When to play and when to back off

Being a parent is hard.  As a parent, there is so much on my plate. How do I get my son to brush his teeth or clean up his toys? Do we have clothes that fit? What are we going to feed him for dinner? Are we disciplining right? How are we going to be able to afford daycare?  And that's not all!  These are just the daily logistical things.  What about playing with kids? As parents, should we participate in pretend play with our kids? How much is too much? What is the right way to participate? Is it bad that I don't want to play with my kid all the time?   These are the struggles we deal with daily.  These are the hardest questions...because there is no right answer and yet, what we do has a profound impact on the life of the child.

Let's start in an easy spot.  If you feel annoyed, tired or really don't want to play...then don't. Children are great at picking up our unauthentic excitement and they know we are not into it.  Only play when you are feeling up to it.  And if you are feeling up to it, give it everything.  Ever notice a change in your child's behavior when you are giving 100% attention vs having your phone in your hands? I do! A lot of the time when we are in the play room together, my son may be playing by himself or trying to involve me in a game and I'm sitting there with my phone in my hands.  He sometimes gets frustrated or loud or may start throwing things.  When I put that phone away and give 100% to play, it always ends up in laughter and smiles. 

Let your child invite you to play and follow their lead.  If your child is playing nicely by themselves, let them!  This allows them to develop creativity and imagination. Don't interrupt what they are "working" on just so you can get involved.  When they do invite you, let them take the lead. Don't fix problems, suggest options if needed. Don't direct the play, let the child direct it.  You can be a great asset to their play and imagination, but remember, you are an adult and your mind does not work on the same wavelength as theirs. Over involvement and direction only tells the child that they are playing wrong....and there is no wrong way to play.

Pretend play is hard for adults because we see the world for what it is and not for what it could be, like a child.  So, there are other ways that we can be involved in play.  If you are having trouble getting into the pretend play, try "real" play! Give your toddler a broom while you clean the house. Let them help you cook. Let them help you feed the baby.  This is similar to the Montessori belief that children thrive more if provided real-life activities as opposed to pretend and fantasy.  Not only can this be fun, but it can increase their sense of competence and help you get things done around the house. 

Like I mentioned before, there is no right way to play with your kids.  You and your kids will establish that relationship together and set the boundaries.  The most important things are to let your kids play openly and independently and do have fun with play. As long as you are encouraging and are authentic when you get involved, your kids will learn and grow from it.


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