Do you actually play with your kids?

Associated Press writer (and mom) Leanne Italie talked to parents and experts across the country about playing with their kids. She examined what do parents do when they don’t like to play certain games and what constitutes “playing.”

I am similar to the mom at the bottom of the story who finds it very hard to unwind and “play” when I see dishes in the sink or other chores to be done. However, what I have found is that if I go up into the playroom or out back or to the playground then I can disconnect from the to-do list and focus on being in the present. A few weekends ago, we couldn’t get the DVD player to work in the family room so we all went up to the playroom and laid on the floor to watch the movie. Even though I was surrounded by toys I was relaxed and enjoyed the movie because that’s not my job to pick up toys. A few months ago, Michael and I watched a movie on the wall in the backyard and again I found that so much more relaxing than being in the family room because I wasn’t seeing “stuff that needed to be done!” (I hate open-plan houses because I see four rooms at once and all the mess in each of them.)

So here’s the full story. See what you think about your style of play and how you connect with your kids? I also wonder if the French and parents from the 1970s would say were trying too hard to connect with our kids? (I bolded points I found particularly interesting.)

From The Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) — Silvana Clark spent 10 years as a parks and recreation supervisor for the city of Bellingham, Wash., yet when it came time to raise children, there were certain things she just didn’t love to play.

“When we played Monopoly we were the worst. We actually applauded each other if you could steal money out of the bank without the other person knowing it,” she recalled. “We would say to our daughter, ‘You stole $100. That was so good. Just don’t do that with your friends.’”

When the younger of her two now-grown daughters was about 8, mom realized she hadn’t experienced the scent of fresh-baked cookies filling their house.

“I just don’t like to bake cookies, so I took a pot of water and I put cinnamon and vanilla in it and I boiled it,” Clark said. “She came home from school and she goes, ‘Wow, what’s that smell? That smells so good.’ And I said, ‘Well if I were baking cookies, that’s what it would smell like.’”

But there were countless other things Clark and her husband enjoyed, like making homemade Play-Doh, in mom’s case, or pushing the girls on a rope swing that straddled a pond, in dad’s. The couple lived guilt-free about the rest, believing their kids had plenty of quality time with their parents.

When it comes to “play,” parents should not feel honor-bound to participate in exactly what their kids want to do, said Clark, who now lives in Seattle and has written a dozen primarily family-focused books.

Like it or not, the bigger question, she said, is whether parents have forgotten how to play altogether in these stressed-out, overbooked times, when dropping kids off at classes or other structured activities prevails, along with loads of time-eating homework.

“I’m totally shocked when I’ll do a parenting seminar and I’ll do something as simple as say, ‘Why don’t you play hide and seek in your house?’ and people look at me and they’ll go, ‘What? I never thought of playing hide and seek in our house,’” Clark said. “I’m not asking them to construct a model of the Eiffel Tower or anything.”

Quality time, she suggested, doesn’t have to mean a hated board game or endlessly pretending you’re a cat. It can mean a trip to the hardware store, if done with spirit — and even TV, something parents may depend on a little too much during school breaks.

One weekend ahead of the Tony Awards, her theater-loving family spent an afternoon drawing the New York skyline on a huge length of butcher paper and taped it to the wall. They taped down red construction paper for a red carpet leading to the TV room, bought sparkling cider and dressed in their fanciest clothes for the broadcast.

“As long as kids have your full attention, it can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk together or getting a bird feeder and reading about how to attract birds,” Clark said.

Parents shouldn’t feel guilty for not liking certain games or a particular type of play, agreed Rita Eichenstein, a developmental psychologist in Los Angeles.

“Your child will know how you are feeling, no matter how much you fake it, so it’s best to create games and activities that you both find fun,” she said.

In addition to developmental benefits for kids, play can reawaken and relax parts of parents’ brains that help them live more in the moment , where children naturally dwell, Eichenstein said.

When a parent has to suck it up and play something they’re not into, Clark suggests setting a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, or establish a special time of the week that’s “kid choice.”

Motivational coach Darah Zeledon in Plantation Acres, Fla., is the mom of five, ranging from 5 to 12, and acknowledges she has trouble unplugging if the laundry, dishes and spilled cat litter aren’t dealt with.

