Dads bring something different to kids play – here’s how to make them even better.
Having playtime with our kids seems such a natural, instinctive thing, but at the same time – for many dads – it can be a source of anxiety.
Working dads (and mums) worry about the quantity of time they spend playing with children. And many of us, working or otherwise, can feel a little unsure about the quality of playtime. Are we making the most of it? Do our kids really enjoy it? Is it helping the parent/child bond?
Time for kids play is important
Dr Erik Fisher is a psychologist and resident expert for the Genius of Play, a parent-focused movement to raise awareness of play as a crucial part of child development, and encourage families to make time for play in their daily lives. He believes that playtime is important for everyone involved, and that working parents – often dads – have particular reason to make time for focused play with their young children.
“Because they may not have as much time with the working parent, it is important that the child sees them as approachable and not intimidating.”
“Play is a great way to communicate this, as well as communicating that the child is important to that parent. And quality is the most critical component during this time, because working parents may not have a lot of time. When you are playing with them, put everything aside and be present,” says Dr Fisher.
With play, as with so much else, quality is at least as important as quantity. There may only be a few opportunities for you to spend quality playtime with your child in an average week, but if you spend the time wisely the benefits are almost endless. Kids play is integral to healthy child development and the dad/child bond.
Dr Fisher adds: “Playtime with kids is often how we attach and begin to teach our kids about interaction and social skills. If we laugh and have fun, if we are serious, if we always have to teach something when playing, if we (as a parent) control what we play, if they control what we play…these approaches influence how your children will see the world.”
To some extent, what you play is less important than how you play. Most critically, if you’re playing with your child, really play with your child. Don’t be half-hearted or absent-minded.
“Are you giving your child attention or are you really present with them?” asks Dr Fisher. “Plenty of kids may get attention and acknowledgment from their parents, and parents may still be distracted. What effect does this have on your child’s sense of importance and value?”
After that, there are no hard and fast rules as to what to play. Do what you all enjoy, inside or out, with or without props and playhouses. But mixing up a variety of activities can help development in the different areas identified and supported by Genius of Play: creative, cognitive, communication, social, emotional and physical.
“Variety is the spice of life, and while some kids will want to play the same thing again and again, you want to stretch them…” says Dr Fisher. “Sometimes making a list of things you can do to refer to can be helpful, or even create a wheel that your child spins to decide what type of activity you can do. Additionally, laughter is critical to play. This is time to just be. Yes, you can sprinkle in teaching, but don’t have that be a major prescription.”
So do what you like, but mix in a little variety from time to time. The reassuring thing is that, as long as you’re present and actively engaged, you can’t go too far wrong. Even if playtime with dad is an occasional treat rather than part of a daily routine, it can still be one of the most rewarding parts of your parenting life.
How to make the most of kids play
Dr Fisher’s three tips for perfect playtimes
“Don’t feel like you have to play perfectly or always know what to do. Your kids will feel loved when you are present, and often they will talk more too, while they are playing”
- Turn off technology when you play with your kids. No phone, email, tv… and let this time be about them. This doesn’t mean that you don’t spend some time playing with technology, but you want to make sure to add variety.
- Dads are often more likely to engage in rough housing or sports. Because that’s where they may feel more comfortable. Step out of your comfort zone and see what your kids like to play, look for some new things to do, and be willing to do some crafts or make things in the kitchen with them too. No matter what their gender, I believe we are seeing the benefits of raising balanced kids.
- Don’t feel like you have to play perfectly or always know what to do. Your kids will feel loved when you are present, and often they will talk more too, while they are playing. Be sure to listen without judgment, and see that as a great time to look inside to see the person they are becoming.