In earlier blogs, I discussed the importance of getting on the floor and playing with your children. It’s not unusual for parents to come into therapy with their children and sheepishly comment on how they are not sure exactly how to play with their kids. And I can’t blame them! It’s not like there’s an instruction manual, or a course in school, and it just doesn’t come naturally to every parent. Here are five tips that I hope will make play time with your kids more enjoyable for both parent and child!
1) Give yourself permission
A) Permission to put other responsibilities on hold
I get it, you’ve got a lot going on. It can be hard to take 15 minutes away from all the other household tasks that need to be done. Do it anyways. Give yourself permission to let the laundry go unfolded, or not respond to the work e-mail right away. I’m sure you’ll agree that your kids are important, and the way they will feel that is through quality time with you. It’s okay to put everything else out of your mind for 15 minutes and just focus on your kids. I promise the world will not come crashing down in that time.
B) Permission to BE A KID
More than just allowing yourself to focus on your kids, it’s even better if you give yourself permission to be a kid during those 15 minutes! Be silly. Make funny noises. Roll around on the ground being tickled. Have an overly dramatic death sequence while playing cops and robbers. My kids absolutely love it when I’m the tickle monster. I “sleep” until they wake me and then I chase them all around the playroom until I get tired and fall asleep again. There may even be funny voices involved (I think I'm channeling Cookie Monster, though my wife says I sound more like Pennywise the scary clown from IT). Those silly memories will be far more important once they are teenagers than getting the grocery list done.
2) Put your phone away
Not going to say much here. Just do it. Your phone can wait.
3) Let your kids take charge
All day long kids are told what to do and when to do it. At home. At school. At daycare. "Put your clothes away." "Go potty." "Be nice to your sister." Can you imagine how much you would hate work if your boss just constantly micromanaged your every move? Play time is when we step back as parents and let the kids have some control. They get to pick the game or the toy and how it’s used. If they want daddy to be a princess ballerina, well then daddy will put on his tutu and plie with the best of them. This sounds super easy, but when I’ve observed family play sessions at least 75% of parents give instructions within the first 30 seconds. They are shocked when the facilitators point it out because they don’t even realize it! That just goes to show how natural it is as parents to tell our kids what to do, and how much we need to focus on taking that step back during play time. Of course we’re not going to let them do something dangerous or that is against the rules, but then you just help redirect them to choose an activity that is allowed.
4) Comment without judgment
Some parents tell me they don’t know how to play with their kids. They don’t have a good imagination or didn’t have good role models when they were younger and haven’t learned how to do it. That is okay! Usually, your child will teach you what they want you to do, follow their instructions and prompting. If they’re playing on their own though, just comment on what you see. “You’re throwing the ball up and down,” “Ooh, look how you jump from one place to another,” “The horsey is running fast!” This is called attending behavior, and it’s so useful for helping your child know you’re paying attention. When doing this, try to avoid saying things are good or bad. That’s a way of trying to control what your child is doing, and remember this is their time.
5) Yes, but…
Any parent knows that “no” is a trigger word. Kids hear that word and many times they shut down or they melt down. It’s not fun for the child, and it’s definitely not fun for the parent. And when the kid is melting down it’s easy to give in to their demands just to quiet them down. Of course that just makes them more likely to melt down next time since they get what they want! One way to avoid using that “no” trigger word while still essentially saying no is to use the phrase, “yes, but.” For example, if your child wants to watch TV but you need to go grocery shopping right now you’d say, “Yes you can watch TV, but we need to go to the store first, so when we get home you may watch it.” This may still lead to some opposition, but it is typically far less than if you had said, “no, we need to go grocery shopping.” In the context of allowing them to choose play time activities, this can make it easier to enforce boundaries while still allowing them to feel like they are in charge. Mary is addicted to screen time so I'm often saying, "yes, you can watch videos on the iPad, but first we have to play with your toys." It's not unusual for her to get so distracted with riding her tricycle or running around the backyard that she forgets about the iPad altogether.
Hope those tips are helpful as they are just the tip of the iceberg. If you feel that it would be helpful to discuss your specific situation to figure out how to best address your challenges, please schedule a free consultation, or shoot me an e-mail. Happy play time!