“It saddens me to be this way because I recognize that this window is short and time is fleeting, and for not much longer will my kids be begging me to play with them,” she said.

She’s honest with her kids about it, though, and works to remain approachable.

“My kids always tell me what they’re feeling, even and especially when they’re pissed at me for not taking the time to play with them,” Zeledon said.

Patrick Lee, in the central Missouri city of Ashland, raised four daughters and fostered two sons. “I played some, but I didn’t need to be their playmate all the time and I certainly didn’t feel guilty about it,” he said, noting that he worked from home during much of their upbringing and his wife homeschooled.

At 62, now a grandfather, he found himself looking back on those times during a family gathering at Thanksgiving. He was in a park far from home and was the only adult in the group to accompany a pack of young relatives on the slides. Eight other grown-ups stood on the perimeter and watched, he said.

“Now that my kids are grown, I don’t regret my choices to let them amuse themselves,” Lee said. “Those were formative, imaginative times for them. But sometimes I wish I had played with them more.”

32 comments Add your comment


December 17th, 2013
5:34 am

Sometimes, we need to remember this old poem. Being a parent is in intricate balance. that is for sure!

Cleaning and cooking can wait ’till tomorrow

For babies grow up, as we’ve learned to our sorrow.

So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,

I’m rocking my baby, and babies don’t keep.


December 17th, 2013
7:13 am

Housework will ALWAYS be there. There is ALWAYS something that HAS to be done.

However, like MJG quoted above, babies don’t keep. I played with my kids, and I still do. We are a playful family. Lots of laughter and memories.

Kids and family come before housework in my book.


December 17th, 2013
7:31 am

Theresa, , if you are bothered by the mess to the point you can’t relax, GET THE WHOLE FAMILY INVOLVED IN THE CLEANUP! There is NO REASON that it is only your job!!

Yes, I played with my kids, frequently, but a large part of the time I stepped back. I see too many kids who expect their adults to entertain them! Most of the time we lived way out in the country, where the nearest neighbor kid was a mile away. So, my kids played with each other to a large extent.


December 17th, 2013
7:34 am

MJG, you can put that song to “Hail to the Chief”. I sang it frequently as I nursed my babies! (You have to stretch out “sor o row oh” LOL)


December 17th, 2013
7:51 am

^^^ catlady….haha!

My kids played solo and we all played together. We play games and get new ones each year, even though they are adults. I have some for Christmas gifts. This elicitis an eye roll from our son. It is a family joke. Any word games involve an argument as to who should be on whose team. Our kids have both taken Latin and this gives them an advantage. We fuss and argue in fun.

@ Mayhem, our house is playful too. My daughter tells me that her room mate’s family is quiet. They were all together at graduation. The room mate graduated last week with a perfect 4.0 GPA from UGA. WOW. A really nice girl who is so sweet too. Great to know wonderful kids who work hard. Maybe we should hunker down and be more studious. NOT…haha!

Atlanta Mom

December 17th, 2013
7:52 am

I’m a John Rosemond fan. Kids need to entertain themselves.


December 17th, 2013
8:04 am

^^^ Atlanta Mom…I agree about entertaining. I appreciate John Rosemond most of the time.

I guess I am thinking about all the parents who could actually DO something with their kids instead of handing them an iphone. We were not their playmates. Mine both knew how to play alone and had friends to play with too! My daughter mentioned that she told her room mate about when she was in ES. They would come home, have a snack, do their home work and play outside with friends. She also comments on how she does not see many kids playing outside, in our neighborhood, anymore. I love to see parents riding bikes with their kids, playing frisbee or walking the dog together.

Maybe I am missing the point of this topic?

Mother of 2

December 17th, 2013
8:52 am

I played with my kids a lot when they were little. Now that they are in their late teens and twenties, they enjoy hanging out with me. We are developing an adult relationship that is nice for all. My kids also were able to entertain themselves, and play with friends.


December 17th, 2013
8:53 am

I play less with the kids as they get older. When they were little we would tussle on the floor. Then dolls or housekeeping. Board or computer games too…Zoo Tycoon was a favorite for a long time. outside we would run around, play tennis, swim. Took them to park and pushed them on swings.

Now most of my interaction is us doing something–making dinner, movie and lunch out, or even riding up to Blue Ridge to pick fruit.

