Why don’t parents like playing with their kids?

 In Children, Parenting

I had just returned from a long bike ride with my friend, Dave. It was a hot summer’s day. My children were in the pool, and Dave and I decided to cool off after our ride. As I dipped my toe into the water I began to have second thoughts. I was hot. The water was cold.

“Perhaps I might just have a shower instead, “ I told my pleading children. But they wanted playtime.

One of my children picked up her water gun and shot a stream of icy cold water into the middle of my back. I turned on her, ready to angrily chide her. But her back was already to me, and she was laughing as she shot Dave with her next spray of water. He clutched at his chest and, acting as though he had just been shot, groaned and gasped for his last breath as he fell into the pool.

The children laughed. They swamped him, begging for him to throw them into the deep end, or play tag/tip.

I was left on the side of the pool considering my options. Either stay cranky with a child who wanted to play, or get into the pool and take over from Dave, who was fast becoming more popular than me!

I dove into the pool, screamed at the cold while I was under the water, and the playtime commenced.

Why is it so hard?

For many parents, playing with children is a pain. The suggestion is met with eye-rolls, moans, a lengthy task list and a sort of guilty, sort of relieved, “I’m too busy.”

Why is it that so many parents see playtime as a chore?

Yes, it is true that many of us have grown out of the desire to play dress-ups. A lot of the things children want to play seem boring. We often are busy (even though facebook updates and Candy Crush are to blame for that ‘busy-ness’ some of the time.)

Yet play is so important for our children’s development; perhaps even more in today’s world where they don’t get to run off to the park with friends, but instead stay cooped up inside swiping and staring at screens.

Why play matters

Play helps children:

  • develop mastery over their environment
  • explore relationships in safe ways
  • express their curiosity
  • engage in creative cognitive processes related to imagination
  • get physical activity
  • stimulate learning

And play with parents is especially important for helping children learn competence, curiosity, creativity, and most of all, connectedness. It is these attributes that build resilience, and help children manage the challenges they’ll face into the future, like bullying, peer pressure, academic stresses, and even navigating gender and identity questions.

How can I play with my children?

Here are three easy steps to make playing with children work:

  1. Turn everything off. No beeps or bings. No screens. No distractions. Just focus on your child. Once you’re in the moment, it’s easy to stay there… but getting there can be hard.
  2. Make it fun. Speak with a funny accent. Do a funny dance. Whatever it takes to get some giggles.
  3. Give them control and autonomy. Rather than telling them how to do the puzzle, throw the ball, or colour the picture, let them decide.

A family favourite – even with the grown-ups – is to play hide and seek. We wait for dark, turn the lights off and play.

Sometimes I am simply too tired to ‘play’ in an organised way. At those moments, nothing seems to delight the children more than having me lie on the floor and feign sleep. This is their perfect excuse to climb all over me, pull off my socks, tickle me, and try to wake me up. They try to push me off the bed.

Then there are the nights when my eldest (nearly 16) wants to play Phase 10 or Uno when it’s bed time. As much as I don’t want to, I recognise this is an opportunity to connect with my daughter and have fun.

Family should be fun

As parents, the stresses we carry can lead us to forget how to have fun. Playing games, even when we do not feel like it, can build our children’s wellbeing, and make our family feel fun.

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