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You Don’t Have to Play With Your Children

Let’s be honest, mamas. Do you truly like playing with your children? I don’t mean having fun with them or spending quality time with them. I mean sitting on the floor pushing cars around or dressing Barbies.

Does playing with your children ever feel like a chore?

Do you  get tired of keeping your children entertained? Do you fear their boredom?

What if I told you that entertaining your children or even playing with them is not your job?

You’re a mom, not a cruise ship director! You don’t have to play to with your kids.

Let’s talk about why you shouldn’t play with your kids if you don’t enjoy it and what do instead.

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You Don’t Have to Play With Your Kids to be a Good Mom

If you had permission to stop playing with your kids would you feel a sense of relief or would you still feel guilty every time they complain about boredom? If you’re like I used to be you’d hang on to the guilt.

Fortunately, I was able to let go of my guilt eventually and realize that I don’t have to play with my kids.

Let me assure you that if you skip the tea party or the nerf battle you needn’t feel guilty about it. You aren’t hurting your children. Instead, you’re modeling adulthood for them.

Wait. Hold it right there.

Am I saying adulthood doesn’t involve play? Maybe that’s not the message you want to send your kids. Maybe you’re enlightened and you know that a boring, all-work-no-play example of adulthood is NOT what you want to model for your children.

Hang in there with me. I’ll address that.

If You Enjoy Tea Parties and Nerf Battles You Should Have Tea Parties and Nerf Battles

Look, if you love tea parties or a good Nerf battle, go ahead – have tea parties and Nerf battles with your kiddos.

However, if you’d rather claw your eyes out than sit through another 20 minutes of pushing Thomas around a track or changing Barbie’s clothes, then don’t do it.

Here’s the thing – I don’t often hold my Silent Generation parents up as an example of parents who protected my precious feelings or my delicate, developing psyche.

In fact, I quite purposely parent differently than my parents did. However, they really got it right when it came to playing with me when I was a child. Let’s talk about what exactly they did right.

Don’t Play With Your Children If You Don’t Truly Enjoy It

Some of my most cherished memories are of my parents pitching a baseball or playing card games or board games with me. Just two things, you guys. We did those two things that my parents also enjoyed doing and I ended up with fond memories.

I remember my mom trying to play Barbies with me a few times, but I could tell she was just putting in an effort. I felt like I was wasting her time in those moments even though she never said so.

The truth is that kids don’t care what you play with them as long as you are truly into it. If you’re dragging yourself through another video game with one eye on the clock, they notice. It’s okay for you be honest about not enjoying the same things they enjoy.

My kids know I like jumping on the trampoline, playing card games and board games, and playing games in the pool. They know I don’t like video games or sitting on the floor to play anything.

My children and I also enjoy activities like cooking together, sitting outside and talking and laughing, listening to audio books, and coloring. I am all in on those activities and it shows. I never feel like I’m just waiting for playtime to be done when we’re doing those things.

But My Kids Will Be Bored if I Don’t Play With Them

Yes. That is correct.

Oh, wait. You think that’s a bad thing? Let’s examine that.

Why is bad for kids to be bored? Could it be bad because they’ll drive you crazy telling you how bored they are?

Yeah. That’s what I thought. And, mama, I’m with you. It’s super annoying to hear my boys whining about being bored.

Fortunately, they don’t do that often because they know I’ll invite them to help me do housework. Or to read a book. Or to work more on their homeschool lessons.

Boredom is Not Harmful to Kids

When we think of bored kids we often imagine bored latchkey kids getting in trouble after school. Yeah, that’s harmful, no doubt. But, if you’re home with your children to hear them say they’re bored, that’s not your situation. Your (supervised) kids can be bored and it’s actually a good thing.

Why Boredom is a Good Thing For Kids

  • When kids have time to be bored (meaning they aren’t overscheduled and you’re not making yourself responsible for entertaining them) they have time to be imaginative.
  • They have time to think and reflect.
  • They have time to be alone with themselves and figure out who they are and what they want.
  • Most importantly, they have time to figure out how to get themselves out of boredom without relying on someone else to entertain them. (This is one reason I learned how to create a daily quiet time for the kids when my boys were young.)

Kids who don’t learn how to handle boredom in a constructive way become adults who can’t be alone or have down time without feeling depressed about it.

Kids who don’t learn that stillness is a beautiful part of life don’t learn how to deal with mundane, everyday life and instead feel restless and uneasy between adventures.

Now, don’t get me wrong – adventure is important. I’m not suggesting that I want my kids to grow up thinking adulthood is all about settling into a 9-5 and waiting for retirement to do the things they love.

That’s not my example for my kids at all. I left that life behind to live and work on my own terms and to make space for the joy and adventure that isn’t found in the 9-5-until-retirement lifestyle.

What I teach my kids is that spending time alone is okay.

Having a daily quiet time away from other people is fantastic.

Spending time in self-reflection is vital.

Exploring hobbies and finding interests to fill the slower days ensures that when life dips into dullness they have something that delights them to turn to.

It also teaches them that other people are not responsible for entertaining them – they have everything they need for an adventure-filled life right within themselves.

What About Bored Toddlers?

Let’s think about this. Is it truly possible for a toddler to be bored?

Toddlers constantly explore their environment and learn new things. The trouble with toddlers is that they’ll find plenty to do if they aren’t supervised and sometimes those things are dangerous or destructive.

