Do you ever feel like you don’t want to play with your children? Yet when they have gone to bed you spend hours scrolling your phone gallery for cute pictures of them?
Parenting is weird, right?!
If you were to Google ‘how to enjoy playing with my kids’, your search would return lots of results from parents daring to confess that they don’t enjoy playing with their children.
There is heaps of evidence telling us how important play is for children and parent-child relationships. What there isn’t lots of information on is why it’s so important, and how to fit this into life in a practical way.
Finding out some of the reasons children want to play the way they do, and what the benefits are can help you engage with your child a different way…
Why do I only enjoy certain activities with my kids?
There are certain games and activities that we don’t mind, in fact, enjoy playing with our kids, generally. Exploring outside, introducing them to fun, new and exciting experiences; toasting marshmallows, sledging, craft activities. But, when it comes to sitting down on the carpet and being told to be a cat, who is hungry, and going on a magical quest, to repeatedly be told that you are doing it wrong when you go ‘off a script’… things get a little draining.
The difference in these kinds of games, and actually in this kind of play is in the first examples parents and children are experiencing these things together. In the second example, children are taking the lead, this is the play that parents tend to enjoy less.
As parents, we are not used to children taking the lead. In fact, we have spent all our lives being told that parents should; ‘be able to control their children’, ‘don’t let them get their own way’, and ‘they’ve got you wrapped around their finger’. Moreover, we lose the option of having the choice to play as adults, and these messages have worked our way into our subconscious. So the kind of free play, with no goal in mind or finished product feels kind of pointless to our adult mind. What is there to show of following this kind of play and activity?
Well actually, quite a lot. By allowing your child to take the lead in this way they are learning some incredible things.
The learning is in the process for children, not the finished article, so you can allow yourself to let go of the pressure we place on ourselves to be ‘Pinterest parents’. Check out this post I did on Instagram all about exactly this!
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Why does my child want to take the lead in play?
Because this is one of the only times in their life that they get to do that. Think about it, you get to decide what your child wears, what time they eat, where they go, what they do etc. Children actually get very little autonomy over their lives. During play, things are different, and for a short while, they get to be in charge.
Role-playing in this way helps children to play out what being in charge feels like: safe, predictable and familiar.
When children feel these things they are going to be learning so much more because their basic needs are met. So by engaging in these kinds of games with your child, you’ll actually be enhancing their development, and fostering leadership skills.
You can find out more about your child’s development with this downloadable parents guide from Early Years Alliance.
How often should I play with my kids?
Know that you don’t have to be available 24/7 for play, actually allowing your child some time (depending on their age and stage) for independent play is a really great thing for them too.
What you could do is create a time in the day where you and your child have ‘special time’, where both of you know that this is protected time for you and them. Make it non-negotiable for you as the parent, and get ready to bring your focussed attention.
This is particularly useful for parents who have more than one child, are working at home during the pandemic, or creating breaks from crisis-schooling (this is the term we should be using instead of homeschooling because they are very different things).
How can I enjoy the time I spend with my kids?
Well, I love the way that this article by Motherly puts it!
Do you feel guilt around needing to spend time with your children, when you know there are so many other things you should be doing? I know I feel this a lot.
But the laundry pile isn’t going anywhere, this time with your child however will slip away. So, even if it is only for 20 minutes of focussed time a day, here are some ideas to create special time.
- Give yourself permission to put your phone in another room
- Get really curious about what your child is interested in
- Let them take the lead (this will take getting used to given our conditioning!)
- Observe what they are doing, and what it is they are trying to find out
- Ask open-ended questions, such as: ‘’Can you tell me more about that?’’ ‘’What makes you think that would happen?’’
- Thank your child for the time you spend together
- Reinforce how much you enjoy being with them and how much you love them
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For younger children, your child might need you to be doing this a few times a day so that they feel heard, seen and know that they are safe. So set a time limit that is realistic for you and your current home dynamic. We can’t do this all the time, so forgive yourself when you can’t, you are human, and this is real life.
When you can do it though, by protecting this time, and fully engaging and being present in it, you and your child will get so much more from it, rather than being the ‘’in a minute’’ parent, that you don’t want to be. Play can be enjoyable when we actually ‘play’, and aren’t feeling like we are there because we have to be. When you both know it is a finite amount of time, you can focus on facilitating a game or an activity that you’ll both enjoy, and then you can check back in with them continuing to build on their game and meet your own needs too.
It’s not always easy to understand what your children want or need, particularly as their communication is developing. This can lead to some problematic behaviours, I have created a pre-recorded workshop to teach parents how their under five’s brain is developing. You’ll learn how to deal with tantrums in a nurturing and supportive way for your child, and most importantly how your behaviour needs to change to see a change in your child’s behaviour.
Head to my website here, to buy the workshop now.