As kids grow and the schedule tightens, it’s easy to say ‘no’ to a child who wants to play. There is a long list of items to be checked in a finite period of time and that leaves little room for play. But the reality is that playing with your child might be play for him – or her – but it’s actually an important part of a father’s responsibilities. Well, mothers as well but it seems to fall more into the realm of fathers.
That was the case this past Saturday morning as I sat at the laptop and tried to write for the site. We have guidelines on when the Saturday morning television can be turned on and I came downstairs to find Youngest ensconced in front of Cartoon Network. After I said something, Youngest turned off the television and approached, asking if I wanted to play Fiki Football with him. My initial response was a firm no but as I looked at his face and considered that I was sitting in front of a laptop on a Saturday morning, I changed my mind and cleared the kitchen table for the game. It lasted for the better part of a half-hour and the accompanying conversation veered to school and classmates as well as the best technique for kicking the football.
Making sure that you play with the kids is actually important for multiple reasons.
- It reinforces the sense that they do matter and are important, which is crucial in these days of harried schedules and blown-to-hell family meals.
- It builds a bond that can help move beyond the communications problems that often develop as they age and push their limits. On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself playing Horse at the driveway hoop with Eldest after undergoing several hours of parent/teen tension.
- The conversation that results from shooting hoops or playing a board game can be revealing to what’s inside their heads and lives at the moment. In Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie writes in the first chapter about the typical mother’s habit of tidying up the child’s mind after bedtime and removing or placing the clutter. The point is that this provides you the opportunity to see what’s on their mind.
- A regular habit of playing with the kids creates an opportunity for them to unburden because they feel more relaxed with your presence. More than one conversation about sex and behavior has arisen from just playing some game with the kids.
- It helps you teach good manners and honesty when they’re young. You can address cheating and sportsmanship issues early so that it doesn’t become ingrained. I realized that if I was called away to the phone during a game of Candyland, one of my kids would reshuffle the card deck so that the next card that I drew was Plumpy while her card was Queen Frostine. I became suspicious after two occurrences and finally confronted her when I was comfortable that that was the situation.
- It helps you determine what areas of development need addressed. How are the fine motor skills – drawing and using scissors – versus the gross motor skills? Is there an issue with vision or balance?
- It’s simply just fun. Spending time with a board game or basketball helps them learn to pass the time without having to spend money or involve themselves even further with electronics which are sometimes both violent and/or noisy.
It’s important to keep a roof over the head and food on the table. But raising the kids well is vitally important and play is an often neglected part of that job.