Yesterday I met a neighbor of mine for the first time, and we began talking about being a parent. As her and I spoke, she brought up how much she loved playing with her kids. I think on the surface of everything, we all feel that way. As parents, we love to see a bright, happy smile on the faces of our children. But how many of us truly spend time playing with our children every day? Yes, we send our kids out to play with siblings, with friends, even to play by themselves, but how many of us actually get on the floor with our sons for a gentle game of "The Tickle Monster," or pick up the Barbie doll and play "Pretend" with our daughters? Sure, I'm willing to bet we've all done this... but how often? For how long?
Somewhere along the way of becoming adults, we forget to how to play. I distinctly remember the day I went to play with my dolls and just… couldn’t play anymore. I wanted to, but I was bored with it at the same time. Then, when our kids come along, all they want to do is play with us, but (let’s admit it) most us don’t want to get on the floor and play with dolls or blocks. As a therapist, I often recommend to parents that they give their child a minimum of 30 minutes of undivided attention (quality time). And that's not 30 minutes for all your kids in one swoop.... That's 30 minutes EACH! Yikes!
For busy parents with layers of responsibilities upon them, finding opportunity for “quality time” can be insanely difficult! And when you do find the time, oftentimes we just want to breathe and spend time doing self-care, not forcing ourselves to play. And if you’re me, then you feel guilty about the whole thing….
That's why I want to talk about how you can find time to play with your children every day in ways that won’t seem laborious and won’t add too much to your already packed plate of responsibilities.
Play is Subjective
Let's start off by recognizing that "play" is subjective. What one person considers "playing around" may not always be the same for someone else. As such, watching a movie with your child might be considered "play." Bath time might be considered "play" as well. This is important to remember, because this is what will save your butt when it comes to giving each one of your children their 30 minutes every day.
So, how do we get all of our tasks and commitments done and still spend 30 minutes with each one of our kids? We get creative!
Get Creative with Your Play
My daughter LOVES to cook! And she wants to help with EVERYTHING! In order to help get in that quality time while also completing my chores, we cook dinner together. I have a small stool in the kitchen just for her (a sturdy chair works too), and an apron that she enjoys wearing when we cook. Grating cheese, pouring, mixing, sprinkling, etc... All these actions are things small tots and big kids can do without making too much of a mess (there will be a mess though... sorry!). Sometimes I'll add extra, unnecessary steps, to give her more to do. If you have older children, pretend you're in a cooking show and really see the fun begin!
Yes, cooking dinner does take a little longer, and yes there might be a few extra dishes to clean, but you just scored quality playtime with your kiddo, and all while accomplishing a task that has to get done anyways! Yay for you!
And speaking of dinner, who said dinnertime had to be boring? I know we don't want our kids to "play with their food," but who says you can't play at all? One day, my daughter just refused to eat dinner. So, I decided to play tea party with her. We drank out of tea cups, served spaghetti on our little tea plates, and I allowed some of her dolls to attend the party. She ate her dinner happily AND I we had quality time together, all while having dinner! You can modify this idea and play "restaurant," or allow them to dress up in costume to come to dinner, etc... Once again, you are incorporating play with a mundane task you need to get done anyways, and your child is happy because you are spending precious, quality time with them!
Bath time is another one that most kids enjoy! Just like dinner, take the opportunity to play with your child while they bathe. Blow bubbles, sing, play with bath toys, or put on a bathing suit and jump in the tub with them! You would sit in a little blow up pool and play with your kiddo in the summer, right? Why not do the same in the bathtub? Afterwards, if you’re drying hair, play "hair salon." Be the stylist and your kiddo the customer.
These are just some simple, quick examples of how you can integrate those 30 minutes of quality time with your regular household chores/duties. You keep your sanity and get your things done, and they feel loved, cared for, and played with!
Quality Time is Vital… And so is Play!
Play is an important part of your child's development, and when you play with your child, you help build up their self-esteem and a healthy level of attachment to you (i.e. the Parent-Child Relationship), which will really play an important role during the Terrible Twos, the Sassy Sixes, and the Dreaded Teen Years.
Play! Enjoy! And be the fabulous parent you always dreamed you would be! And if you have a great example of how to combine play/quality time with your child while accomplishing regular tasks, share it with us!