“Mommy! Come play with me!” You want to, you really do. You know how important it is for children to play and to have time to play with adults. But, you hesitate because you aren’t sure how to play with your kids.
I get it! I really do. I still feel that way sometimes, even though I have had lots of experience playing with kids and observing kids at play.
But, what I have learned is that it really is quite simple to play with kids because kids don’t have huge expectations. They just want someone to interact with and pay attention to them for a bit.
Playing with your child is a lot like dancing with a partner. In order for your dancing to flow, you both need to take cues from one another.
It isn’t all about you, but it isn’t all about your child either.
Here are some important things to remember when learning to “dance” (play) with your child.
Let your child lead
The other day I got to witness my son “dancing” with his great-aunt. The dance went something like this:
My son picked up his play cell phone and “called” his great-aunt who was standing just a few feet away. She grabbed her real cell phone out of her pocket and held it up to her ear.
“Hello,” she said, “How are you?”
“Good,” he replied.
“What are you doing?” she asked
“Making coffee” my son answered.
“Coffee? Bring me some.”
“I need to go now. Talk to you later.”
They both took their phones away from their ears. My son made some coffee from the Keurig and then “called” my aunt again.
She grabbed the phone out of her pocket again and engaged in another short conversation about the coffee he had made that was now ready for her.
They hung up and a short while later they had another phone conversation. This dance went on for quite a while.
I witnessed this exchange from a distance in awe of how natural and comfortable it was. Both my son and his great-aunt were getting to know each other through play.
The adult involved in this dance let her great-nephew lead for the most part. She let him decide when to call and she answered him every time he called. However, she wasn’t afraid to tell him if she needed to get off the phone.
For the most part, my son developed the theme of what they were playing. He set the tone and his great-aunt let him go with it.
Be part of the dance
It takes two people to dance and so that means that you need to be part of the dance too. Let your child lead for the most part, but don’t be afraid to share your ideas about what you would like to play or how you would like to play.
Be willing to play along with your child. In order to do this, you have to truly become part of the dance.
When my niece was about three years old, she wanted to play princess. She asked her 20 something twin uncles to be the prince and the dragon.
Since she had her uncles wrapped around her little finger, they gladly played along. One acted out the role of the fearsome dragon and the other became her knight in shining armor.
They became part of the play and it was rewarding to them just as much as it was to my niece. They have never forgotten it.
Let go of your inhibitions
When you were a kid, you most likely weren’t intimidated a bit by acting like whatever character you were playing at the time.
As you get older, the thought of acting like a child is fearful because you don’t want to look silly. It keeps you from really learning how to play with your kids.
But in reality, your child will not think you look silly at all. All they will see is you willing to interact and play with them and that is very valuable to them.
My grandmother used to play house and tea party with me. She would willingly become part of the play (dance) and do whatever I wanted her to no matter how silly she looked.
The best memory I have of her is when she lay face down on the grass in her backyard one hot summer day and let her grand kids pour gallons of water on her back. I can still picture her laughing and laughing!
It would have looked silly to any other adult passing by, but to her grandchildren it was a wonderful sight.
She had no inhibitions and it allowed her to interact with her grand kids and make memories that have lasted all my life.
So, don’t be afraid to be silly along with your child. Your child will remember it fondly forever.
A slow dance is a perfect time to get to know your partner especially if you don’t know them very well. You can ask them questions about their life and interests and tell them about yours.
The same can be done while you are playing. Ask your child questions about what you are playing. For example, if you are playing blocks, you can ask your child what you should build.
You can ask him why you should build it and how.
Don’t be afraid to ask because it will help you better understand the mind of your child.
If you are leading the dance at the moment, let your child know what you want to play and why. It is a good way for your child to learn about you. Be prepared for lots of questions from your child and don’t hesitate to answer them.
There is no such thing as too much communication, but if your child doesn’t want to talk, respect that as well.
Change the dance if needed
Like dancing, playing can become exhausting for both you and your child. If it is becoming too over-stimulating or stressful for either one of you, don’t be afraid to take control and change the dance.
While you should let your child lead for the most part, you are part of the play, too and your voice should be heard as well.
Psychology Today has a fantastic article explaining how to play with your kids. It also reveals how to keep the balance between child controlled play and parent controlled play.
The author of the article stresses that playing with your child is not “play” unless you are both having fun. If either one of you never allows the other one to have a voice in what and how you play, then the play will not be fun and beneficial at all.
Don’t be afraid to move onto something else if the activity you are engaged in has become overwhelming or too stimulating.
Try different types of dances
From tangos to waltzes, there are lots of types of dances. From puppets to swings, there are lots of ways to play, too.
Here are a few different ways to play that you can try if you haven’t already.
- Play while working. My son loves to help me with the laundry. He likes to pretend that he is a big person when he helps put the clothes in the dryer or takes the folded towels to the cabinet. Make work into play and you will not only get to play with your child, but accomplish household tasks as well.
- Go outside. If you have been mainly playing inside with your child, go outside. Play in your own yard or go to the park. A change of scenery and location does a lot to encourage the fun of play for both of you.
- Play to learn. Use learning activities and games to help your child practice academic skills. Your child will be more motivated to learn if you are part of the learning.
- Put on a simple play. Children love to role-play and it isn’t that hard. Read a simple story like The Three Little Bears and then act it out. If your child wants, they can write a story to act out. For added fun, dress up and put on the show for other family members.
Know when it is time to stop
There is a time to play and then there is a time to stop. If you or your child (or both of you) start to show fatigue, it is time to quit playing for the time being.
You don’t want playtime with your child to become laborious or unpleasurable. If it does, stop immediately.
Even the best dancers tire out and call it quits for a while. They take time to rest up before hitting the dance floor again.
You will know when it is time to play with your child again.
How to Play With Your Kids
The next time your child comes and asks you to play with them, you won’t hesitate at all. Just remember these tips and you will be at ease on the dance floor.
- Let your child lead
- Be part of the dance
- Let go of your inhibitions
- Change the dance if needed
- Try different types of dances
- Know when to stop
After you have had a play date with your child, let me know how it goes. Did the tips from this article help you play with your child? Are there any other tips or recommendations you have?
Go make some memories playing with your child. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn and you won’t ever regret it!