Making the Most of Play Time with your Child
Being a parent to a child means naturally knowing what to do all time with them, right? Wrong. Just because we’re a parent to someone doesn’t mean that we always know what to do with them. Remember those newborn nights where you couldn’t calm that screaming bundle no matter how many tricks you tried? Or when your little one comes home from school feeling sad because someone hurt them on the playground and you don’t know how to handle that situation?
There are times in parenthood where we find ourselves questioning the best way forward. How do we manage this situation? How do we find the best way to make sure everyone’s needs are met, including our own? Often, the day-to-day parts of parenting pose these conflicting feelings within ourselves. What to make for lunch? What clothes to dress them in just incase its chilly later? What games should they play?
While one of the biggest inner struggles many parents face is having meaningful, connected playtime with their children and actually wanting to have that time as opposed to feeling like we have to have it.
It might seem strange to literally give time to think about the most effective way to play with your child, rather than allowing for it to “naturally” happen. But the truth here is that many parents find playtime boring, difficult, unrelatable while some even view it as a chore.
As busy parents with children to care for, a home to maintain, a job to perform at, it’s no wonder we’re often burnt out. Sitting on the floor doing puzzles or playing hide and seek with endless buckets of patience might seem like the furthest thing you’re capable of doing after a long, tiring day. While on the other hand, saying no to your adoring child when they ask you to play leaves you feeling guilt ridden.
So how can you make the most of your play time with your child?
Set aside all distractions to truly connect. This is often hard, as we are glued to our phones with emails popping in and urgent messages and calls to attend to. But, if you put your devices away and make sure to really and truly be in the moment of play with your child you will be filling up their need for connection. Whereas if you’re distracted by your devices your child feels it and then feels the need to grab your attention in other ways; through fighting, shouting or tantruming. So make sure that the time you do set aside is genuine, focused time where only your child and the activity is in play.
Set boundaries and time limits. Make it clear to your child (in a loving way) what games or activities are acceptable to play at this time. All children can understand time limits if you set them in a way that works for their age. Older children may be able to view a clock and understand the time, while younger children might need an alarm set as a reminder or to verbally count the numbers aloud with you.
However you decide to do it, make sure you’re giving your child full attention for the five, ten, fifteen or twenty minutes of uninterrupted connecting time. You won’t feel burnt out, you’ll understand there is an end in sight and your child will feel that you’ve given of yourself and your time while understanding that realistically it can’t go on and on forever.
Find the activities and games that make your child shine. You might love to kick a ball around or thread beads onto a string necklace, but your child might not want to do these things. Understand what it is that makes your child happy. What are his/her interests and favourite things to play? Do the things that they enjoy, even if they are not the things that you enjoy. You’ll find the joy in it when you see their eyes light up.
Mix it up with high energy play and low activity play. Suss out the situation at that time and make the call. Does your child require a bit of rough-housing play where you run around, chase them, spin them around or ride bikes together? Or do they need to do something more personal and close to you such as drawing, playing puzzles, face painting or baking cookies together?
Try to avoid always resorting to the same activity together, as this will contribute to your playtime boredom and may cause you to dread playtime together.
Playtime doesn’t have to strictly be ‘play’. Depending on your child’s age, you can get your child to participate in helping you with something you have to do. If you’re cooking dinner and haven’t had time yet for one-on-one play, involve your child in putting the salad together. Or if you have errands to run, pop your child in the car and make the car ride your connecting time by singing their favourite songs together or stopping off to choose an ice-cream to enjoy together. You can make playtime work for you as a busy parent.
Let your child lead. You can suggest the playtime activity options and let your child pick which one they want to do with you. It’s best to try to avoid controlling the play time, and to rather loosen up and let your child take the lead. If you’re doing imaginative play and your child wants you to pretend to be a frog, go with the flow. If you’re playing a board game but your child has a different version of rules, let them try it out. When we let our children take the lead and explore the ways they feel most confident in playing, the whole play experience elevates to a happier level, where we’re showing our kids that their ideas are clever and that we’re supporting their choices.
Take an interest in their interests. If your little one loves Paw Patrol, discuss the characters with them while you play. Try to get into their world by taking an interest in the things that they enjoy. This will help your child feel a connection to you, and feel that their world is important to you. Use playtime as a time to connect physically, emotionally and intellectually with your child.
We can face the facts and accept that some days are easier than others as parents. Sometimes, playtime is a welcome escape from our crazy world while other days it’s a burden to break away from our responsibilities as adults. Whichever way your day is going, try to find the best way for you and your child to connect in that specific moment. It may vary day to day, which is healthy.
It’s just important that it happens every day.
Written By: Gabriela Demby
Gabriela is a freelance writer with over ten years of experience in the creative industry. She is a mother of two beautiful girls and is a mommy blogger. She uses her platform to shed light on the realities of parenthood with raw honesty, a little humour and some recipes too. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Instagram @momsyandmee