Friday, September 06, 2013

Play with me!

"Play with me," a child calls to his mother and then proceeds to demand that she play in the exact way he wants her to: "Pick up the blue one, not the purple." "You have to turn left, not right."
"Move the train around the track after  I do."
Not nice.
When you try to suggest ideas, you get turned down with a resounding "NO!"
 "This just isn't fun," you say to yourself. After all, no one wants to be bossed around by their kid.

And while we are constantly being told that we need to be playing with our kids to aid along their development as well as to enjoy tighter bonding, it is often the case that we don't know how to—nor do some of us really want to. "I've pulled out the puzzles, we've done lego and played chase and now what? I'm bored," a friend tells me.

I think about how my kids played when they were little and how I too had to play the roles assigned to me. For example, with Thomas the Tank Engine stories, I had to be the greedy capitalist, Sir. Topham Hat, extracting ever more labour from the non-unionized working trains.
Often I'd be rotten Diesel 10, running after the other little engines and causing havoc.
In Lord of the Rings, I had to be Saruman (always the bad guy, never the good person).
I understood that I was a mere character in the script to be moved around at will but I did not mind because I truly enjoyed scaring the kids and chasing them around.

Interestingly enough, the way we westerners may think of play is not necessarily how other cultures do. For instance, in some cultures and indeed, from what I understand, hunter-gather societies, kids will hang around parents and play along side the parent, usually playing (and even contributing in their own small way),  at imitating their parents working; eventually growing up to do the jobs the parents do.
In other cultures, there is no distinction between work and is all one and the same with adults simply doing their work, but doing it with cheerfulness and fun.

Today, just as we make special arrangements for education, we make special arrangements for play time. So it is not surprising that to many of us, it doesn't feel natural, especially if we are not playful by nature.
I suggest not getting hung up on the word 'play' but rather pursue things you both like to do together--for instance story telling with stuffed animals and puppets was fun because I really enjoyed it.
Maybe you like fixing things; here's a way your child and you can 'play' at fixing while chatting and laughing together. No one says it has to be physical or fantasy to be play--just do things creatively and  cheerfully—that is, don't focus on correcting the child, or controlling too closely the project.
The trick is not to think of play as 'entertaining kids,' but rather authentically being in the moment.


Anonymous said...

I have been thinking about the same subject. I'm not playful. So I read with and to my children. And we do crafts together. I also let them take part of everyday tasks. But my husband really loves to play with them. For years I pushed myself to play as well and it just didn't work. Now I've come to peace with myself and your post was a great confirmation.
Thank you.

beatrice ekoko said...

@Anon-thanks for commenting. I think we get too hung up on the play thing. I think as long as we are authentic, present (most of the times) and engaging with our kids then there is no problem.

Laura Grace Weldon said...

Totally agree.

I think play is a world children create for themselves. They pretend and create games, all in a state of flow. I read to kids, do projects, and let them help me. I don't play trucks or dolls because I don't want to intrude on the spark of make believe that defines play. I learned this by trying to hard to play with my first child, noticing that it didn't seem all that fun for either of us. Play with grown-ups happens spontaneously, when dad pretends to be a monster or mom swoops up a little one into a made-up-in-the-moment dance.

Sharing this on FB!

beatrice ekoko said...

@ Laura--thanks very much for your comment and for sharing on fb!

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