As children, we never really “learn” how to play. Of course, we learn the rules to certain games and activities, but the act of playing itself? This is something that we are hard wired to naturally do as children.
As adults, too often we forget how to ‘play’. We may remember the learned rules, but we lose our natural curiosity. It really is a shame!
While most parents love taking their children on fun outings or reading their children a bed time story, games like dress up, and make believe are sometimes hard to get into, and these are often some of our kid’s favourite activities!
If you have ever dread the invitation to play restaurant or build a fort, you are not alone. Many parents feel that they have forgotten how to play as they age. Even though we love spending time with our kids, becoming a playmate instead of an audience member, guide or chaperone can be a daunting task. To an adult, play can feel like work. It is unnatural, uncomfortable and often awkward. Nevertheless, play is very important to young children and parents should really try to join in the games.
You used to be five too. You used to know how to play. Hiding, seeking, making dolls talk. This was in your wheelhouse! Children grow up fast, and the window of opportunity for play is quite small. Once kids enter school and make friends of their own, they may not even want to play with you!
The first step to getting your play on is to make play a priority. Find a time between work and chores where you can focus only on playing. No cell phone, no email, no distractions. Just you, your kids and your collective imaginations. You don’t need to let your kids know that you have freed up time – just approach them and start playing!
One thing to remember is that when kids ask you to ‘play with them’, they are often bored. If you get them started on a game, they will often resume playing after you leave, and perhaps even include a sibling. It is great to set aside time, but typically play is spontaneous. When your children ask you to play, try to say yes!
Building off that, if you add something after yes it can encourage your children to get involved. For example, if your daughter asks “Mommy, do you want to play Frozen?”, say “Yes,” and then “the couch can be the castle!” This could give your daughter more ideas, and improve the game for both of you. Of course, if she doesn’t want the couch to be the castle, then it is good to be flexible. It is her game, after all!
It is also important to keep the games interesting and new. If you always say that the couch can be the castle, this might bore your daughter. A fun way to switch things up is by making every day occurrences into games. For example, if your daughter is helping you cook and you decide to assign voices and personalities to the potatoes this could be fun for her, as she wasn’t expecting to play.
Remember, as kids get older the time they devote to playing with parents lessens. They’ll go to school and meet new friends, and will only want to play with adults as a last resort. Take advantage of the toddler years, unlock your inner five-year-old, and become your child’s playmate!