Children, no matter what culture they're a part of, or where they are in the world, love to play.
Kids can play with imaginary friends, real friends, siblings, grandparents and of course, their beloved parents. But while children have a seemingly endless capacity for play, parents' ability or willingness is highly variable.
While children have a seemingly endless capacity for play, parents' ability or willingness is highly variable.
Some parents simply don't like to play with their kids at all. Getting down on the floor with Hot Wheels and Barbie dolls might not be their thing, and this can lead to a lot of guilt.
But, instead of kicking yourself for not liking playtime, there are ways to play with your kids that might be more to your liking.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Find a style of play you like
Play is a very general word. Perhaps your own definition is too narrow. In fact, maybe there are some types of play you do like, or at least like more than others.
If dress-up and make-believe aren't your cup of tea, why not see if a more structured type of play is more appealing? For example, boards games and cards are more rule-bound, and you don't even have to put on a princess crown.
Agree to watch
If your child wants to play house, or with crayons, you could agree to watch. Simply showing your child you are interested in them and like spending time with them is meaningful.
While you watch, make comments like, "Oh, I see you're making dinner for your teddy bear. I bet he'll like that."
Set a time limit
Instead of having to listen to your kids beg you to play all the time, agree to play while setting a time limit. It's OK to say, "Yes, I will play hide-and-seek with you, but I am only good for half an hour twice a week." Then stick to your word.
It's OK to say, 'Yes, I will play hide-and-seek with you, but I am only good for half an hour twice a week.' Then stick to your word.
Open your mind
Perhaps you are being too quick to decide that you don't like playing a certain way or a certain game. Perhaps "no" is a knee-jerk reaction to something that looks silly or frivolous at first glance.
Try to open your mind and be curious and experimental. Instead of frowning at the thought of getting your tired bones on the trampoline, join in and test the waters.
Maybe your memories of badminton were that you were an awful player, but don't let that stop you. You may be surprised to discover that the skill you were bad at when you were a kid may have vastly improved now that you're an adult.
Try to recall your childhood
What experiences of being with your own parents were meaningful to you? How did they connect to you that made you feel loved? Is that something you can re-enact?
Or alternatively, if your parents were absent in this way, what did you secretly yearn for or need that you could give to your child now as a way of connecting? Your child may not like building model airplanes, but if you start up your childhood hobby again they may take an interest in order to spend time with you.
It doesn't always look like play
Play offers connection, bonding, and co-operation. Those are the same ingredients present in baking cookies together, or washing a car in the driveway. Sometimes it's the spirit of playfulness that we bring to daily activities that turns the mundane into play.
Sometimes it's the spirit of playfulness that we bring to daily activities that turns the mundane into play.
When we do these activities together it causes the release of oxytocin, which helps people feel a sense of attachment. If you have moments of joy and laughter together, you are playing.
Ask yourself: What else do I do well?
If you are still feeling like play is not ever going to be your thing, try to remind yourself of all the other ways in which you parent that you are proud of and do well at.
After all, if you think about it from a developmental perspective, doesn't it make sense that someone with a college education needs more stimulation than can be provided from playing Lego for eight hours?
If you have a good relationship with your child and they feel loved and connected — whether through play or other activities — you're doing just fine! Don't judge yourself just because you don't like to play; there are many ways to build a connection with your kid.
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