How to Be a More 'Playful' Parent
Photo: Halfpoint (Shutterstock)
Before they have kids, everyone has a different image in their head of the type of parent they think they’ll be. Maybe you’ll be a free-range parent, or the parent who prioritizes family dinnertime above all else. Or—better yet!—you’ll be the fun parent, the parent every other kid wishes they could have. But then you have kids, and not everything goes according to plan. Add in a pandemic, and you may one day wake up to the realization that your kids are not free-ranging anywhere, a home-cooked meal is but a pipe dream, and you’ve become decidedly un-fun.
It’s not just the mood in the home that suffers when we stop being playful with our kids—play has all kinds of benefits for them and for our relationship with them, as Lawrence Cohen, a psychologist and the author of Playful Parenting , told Today’s Parent :
Cohen says it’s the most productive way for them to learn about the physical and social world around them. “It is also the best bridge to connection between people,” he adds, pointing to the simple, disarming act of playing peekaboo.
What’s more, it’s easier to discipline kids when you have that sense of connection, Cohen says.
If you’re looking to add a little playfulness back into your daily routine (or you were never particularly playful to begin with and you’re eager to up your game), there are some easy ways to have more fun with your kids that don’t require a ton of time or energy.
This is probably the easiest way to delight a small child. Kids love some parental goofiness, especially when they’re not expecting it. One of the best times to implement some silly faces, voices, or games is when you can see them starting to lose their cool over something pretty minor and they need help snapping out of it.
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You don’t want to belittle their feelings, but when they’re pushing back over a small task, a little goofiness can go a long way. For example, when they declare they don’t want to take a bath, and you let out a giant gasp of surprise and say, “But it’s not a bath, it’s the world’s tiniest pool, and you can’t swim in it anyway because I’m going to beat you there,” and then you take off running—they are going to squeal and run after you.
Have an impromptu dance party
When the kids have bounce-off-the-walls level energy, there’s really only one thing to be done: Crank up some music and start dancing like a fool. Grab whatever props are nearby (soup ladles become microphones, scarves become feather boas) and twirl around the dining room, belting out the song—and all the better if you don’t know the words and are making them up as you go along.
Little kids love to dance, they love to watch their parents having fun, and they are unable to resist a dance party.
Turn it into a game
And by “it,” I’m referring to whatever part of your daily routine has become a pain point for the family. You are no longer cleaning up toys; instead, you’re all giant vacuum cleaners that are vacuuming up the toys. You’re not brushing their teeth; you’re polishing up rare and precious jewels (make sure to “oooh” and “ahhh” over each one). You’re not getting dressed for bed, you’re racing to see who can get in those pajamas first.
Do you run the risk of whatever game you create becoming the new default that you must do from now until the end of time? Yes, you absolutely do, so choose wisely. (It’s still better than all the whining, though—usually.)
Steal the thing they’re fighting over
This is one of my favorite suggestions from Cohen for tackling a very specific problem you likely run into often if you have more than one child: siblings fighting over a toy.
“When children are fighting over a toy or object, just grab it and run,” Cohen says. “Say: ‘I never get to play with this! No wonder you’re fighting over this!’ And then: ‘Wow! Even the two of you working together can’t get it away from me.’ Kids can’t resist this; they will always co-operate to get it away from you,” he says.
And if it’s you they’re fighting over, he says to stick out your arms and let them have a literal tug of war over you. You’ll be connecting physically and emotionally with them, and it will ease the tension because it’s sure to make you all laugh.
Have you ever watched a young child walk from Point A to Point B? No, you haven’t, because young children don’t walk anywhere. They hop, skip, jump, run, or spin their way from here to there. If it’s been a while since you skipped, I recommend you start there. The next time you head out on a walk with them, or they’re complaining their legs are so tired at the end of a long afternoon at the park that they need to crawl back, start skipping to the car.
First of all, they won’t be able to resist skipping along with you, and second of all, I guarantee you have forgotten how fun it is to skip.
Go on spontaneous adventures
One of the reasons childhood seems to last forever (whereas, as we get older, time seems to fly by at an ever-increasing pace) is because kids are constantly having brand new experiences and creating fresh memories. And you can add to that phenomenon—and slow time down a bit for yourself—by creating some spontaneous fun once in a while.
That might mean packing up the kids at the crack of dawn to take them to the beach to watch the sunrise or calling them out of school one day to take them to see a movie (when such things are a safe option). Kids love to be surprised with an adventure, and the memories you make are likely to stick with all of you for years to come.