Daddy, will you play with me?
The words that most Fathers hear from their child after a long day from work, tired, exhausted and in need of a moment for themselves to decompress… “Daddy, will you play with me?”. This invitation into fantasy has allowed me to relive my own childhood, from a very different perspective. As a kid, I spent most of my imaginative play on my own. My mom and older siblings were “too busy” to play with me. I did not have any shortage of storylines to create for my toys to play out with me but I also did not have someone to share these storylines with. I didn’t know it then but reflecting now, I tried to make sense of my life through these imaginative plots. Making a connection with my Mother through play was difficult and I can understand why, she worked so much and stressed about so much as well, from assuring that there was groceries in the refrigerator to the necessary mortgage payment and utility bills. As the main provider with 5 children, this was a lot! I remember misplacing my toys while playing outside, I was a big fan of G.I Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures and would create a burial for them once they had “lost” their lives in combat. This was a scene I would recreate often and perhaps because I was trying to make sense of the death of my father because that was something that no one really spoke to me about, one day he was with us and the next day he was not. So there I was, a couple years after my father had passed reenacting funeral scenes and giving the other action figures space to mourn their “lost” comrade. Another thing that would happen from time to time after the funeral is that I would walk away for a bit and then forget where I buried the action figure and become very emotional. I would run to my mom but she would get so frustrated with me because she felt as though she had no time for my forgetfulness. In many ways, I wanted to invite her into my play by any means necessary because perhaps that would lead to a little playtime with me.
What I just shared is a truth of mine that I myself was unaware of until I was a parent. Around the age of three, my daughter really craved for my attention and playtime with me more and more. I didn’t mind it and knew I wanted to share this form of connection with her but time and time again I would find myself unable to remain engaged with her fantasy play and begin to criticize how messy her room was and perhaps we should do a little organizing, I would get distracted by the feeling of having to get “important” things like side work in our home done. That bothered me and the more I internalized what I was doing, the glimpses of my past came to me. I had to train myself to sit there and dive into these imaginative games with her dolls and listen to my daughters instructions on how to play the game, we would pretend to be brothers and sisters (me being the little brother of course) and we would pretend we were Astronauts under the sheets, taking her orders, adventure time awaited us at every corner of our home. And in those moments, I got to vicariously experience my childhood all over, I saw what it did to her, I felt what it meant for her to have me beside her, immersed in her world.
These moments are the ones that make the long days at work worthwhile, the stress we may accumulate in daily adulthood can become something in the rear-view mirror when we invest our time and ourselves to really playing with our children. When we catch ourselves worrying if our child is dribbling the basketball or throwing the football correctly, let’s remind ourselves that our children just want to move their body and spend time with us.
Connection through play is in many ways a passage into a child’s world, they summon us into this realm and once we enter, it is on their terms that we connect, getting closer to them in order to foster their confidence, creativity and joyful spirit. An expansive arena where so much learning occurs for both child and parent. For example, we sometimes complain that our kids have short attention spans but as I mentioned earlier about my experience, I couldn’t even sit still and listen to my child’s fantasy rules of engagement when I first began to really play with her. I know I’m not alone in this matter, we tune out on the things that matter most to our children but expect them to be attuned to what matters most to us and the things that we think should matter most to them. Cooperating in their play gives them the ultimate example of how to collaborate and work together in order to create a positive experience. Through this form of cooperation we set the building blocks to the synergy that a household can thrive with, when communication is implemented through play. Playing with our kids requires a lot of listening on our behalf and I can say that I’m a better listener than the man I used to be because of my daughter, taking directions, paying attention to her silence and body language while playing helps me be present in this small moment in time that means so much to her, and she gets to lead the way.
Having a playful mindset is transferable to all that we do and can become a part of your parenting lifestyle. Making it easier for you to connect with your child even when you are on the go. As parents, we tend to encourage independent play, and love to see our children playing happily with friends and siblings. This type of play is valuable, but taking time out to have fun with our children can be the most important part of our parenting day. Here’s why.
Play helps us connect:
Whether we’re making mud pies, flying a kite or playing a board game, play helps us to connect with our children, build and develop our relationship with them, and present ourselves as someone they can feel relaxed and secure with.
Play lightens the mood:
Families that play together tend to laugh together. Daily play, along with a general playful attitude, can lighten the mood in the toughest situations. I realized long ago that I could argue with my kid about getting in the car RIGHT NOW, or I could pick her up, throw her in the air, put her over my shoulder and carry her to the car squealing with delight (and have her strapped into her car seat while she was still giggling).
Play allows for the right type of attention:
Most parents know they should give praise and positive reinforcement, but this can sound forced and insincere when done the wrong way. Children need positive attention that comes naturally. When they win a board game, build a fantastic tower of blocks, or create something cool with paint or modeling clay, praise and positivity come naturally.
Play sends a message:
Playing with our children tells them we enjoy spending time with them, and teaches them to enjoy spending time with us. It’s a message that sometimes gets lost, especially as children grow older and we get into the habit of doing our own thing.
*As a Parenting Coach, I can support you in establishing a deeper connection with your kids through play, creating a new level of cooperation within your family. These tools will support both you and your child.
Please contact me for a complimentary Discovery Session. A discovery session is an opportunity for you to clarify your parenting challenges and discover how you can achieve the results that you’re really wanting to see within your family.
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