I can remember fantasising about a lot of silly little things when I was pregnant - baking cupcakes, sunset picnics and frolicking in tall grass with my soon to be babe. I fondly reminisced on my own childhood memories and eagerly anticipated the hours of magical play ahead of us - I couldn't wait! Fast forward a mere 3 years and I found myself on the floor of a locked bathroom, wildly searching Google for articles or answers to 'I hate playing' and 'Am I a bad mum?'. A plot twist in my fairytale plans, but to my surprise (and relief) a common struggle for parents all around the world.
To be clear I don’t hate all play - however there is a specific type of play in early childhood that has me running for the hills (or hiding in a bathroom) and usually involves plastic dolls. It’s play where my child turns into a little tyrant telling me what to say and what to do, while simultaneously yelling at me that I am doing it all wrong. Whatever wrong means. Seriously, I can barely keep up with the vague storyline let alone solve whatever it is I’m doing wrong. Sound familiar?
I think my struggle with this kind of play is largely caused by my naturally introverted personality. I have never been one to get really animated or loud and often feel drained in these situations - I definitely prefer to be an observer. So after one too many tantrums (from us both) I developed an easy strategy that would ensure my daughter got the quality playtime she needed, yet allowed me to graciously escape when I'd had enough. And whether you enjoy playing with your kids or not, I believe anyone can benefit from these simple ideas.
Firstly, I set an alarm. I can generally last 30 minutes before I feel maxed out and grouchy, so I’ll let my daughter know this upfront. The time limit takes the pressure off me feeling like the game will never end, and often once I help her get started she will continue playing long after I have made my exit. For me it’s also really hard to focus on play when I have a mile long to do list and a pile of washing out the corner of my eye. In this case I may suggest we do a quick chore before we begin the game.
Another idea is to start a toy rotation. Once a month I pack roughly 50% of our toys into storage and choose a few items to re-introduce back into the main toy box. I was initially quite cautious with this - but to my surprise (and delight!) she barely noticed the missing toys at all and I felt encouraged to continue. I have also found she is more interested in playing with the things that are left, and is far more creative when there are less options to choose from. In addition to this I regularly assess each toy to check they are still appropriate for her age, in good condition - and aren’t bloody annoying! My definition of an ‘annoying’ toy will typically include anything that makes a sound, lights up or has a zillion pieces. Recently I treated her to some new ‘not annoying’ toys from Little Mash and have genuinely enjoyed playing with them myself. Very important.
On days I can't bare the thought of enduring a dictated round of fairy princesses, I will suggest an alternative game or activity I will enjoy - a walk outside, reading, dress ups, drawing, washing the car (I'm kidding). I know it may not seem like it, but I actually really do love the company of my daughter. I used to have a lot of guilt about not playing as much as I thought I should, but these days I’m feeling more ok with it. As a solo-mum-only-child duo I am fortunate that we get to spend a significant amount of time together and connect in different ways - and at the end of the day, I know she feels loved and will totally be ok.
Thanks for stopping by! I would love to know your thoughts on this blog and any tips and tricks you may have for someone struggling to enjoy play too.