They still played on their own or together. In fact that has recently been an issue, the 11 yo still wants to play dolls or school and big sister has “out grown” it for the most part. In fact the 11 yo is just plain having a hard time accepting she is growing up too…the physical stuff…so maybe after the new year we can discuss what to do when your child is stubborn about everything including the real hormonal crap going on in them.


December 17th, 2013
8:57 am

From ABBA:

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well-known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while
The feeling that I’m losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what’s in her mind
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time…..

(It ALWAYS makes me cry to hear it)


December 17th, 2013
9:08 am

When they were younger, yes, we played with them. As they got older the style and type of play was altered but I feel there was a good balance between the kids entertaining themselves and all of us being a family and having good times. They are all grown now with the youngest in college but, alas, the oldest will be having the first grandchild come April so we get to “start over” to some extent.


December 17th, 2013
9:22 am

I play with my kids almost on a daily basis. We have an unwritten rule that they have to play outside for at least half hour everyday. So when it’s not raining crazy like it has been lately, we are outside playing either soccer, football, basketball or driveway hockey. If not they are riding their bikes on the driveway or hitting some golf balls. It is so much fun spending time with them even though it is exhausting at the end of the day.


December 17th, 2013
10:05 am

What? Parents who don’t play with their children! All the gifts they are missing….. laughter, exercise, smiles, learning, interacting. How sad.


December 17th, 2013
10:09 am

I play with my kids because I love them and want them to remember how much fun we had when it’s their turn. I have a ard time identifying with anyone that would argue differently. If you don’t want to be a parent, don’t have kids.


December 17th, 2013
10:13 am

I’ve come to the conclusion we “play” a lot in our house. Even to this day with our 18-year old son and his friends, we interact a lot. One of my son’s best friends mentioned a couple of years ago, after a wrestling match on the living room floor that included my husband, that his dad would NEVER do something like that. I honestly thought it was pretty sad. Having an only child, our son had to learn to play on his own otherwise nothing would have ever been accomplished in our house but we still played when we could.

I’m sure it helps that we’re young parents as well. We’ve always been the parents who jump on the trampoline or ride bikes and skate with our son and his friends. Honestly, it’s one of the biggest things that saddens me about kids who have older parents or are being raised by grandparents… although not always true, for the most part, as people get older, their desire and ability to play physically diminishes. I know this article tries to bring up play things that don’t require a lot of physical activity, but I think it’s super important for kids and happens much more frequently if they have active parents who actually participate in the activity as well.

Democrat Man

December 17th, 2013
10:28 am

Do you actually get paid to write this?


December 17th, 2013
10:31 am

Yes and no. When my son was little I didn’t so much. Honestly, I was bored by the things he most liked to do, which was to line up cars and move the line around the house. But sometimes I did. And there other things we did together.

As he’s aged, though, we do more fun things together. For instance, he’s into BMX. I like mountain biking but I can’t jump my bike. So, he’s been trying to teach me to jump. It’s harder to bunny hop a mountain bike than a freestyle bike, though.

And we sometimes run together.

So, as he heads into his teens it’s come that we do a lot of active things together.

Overall, I don’t indulge him when he plays. I’ll play if I want to. Otherwise he’s on his own.


December 17th, 2013
10:58 am

@Democrat Man….yes, some people do work for their money….amazing! HAHA!


December 17th, 2013
11:34 am

@ Denise….saw note about your mom. Adding her to my prayer list.


December 17th, 2013
11:52 am

Yes, we play with our two..Ride bikes, hike, swim, fish and all sorts of other stuff..The girl and I read to each other..We interact with them a lot..Our house is the neighborhood hangout, so all the kids have fun..

@Denise, might be a little late, but prayers for your Mom..

C from Marietta

December 17th, 2013
1:52 pm

I remember when parents could rais their kids without “experts”. Yes, we are indeed a nation of wussys.

Yes, Democrat man, she gets paid...

December 17th, 2013
2:03 pm

…and part of it goes to your lazy arse via your EBT card…you can blog on here, but you cannot work, and you try to denigrate the blog manager – typical hand out Dumocrat.


December 17th, 2013
2:05 pm

It drives me insane to see familes together, but each person is on their phone. They are not interacting at all…..

