This is a dreaded question for many of us parents. For two main reasons:
1. Running a family is not exactly easy and full of free moments to just wander off to play. We’ve got stuff to do, laundry to sort out, lawns to mow and dinner to prepare. Play is NOT high on that list. And sometimes, if we are brutally honest, we find their play a bit boring and feel it is a waste of our time!
2. Because this request, if we allow ourselves to feel it, can trigger a twinge of guilt and perhaps sadness at not feeling overly playful any more. But for kids play is serious business. It is what they are here to do.
So what is really at play and how do we play this one right?
Albert Einstein famously claimed; ‘Play is the highest form of research.’, and he could be right. Because of course the premise of all good research is that we don’t get invested in the outcome. We have to remain open to all possibilities and allow whatever is to come forth. And this is possibly one of the main reasons kids are so good at playing. To them, only this present moment matters. Blissfully unconcerned with time, logic, and responsibilities their world is rich and full of possibilities.
This is vastly different to how most of us experience life – and we can therefore forget that when we say yes to playing…
1. We are not responsible for the ‘outcome’ of the play – and don’t need to always take the lead.
2. We do not need to make our kids world more magical – it already is.
This may come as a relief for many as it is often the thought of having to somehow direct or invent the play, be the horse, be the baddie, be a dog, draw a picture or a superhero that makes us exhausted even thinking about it.
So what can we do to enjoy play: Some parents have just made peace with the fact that they are not the ‘playing’ type. This takes courage to admit. And it need not be a bad and shameful thing as you may already be aware that you have something else to offer. You might be the one who loves reading, drawing, taking them for walks, listening to music, cooking with them – or whatever it is that you find is meaningful for you. As long as you are both connecting and having a nice time together!
Let your child take the lead and allow yourself to be led. All your kids want is to be seen! So when they say, Will you play with me?’ what they often want is just to be seen by you. So it’s ok to sit next to them and just BE and SEE what they are doing. If you like you can ask, ‘What would you like me to do?’, ‘Can I join in?’, ‘What part do you want me to colour in and with what colour?’ etc. It can be very relaxing just to sit next to our child and SEE or BE with them when they play. My son LOVES it when I sit next to him and watch him build his Lego and sometimes he asks me, ‘Mum can you find all the red blocks?’.
Children, like adults, appreciate sincerity and honesty and if communicated with respect and appreciation for the fact that all the child wants is to connect with us this can give rise to other ways of being together.
For the vast majority of parents – there is – if we are to be honest with ourselves – a part of us that wishes to reconnect with a more playful side of ourselves. A part of us that knows that we too can have fun, become fully present and filled with joy by joining in.
The summer holiday offers a great opportunity to put on our ‘Yes Hat’. With more time on our hands we can allow ourselves to sometimes go with the wishes of our kids where we might normally say, ‘I’m too busy right now’. Remember that it need not be an hour long affair but a string of such moments makes a world of difference to the bond you share with your child.
And when we enter into our kids’ world like this they are much more likely to enter into ours when we want them to!
We stop playing when we grow old, we grow old when we stop playing.