Being the parent of a young child can bring many emotions to the table: Excitement, triumph, joy, exasperation, confusion- and guilt. Many parents experience guilt in all shapes and sizes when parenting their children through various stages. While guilt is a completely normal feeling to have, it can leave parents feeling less-than, unsure, and even disconnected from their children. Play guilt, or the guilt that is felt when a parent is unable to (or says no to) engaging in play with their young children, is often felt as a result of thinking that as a parent, you are responsible for always playing with your child. Let’s release some of that!
For a young child, play is not only natural, it’s like a job! When adults engage in play with their child, it can feel fun and productive, but the benefits of play will not be lost if you allow your child to engage in solo-play, or with other children. Other times, playing with your child may feel like a job. At the end of a long day, you may find yourself feeling too tired or not present enough to engage. It can be difficult to say no to a child who wants to play- but this does not have to be the end of your time to connect with them before the day is over.
Play is not limited to make-believe, pretend play or playing with developmentally appropriate toys. Play can be a time to invite creativity, intimacy and connection with your child in so many ways. Trust me- engaging in activities other than dress up and tea parties will not disrupt your child’s sense of imagination. They will incorporate unstructured play without adults into their day all on their own, it’s what they’re wired to do!
If you are having a hard time saying yes to play- that is ok! Adults have many jobs (literally and figuratively) and it is absolutely acceptable that it may not be realistic to play for hours with your child. Here are some other ways to build bonds and forge meaningful connection with your child:
Read Books, either of you can pick!
Play a board game, and teach them how to play.
Take a walk together, and be mindful of the nature around you
Cook a meal together
Sit down and enjoy the meal together
Snuggle and chat about your days.
Create something together- check out our other blog posts about art ideas for the whole family !
Remember, you are modeling so much for your child each day, and are adding to their development in a myriad of ways. Play is a child’s language, but don’t be afraid to speak to them in other ways.
By Andilyn Horak