The other night we were at Longhorn, and a family of 5 sat across from us. They only time anyone looked up from their phone, was to pace their order, then again to eat. Although the kids were playing while eating. To me, that is so sad…….any time we eat a meal, electronics are not invited. Even if it’s just a sandwich and chips at the kitchen, still, no electronics! My kids have even noticed others at meal times…..


December 17th, 2013
2:06 pm

Also, when we are out with friends, we play “whoever looks at their phone first, pays for a round of drinks”….


December 17th, 2013
2:27 pm

@FCM and Becky – thank you so much! I really appreciate you. Surgery is tomorrow!


December 17th, 2013
5:11 pm

@ Denise…thinking/praying for you!


December 17th, 2013
5:38 pm

Denise, I will be thinking of your family.

My parents were older (33, 30) when I was born. They spent time with me, both of them, playing ball, reading etc. I recall distinctly when I was about 9 my mom was walking past when friends and I were jumping rope. My mom jumped in, bounced twice, and her ankle cracked. Our family doctor, a neighbor, originally from Cuba, looked at her and said, “Well, Louise, there’s no fool like an old fool.” And she replied, “George, it takes one to know one!” Needless to say that she never did that again!

K's Mom

December 17th, 2013
7:10 pm

We have a 3 1/2 year old and a 19 month old. I am 39 and my husband is 49. I think we strike a pretty good balance. We let them play with each other a lot and supervise. I am a John Rosemond fan as well and want them to be able to entertain themselves. But we also spend a lot of time reading to them ans running around outside. We do not have any electronics at the dinner table and we eat together almost every night at the table. I do not think it is my job to be my kids’ cruise director, but I do have fun being silly with them and playing some while giving rhem time to play without constraints as well.


December 17th, 2013
8:22 pm

I want to play Doctor with Mother Jane Goose and that size 12 booty with her Eisenhower era morals…. First, I’ll take her to her favorite chain place to eat near the Mall of Georgia, Olive Garden perhaps (I know she loves it!)… We’ll have to be surrounded by generic suburbanites then I’ll have her pound a few glasses of white zin and have Hannity playing on TV near by…. Put some Lee Greenwood on the sound system and then to close the deal amp her up on how non-white people are milking the system via Food Stamps and Welfare and why are we as hard working American’s having to pay for those people of color who don’t want to work – its so obvious after all…. bring her a big piece of pie for desert and then to seal the deal start talking about Obama watching froth emit from her mouth and baby I’m gonna score!!!!


December 17th, 2013
8:26 pm

Mother Jane Goose is like a Betamax after all…. when you hear her speak its like, “Damn! They still make you???!!!!”

Fly the flag, talk patriotism, brag about your child being a “Doctor” and write coded racist comments with a high degree of being pompous and that’s about all there is inside.

MJG – today I saw a computer demonstration which will eliminate all pharmacists and support staff. Greater accuracy, more cost effective – the computer can answer all questions via its data base and never misses a pill count. Around the time your son is 40 – at the latest – his career is toast to technology for there is no more need.


December 18th, 2013
2:05 am

YES, I do play with my kids. My philosophy in that area has always been “no death bed regrets”. What I mean is… I KNOW that on my death bed, I will not wish I had cleaned more, worked more, or spent more time alone doing whatever more. I take this very seriously because if I don’t, it would be very easy to let opportunities to connect slip away. I don’t always LOVE playing barbies or Batman, but I know the impact that gift of time can have on kids. For me, it’s sometimes like going to the gym… I don’t wanna do it, but once I get off the couch and start working out, I enjoy it. And I know one thing, once I have completed the workout (or playtime), I NEVER regret doing it.

In my opinion, this idea of parents not wanting to play with their kids is why we have so many kids enganging in activities too old for their age. Too many parents don’t want to play dolls or whatever childish things so they take their 4 year old to a nail salon. Too many 5-9 years olds going to concerts and PG-13 movies. And there are WAY too many young kids with phones. Kids are doing what THEIR PARENTS find interesting instead of age appropriate things they should be doing. This goes along with my post the other day about the ipad/bouncy seat thing…. Parents shove… yes shove… these devices in their kid’s faces to shut them up so they don’t have to communiate with them. Very sad.


December 18th, 2013
12:06 pm