10 Ways to Play with Your Children when Play is the Last Thing on Your Mind
[From Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood by L.R.Knost available June 2013; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages now available on Amazon.]
Okay, let’s be honest. Parents are adults, and not every adult is comfortable sitting on the floor playing with stuffed animals for hours at a time. We don’t always eagerly jump in puddles or make mudpies. We often have heavy things weighing on us…health issues, financial strains, layoffs threatening, marital conflict…and playing is simply the very last thing on our minds.
But the reality that play is the language of childhood and that our children need us to connect with them on their terms is on our minds. The truth that childhood is such a brief season of life and if we blink too long we’ll miss this precious time with our children just adds to the weight we carry, making playing with them seem like just another burden, another demand on our already stretched-too-thin time, attention, and patience.
The thing is, though, that our children do need us to connect with them in play. It’s in the simplicity of play that children sort through the complexity of life and, like puzzle pieces, put it all together to make sense of the world. Play is how they process the overwhelming task of acclimating to a big, strange, sometimes scary world, and they need to feel securely connected to us and in close communication with us as they find their way. Play provides that connection and builds those oh-so-important channels of communication that are essential in a healthy parent/child relationship.
That, of course, leaves us in the dichotomous position of our needs versus our children’s needs which in and of itself is not conducive to a healthy relationship. So what’s a busy, overburdened, stressed parent to do?
Enter, the playful parent who weaves humor into the humdrum, tummy tickling into the routine, dancing into the dreary, and silly songs into the mundane. Here are ten ways to weave playful parenting into the ordinary moments of everyday life:
- When your baby is an infant, babywearing is the secret to playful connection and communication building. Wearing your baby close to your heart, singing and swaying and placing soft kisses on a tiny head while doing dishes and sweeping the floors and taking the dog for walks is a lovely, low-stress way to weave playfulness into your day.
- When your baby is a bit older, continue wearing him as long as you both are comfortable with it because riding high on your hip or back lets him see the world from your vantage point and offers everyday moments to play with bubbles in the sink as you wash dishes, to dance through the house as you put away laundry, and to giggle together as you grocery shop.
- Daily routines offer awesome opportunities to play as you ‘tickle’ your little one’s teeth instead of brush them, ‘capture’ wild shoes that try to escape when you’re leaving the house, and ‘wrestle’ with your little pajama monster before bed.
- Wrangling a reluctant child into the carseat is often a dreaded daily task. Try making a game out of it by tickling a little tummy while you buckle up straps or blowing some bubbles to distract your little one or making up a silly buckle-up song to ease the transition.
- While driving, turn off the radio and make up silly stories or songs or simply talk about where you’re going or what you see as you drive.
- Reading to your little one from birth onward is the single best way to raise a reader. Try making it more interactive by acting out the story or using different voices to read or letting your child guess what’s going to happen on each page before you read it.
- Getting out the door in the morning can be a challenge. Turn it into a real challenge by having hopping contests to the car. Let your little one win and give tickle-kisses as their prize!
- Bathtime is a great time for fun. Set sail to distant shores with your little pirate and search for hidden treasure or go on a safari and find jungle animals floating in piles of bubbles or go spelunking and make cave drawings on the sides of the tub with bath crayons.
- As your children get older their need for playful connection and communication is still strong. Play word games in the car. Turn math homework into playtime by using manipulatives to help them work things out. Cook together while singing pop tunes. Arm wrestle at the dinner table. Have a quick pillow fight in the morning to put everyone’s grumpies to sleep.
- Chores are a real chore. Try turning them into a game, instead! Get out a board game with dice and every time someone rolls they not only move their game piece, but pick up the same number of toys and put them away and then race back in time for their next turn.
The central idea here is to intentionally weave fun and play and connectedness and communication into your everyday moments to turn ordinary days into extraordinary memories that will last a lifetime!