Admit it! You love it when your child says “mom….will you play with me?!” or “let’s play trains” and “you be the ‘mom’” while handing you a Little People. I love the idea of playing with my children but I don’t really love playing.
I prefer to ‘do things’ like go to the pool or the beach, head out to the desert, take a weekend get-away, or go to a community event and explore. My children like being home. I love that they love being home and I want to give them the joy of just hanging out at home and playing. The only challenge with this is (other than keeping the house clean) that they want me to play with them and most of the time the play is mind-numbingly boring.
As a child therapist I play a lot, however, playing with a child client in session is very different than playing with my own kids – there are goals and specific problems that we are addressing through play – I get to think strategically about how the play will help me, help the child. This is very different than free play for the sake of play.
Play is critically important for a child’s development. Pretend play, which starts to emerge around the age of 3, is the early stages of empathy. When a child steps into the role of another person during pretend play they are able to get an idea of what its like to be that other person, think like them and feel like them. This is empathy – the ability to consider how someone else may feel.
I remember being 9 moths pregnant with my 2nd child and my son, who was 3 and a half at the time, was deep in pretend play. It was adorable! He played with Elmo at the little table setting up the cups and dishes and making Elmo drink and offering me and his soon-to-be sister more tea. He strapped on his Buzz Lightyear wings and flew around or donned a cape and instantly became a super-hero.
There was one night he wanted me to play super-hero with him. This meant going outside, raising our arms out to our sides and running around while we tracked down the bad guys. For those of you who have played with a 3yo, you will understand when I say, our arms had to be held at a certain height and a certain direction, we had to make just the right sounds as we flew through the sky, and if I veered off track just a bit or stopped to take breath, he was quick to redirect me with ‘mom…come on….’ I was 9 months pregnant! The last thing I wanted to do was play much less play super-hero in the driveway. I did it. It was a labor of love and it was extremely boring and physically difficult, but, he loved it. And, 11 years later, I still hold this as one of my favorite memories with the son.
My point here is that child’s play is boring for adults. Its ok to acknowledge this. You are not a bad parent if you find playing with your child boring at times. Having said that, play with you child anyway. The play may be boring but the relationship is not. When we play with our children we are in relationship with them and this is wonderful for everyone.
As parents we accept the responsibility to care for, nurture and, yes, play with our children. You don’t have to play every time but play at least once a day for 10 minutes and let your child direct the play (future blog post on child-directed play coming soon). You don’t have to love it, but let your child think you do. You may have to push yourself to do it every day, but I think you will look back and remember it fondly. I know your child will!
Share your stories of fun or boring play with your kiddos below.