I’m not “the fun mom.” It’s just not my personality. I’ve always been a fairly serious person by nature (or nurture, who knows). I don’t find I am naturally inclined to be playful with my kids. My husband, on the other hand, quickly filled the role of “the fun dad.” When he and my 5-year-old get together, it’s like an episode of The Three Stooges (someone, save me).
When my kiddo was a baby, I had no problems engaging with her in playful ways: bouncing her on my knees, singing her songs, and playing peek-a-boo. As she grew into toddlerhood, a few of those things carried over, but she became more interested in pretend play. We would pretend to go grocery shopping with her squishy IKEA food. We would pretend to take a tram through the zoo – with all her stuffed animals lined up around the room. And we would enact these scenarios over and over until she squeezed every last drop of entertainment out of them.
But then we reached a new stage of childhood where her friends became way cooler than her mommy. Oh, how my heart ached for the days when she only had eyes for me! I soon realized that this was an integral window of time: it was now that I needed to learn to be playful with my child in a similar way to how she played with her friends.1 I knew I could never be Larry, Curly, or Moe – it would be disingenuous . . . and kids can smell “fake” from a mile away. So I had to figure out a way to play that would still honor my true nature.
Here is how I learned how to be playful with my child in a meaningful way. I hope it can work for you too!
Scheduling Playfulness with Your Kiddo
Make a list of all the things you remember enjoying from childhood. Some items on my list were: horseback riding, roller skating (even though I was terrible at it), swimming, bike riding, pogo stick, slip-n-slide, and so on.
Make a list of all the things your child seems to have the most fun doing. Some items on my daughter’s list were: rock climbing, swimming, making “how-to” videos, dressing up, acting, singing, painting, and so much more.
Look through each list and see if there are any crossovers. I noticed that swimming, singing, and painting/crafting were things we both enjoyed! Now, pick the activity that appeals most to you – I chose singing.
Schedule a block of time in your calendar to focus on being playful. It can be 20 minutes, an hour, or half a day. How much time you schedule will depend upon your child’s age, life circumstances, and the activity you are planning. The key is only to schedule as much time as you can to be sure to have the ability and desire to focus 100% of your energy and attention on your child. For these purposes, 5 minutes of full focus is better than 2 hours of distracted engagement.
If your activity requires prep work, try to do it the night before. However, I advise keeping it as minimalist as possible. Kids don’t need much to be entertained when they have someone’s full attention and an open mind! And if you spend hours on prep work, you’re more likely to set up unrealistic expectations for your time together . . . which is often a recipe for disappointment due to unmet expectations. That’s exactly the *opposite* of what we’re going for here. Our goal is to have no expectations.
Just be fully engaged, present, fully alive, cooperative, and open to new experiences and ideas!
Invite your child to play! It might seem silly or feel unnatural at first, but it is a key component. Every parent has listened to their child ask them a million times, “Mommy/daddy, will you play with me?!?!?!” Well, now it’s your turn.
I found that asking my child if she wanted to play with me was a very vulnerable feeling. What if she said no? Experiencing that viscerally made me so much more empathetic to all of her future bids for attention, and I soon found myself saying yes to things I previously might not have. This one shift has made such a dramatic difference in the “playful” side of our relationship. We have since connected in ways I didn’t think possible.
So on Monday at 10 am, I invited my daughter to play karaoke with me. Being an open-hearted and fun-loving child, of course, she said YES!!! We both dressed in the most ridiculous outfits, put on some 80s karaoke (which we both love), and sang until our throats were sore. We even danced while a tiny USB disco ball strobed in the background. It lasted 30 minutes. 30 minutes out of our whole week. And you know what? She has brought it up at least a dozen times since then!
I might never be “the fun mom,” but that doesn’t mean I can’t create fun memories with my child.
So take that, Moe!