I enjoy playing with children, witnessing their story lines and their inventions in their play is a magical experience. This is why I became a play therapist. But, I understand that this is not the norm for all everyone. Especially parents, who are asked to engage in play every single day.
And, let’s speak frankly here – or rather write – there’s only so much play a parent can take. When children are younger, their play tends to be repetitive. They play out similar scenarios or with the same toys repeatedly. And again. And again. This is why I completely understand when a parent shamefully admits they do not enjoy to play with their children.
It’s a foreign language, sometimes unrecognizable to the rational adult. Sometimes the plot makes absolutely no sense. Other times, the characters jump from one role to another within nanoseconds, making it hard to keep up. It’s difficult for the adult brain to wrap their head around what’s going on. Difficult, yet not impossible.
Set a reasonable timeframe for play
When children are having fun, it’s nearly impossible to set limits on wrapping up. Think about when you tell your child it’s time to leave from a party. Or when they ask you incessantly to keep playing with them. It’s difficult to set boundaries and say when to stop. However, it’s important – for your mental health as a parent, and for your child’s understanding of boundaries – to know a playdate need not go on for four hours.
When I tell parents they need to play with their children, they often imagine or picture an afternoon-long playtime. No wonder they are so apprehensive about play! Yet, am often met with relief when I say they can break their playtimes in different parts. It can be two sessions of 20 minutes per day or a long session of 30 to 45 minutes – this is entirely up to the parent.
This is meeting halfway. The parent doesn’t entirely oppose to playtime with their child, but it doesn’t have to be a five-hour playdate either. Not only does the child get to enjoy playing with their parent, but also the parent can learn to space out these play times.
Learn how to compromise by embracing your inner child
Sometimes, the difficult part of playing with your child is the repetitiveness of it all. As mentioned earlier, the younger your child is, the more likely they will want to play out the same storylines or toys. However, this does not mean that it should be the only thing you play out with your child throughout the week.
Think about when you were a child. What games did you enjoy to play? Was it a board game? Or a role-playing type of game? Sometimes in the “adultness” of it all, we seem to forget about our inner child. We think we have more pressing things to do than to sit down and play with a 4-year-old. And we don’t remember that we were once that exact 4-year-old, hoping someone would engage in our play with us – or at least ask us about our game.
If you thought of a particular game you enjoyed, propose it to your child occasionally. The chances are you will enjoy it yourself and you will also set a precedent for future playtimes.
It’s important to understand that your child needs to play with you. It’s their language and their way of communicating with you, but it doesn’t need to be a boring task. And playing with you is extremely important for their socio-emotional development. Because whatever you’re feeling – whether it’s irritated, bored, tired or annoyed – your child will pick up on it quickly. So, rather than stressing yourself out over the nightmare that is an afternoon of playtime – embrace and enjoy yourself with short, but meaningful timeframes of fun. When in doubt, play it out.