more important” that I had to do;

how often I’d responded to seeing my children playing happily together by going off and doing something by myself rather than joining them in their games.

And I felt even worse.

It isn’t that I don’t like to play at all – I love to build with blocks, put together puzzles, play board games or throw a ball – its more that I don’t have a playful personality or a ready store of ideas of games to play, and I don’t know how to play with both of my children at once without there being some sort of mommy-tug-of-war over who gets more of my attention.

But I know that play is important for young children, as is quality time with their parents, so I thought I would dig a little deeper. I started researching play, the importance of play (and parents who don’t like to play ), and it turns out that:

  • I am not alone, many other parents feel similarly distracted, frustrated and – dare, I say it – bored, when playing with their children;
  • It is not as important WHAT you play, as HOW you play;
  • There are a lot of great play ideas online for parents, like me, who need a little help.

I AM NOT ALONE; OTHER PARENTS REPORT NOT ENJOYING PLAY WITH THEIR CHILDREN

It was a huge relief to learn that I am not alone in my feelings, and difficulties, with play, especially pretend play.

In her post I Hate Playing with My Children, blogger Scary Mommy talks about how she feels when her daughter asks her to play pretend games, often making excuses to get out of having to play.

In her article in Red Book Magazine, Mom Confessions, I Don’t Like Playing with My Kids, Jennifer Seinhauer describes a similar dislike of play, admitting to being distracted by impatience and the lure of more adult tasks.

In her post How to Play with Your Kids When You Don’t Like Playing, another mother admits her guilt, and lack of enjoyment when playing with her children, but also, even more importantly, provides practical alternatives for parents who still want to have that quality time with their children (see below).

And these are just the parents who admit it publicly, which isn’t easy to do!

Secondly, I learned that –

IT ISN’T WHAT YOU PLAY, IT IS HOW YOU PLAY, THAT MATTERS

Many parents know that play is important for children, but don’t know why or how to go about it. In Why Playing With Your Child is So Important on Parenting.com, the author explains that play is important, not only for children’s social and emotion development, but also for their relationship with their parents. According to the author, parents who play with their children when they are young, find that they are more able to maintain a close connection when them as they grow. The author states that regardless of what is being played, that the time parents spend with their children should be uninterrupted (as much as possible), relaxed and child-led (or an activity that you both enjoy). He also reminds parents that play doesn’t have to happen at a specific time, but can happen any time of the day, when you are out walking, or shopping or doing other things.

In her post on Aha! Parenting, Playing with Your Child: Games for Connection and Emotional Intelligence, Dr. Laura explains that play is a child’s “work,” and it is often how they discharge negative emotions that build up through the day, in addition to building stronger bonds with parents. She explains that games and active-play that allow children to laugh, helps them to release any pent-up emotions they may have and also releases oxytocin – the bonding hormone – and helps to repair or strengthen the connection between parent and child (In this post, Dr. Laura also provides a list of games parents can play with children when they are displaying specific behaviors, including rough housing, role-playing and play which allows children to take on a more powerful role).

In his Psychology Today article, Playing with Children, Should You? If so, How?, Dr. Peter Gray highlights some of the mistakes parents make in playing with their children, such as letting themselves be bossed around or, conversely, taking over and directing the play. While he argues that adults are not ideal playmates for children – stating that children are often better playmates because they WANT to be involved in the play – most importantly, he says that play isn’t really play, unless both parties are having fun.

And finally in the above mentioned post, How to Play with Your Kids When You Don’t Like Playing, the author states, “The main thing is to spend time with the children in a way that is intentional and present. Find things that you all like to do and do them together.”

THERE ARE A LOT OF GREAT PRACTICAL IDEAS ONLINE FOR GAMES AND ACTIVITIES 

A quick Google search for “Things to Play with Children” yields thousands of ideas from simple indoor and outdoor ideas, to multi-step, photo-tutorials of children’s craft ideas on Pintrest. I’ve included a few of my favorites below:

In this post, Encouraging Children to Play Imaginatively and Creatively, Psychologist, Counselor and Play Therapist, Kathy Eugester talks about the importance of creative play and provides encouragement and ideas for creative play with children.

Kelly of blog Be a Fun Mom, provides parents with a list of 100 School Holiday Activity Ideas (and a wealth of information and inspiration on life with children in other posts).

Learning4Kids provides ideas for creative play and learning, separated by play category and age – complete with photos, supplies and ideas.

In a series on play, the Rachel Cedar of You Plus 2 Parenting, started an online conversation about play with parents and parent-bloggers, which evolved into a series called 28 Days of Play, where parents share their experiences and ideas for playing with their children.

And for those days when you can barely muster enough energy to get out of bed, much less play, the blogger at The Ugly Volvo provides a humorous list of Games to Play With Your Child in Which You Barely Have to Move or Talk.

If you’ve ever been in a similar situation – wanting to play, but not sure how; or not wanting to play, but still wanting to have some quality time with your children – I hope some of the information here helps!

How about you? Have you ever found your self in a similar situation? Or do you have any thoughts or resources to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook

 

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