I will let you in on a little secret. I don’t love to play. And I *REALLY* don't love feeling like I should be spending 24/7 playing with my kids. So what do you do if you don’t love playing with your kids? And how do you give yourself permission to let go of that guilt? Let me tell you.
10 mindful minutes of play is enough
First and foremost, research shows (and any play therapist or child development specialist will tell you) that 10 minutes of mindful structured play with your kids a day is MORE than enough. That is the type of play where the adult gives the child some materials or a little activity, and they play together for 10 minutes of uninterrupted play where there are no distractions and the child can choose to take the play in whatever direction they want. 10 minutes. That’s it. That’s more than enough for you to build a deep connection with your child, and have them explore all the fun, joyful early concepts.
The rest of their days will be filled with playgrounds (physical development), playing with friends (social-emotional development), and conversations with you (language development). And most importantly… independent play.
Then focus on independent play
Your job as a parent is to provide your kids with age-appropriate materials and toys, and time to explore them. That’s it. You can teach them how to use all of the cool things you have in your house during those 10 minutes of play, and then after that, you can let them have the freedom to implement that learning by exploring, creating, and playing…on their own.
So if you don’t like to play, don’t beat yourself up. Find things you DO love to do with your child and set aside 10 mindful minutes a day to explore those together (you can always check out the Earlybird activity library for inspiration) and then build up your child’s independent play skills so they can use their own powerhouse of a brain to guide their own play on their own.
But what if they beg and plead?
If your child is begging you to play with them, and you have other things you need to get done (or deeply need a moment to yourself) just be clear with your expectations. Tell them what their job is right now, what your job is, and when you can come together again to do something together. Try saying something like:
"My job right now is to finish the laundry. Your job is to play with your magnet tiles. I will be done in about 15 minutes, and then we can go to the park or play with play dough together. You will get to choose what fun thing we do together next!"
Your child knows why you can't play right now, and understands what their job is. They also know when they will get to join you again, and maybe even what they can look forward to doing. This help both you and the child get their needs met in a way that works for everyone.
So let go of that parenting guilt that tells you that you need to spend 24/7 entertaining your child.