Engaging your toddler is important for their development. That doesn’t mean you have to play with them, though.

Your toddler naturally wants to be near you. That means they’re likely underfoot all the time.

While entertaining them and playing with them is not part of your job (except when you truly enjoy it), supervising them and keeping them safe is your job.

Work is Play and Play is Work For Toddlers

Many of you are thinking, “If I don’t play with my toddler, she’ll be under my feet while I’m cleaning or cooking. I play with her now so that she’ll be bored with me later and I can get things done.”

And I say – What if you can just get things done without having to play?

Go about your adult day and include your toddler in it. When you sweep the floor, he does too. When you cook, she’s there, stirring, getting her hands dirty, exploring new textures, and learning so much. When you fold clothes, he’s “helping”.

Your toddler wants to be near you. That’s it. This is a great opportunity to teach them the stuff of life and make it fun. Remember for preschool children work is play and play is work.

I know you’re thinking that a toddler’s help is not really help. You’re right. But, that’s not what letting a toddler help is all about.

If you’re a parent who thinks playing with your child is important for their development then you’re a parent who surely understands your toddler’s need to be close to you, the importance of teaching them how to do chores the right way, and the benefits of engaging them as you go about your day.

I bet you read to your toddler. You probably even enjoy it. You likely participate in spontaneous play with them because you like to see them laugh. I’m sure they have activities and play dates, as well.

You are doing enough, mama! I promise.

Playing With Your Child Should Not Be a Chore

Let’s be honest about our desire to keep our toddlers entertained. We simply want a few moments of peace now and then.

There’s nothing wrong with that. But you don’t have to somehow balance your desire to clean the bathroom alone with an appropriate amount of dedicated play time with your toddler. They’ll be okay if you just take the time you need (while someone else is caring for them, of course) and then engage them as you go about your day the rest of the time.

Is Not Playing With Your Children Mean?

If I’d read an article like this one when my oldest was a toddler I would’ve written the author off as a mean, old mom. I would’ve thought she was clearly out of touch with her children, probably selfish, and shouldn’t have had kids if she didn’t want to play with them.

I certainly wouldn’t have guessed she was dedicated to attachment parenting.

If you’ve ever played with your child because you’d feel guilty if you didn’t, I know how you feel. I felt that way at one time, too.

Thankfully, I realized the time I spent playing with my children was better for them when it was mutually beneficial. That means I needed to enjoy our play time as much as they did. And I do!

I’m a homeschooling mom who is with my children all day, every day. We’re engaged throughout the day by working together, learning together, laughing together, and living life together.

We also value our solitude.

Sure they get bored, but they know that pulling themselves out of boredom is their responsibility – not mine.

For them, it’s simply a matter of choosing an activity or using their boredom as a time to strengthen their imagination.

How to Stop Playing With Your Kids

If you’ve been playing with your kids regularly but you hate it and want to stop here are few tips. It would be mean to all of sudden declare, “Mommy isn’t going to play with you anymore!” So, don’t do that.

If you want to play, then by all means, play. But when your children approach you to play and you don’t want to, here are some tips.

For older children:

Be honest with them about what you enjoying playing and what you don’t. My boys were perfectly fine playing the things I truly enjoyed. They wanted me to have fun, too.

When they’re bored, empathize with them, but don’t try to fix it. At first, you may need to give them suggestions but explain to them that their boredom is their responsibility. Invite them to help you do extra chores or suggest a creative activity they can do alone.

Let go of the guilt. They have to learn to manage their boredom themselves.

For preschool-aged children:

Invite them along as you move through your day. Let them work alongside you or play in the same room as you while you work.

Strengthen your patience. You’re going to need it. This stage of their life is all about learning how to use the bodies they were born in. Work and play are one in the same. Expect delays in getting your work done as you teach them how to do the things you’re doing.

Think of it like this – if you stopped to play with them, you’d spend just as much time as you would teaching them how to hold a broom, fold a towel, wipe a counter, tear lettuce for a salad, etc.

So there you go! Enjoy your freedom from child’s play and start actually having fun with your kids!

A Word About Playful Parenting

I often recommend a book that changed the way I parented my toddlers and preschoolers for the better. That book is called  Playful Parenting. Playful Parenting was a game-changer for me and made parenting little ones a less frustrating experience.

Being a playful parenting is different than being a parent who feels obligated to play with her children.

Playful parenting is a habit to cultivate and has positive effects on your relationship with your child.

A Word About Dads

Here at Our Small Hours I write articles for moms. I’m not a dad so I don’t write with dads in mind.

However, I think the value of dads playing with their children cannot be overstated.

Dads who engage with their children in rough and tumble play are teaching their children how to manage their bodies. For example, when an emotionally healthy dad rough-houses with his kiddos, they learn about themselves and they build confidence.

And a dad having a tea party with his daughter is precious.

But, just like with mom, dad’s play should be authentic.

Truthfully, I don’t know many good dads who don’t enjoy playing with their children. In fact, often dad is the “fun parent”.

When my boys were younger wrestling with their dad was part of their bedtime routine. And he spent hours upon hours playing soccer and basketball with them. The most important thing is that he really enjoyed playing with the boys in those ways and they could tell.

My suggestion for dads is to truly be in the moment with your kids instead of putting in the time just to say you did.

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