Frankly, it can be pretty boring as an adult to play with children. If you’ve ever played with children, you know what I’m talking about.
Children are trying to understand the world
Children are hard at work developing and learning how to become adults. This means they are trying to learn and mimic from adults. And they do this by play.
Since they are hard at work trying to understand the complexities of life, they have a need to repeat their play over and over again. This is great for children to do, but can for an adult become frustrating quickly. We are just not in the same developmental stage as children. We do not have a psychological need to play the way they do. Trying to do so can become very frustrating.
The good thing is that we don’t really need to either. Children do not need adults to be their playmates. Children can play with other children. And if they don’t have other children around, they can play by themselves. It’s actually very normal and natural for children to play by themselves. They might be a little bored and frustrated at first if they are not used to it. However, boredom feeds creativity, and it won’t be long before they are immersed in play on their own.
The guilt from not being “there”
Sometimes adults can have this false belief that you need to entertain your children — “be fun”. Swedish psychotherapist Louise Hallin explains in her podcast “Kära barn” (English: “Dear child”) that this false belief often comes from the deep-seated guilt of not being with your children enough. Not being with them as much as you instinctively know that you probably should. Feeling the need to entertain your children, or be fun, can be a way to try to compensate for this guilt.
But it is not so easy to really be there with your children. So if you feel this guilt, you are not alone. The modern world can make it hard for us to have enough time with our busy schedules. Having busy work schedules or a 60-hour workweek can be hard to combine with raising children.
But what children need from their adults is not really that they are entertaining — it is that they are there. That they are there physically and mentally.
Being there mentally
Sometimes it can be hard to be there mentally too. Because we have access to screens and endless internet entertainment it is easy to fall trap to that. Screens can be addictive and make it hard to be truly present with the people around us. And children, unfortunately, notice this. They may not have the vocabulary to express, or even realize, it yet. But it is distressing for children to feel like their parents are not really there.
Finding ways to create more freedom in your life by embracing simplicity and, if possible, reducing work hours can reduce some of this guilt. But even if that is not possible, do not concern yourself with trying to compensate by being their playmate. Instead, just spend the time with your children when you can: just being there.
Having fun with your children is still important
Though we do not really need to play with our children, it is still important to spend time and find ways to have fun together.
Activities that are usually enjoyable for both children and adults are:
- Teaching: Children love, and are hard-wired, to learn from adults. Fortunately, adults are also hard-wired to teach children. You can teach children all sorts of things: cooking, gardening, building things, social skills like having a conversation, or sports. The list is endless.
- Playing board games: Board games can be another way to have fun for both children and adults. Good family board games usually have elements for both to enjoy.
- Crafts: This is another enjoyable activity for both children and adults. Crafts allows everyone to create at their own individual level so can be very fulfilling for all ages. Some example of crafts are painting, clay, pottery, or wood-working.
- Going on adventures: Going to the park, the play ground, going swimming, or exploring the outdoors are usually fun for both children and adults. Going into nature provides endless opportunities for children to play and can be a nice mental break for adults as well.
So if you do not enjoy playing with your child: there is no reason to feel guilty. There is not really a good reason for your children to depend on you for entertainment. Children can entertain themselves quite easily and it will be a valuable skill to have for life.
But again, it is still important to spend time together — being present with each other — and that is a gift that will mean the world to them.