Several months ago I read an article in a parenting magazine about kids and pretend play. It described how important pretend play was to developing kids' brains, how it was their way of learning and processing all the information assaulting their brains, etc. You know, all that good stuff, stuff we as parents love to hear. The article then went on to give advice to parents on how to be a participant in pretend play with their kids. The author understandably had a hard time "getting into" the world of pretend with her daughters. She found it difficult, and I totally understood that. Acting like a kid as an adult can be a challenge for some. For myself it isn't that difficult, but I am not super enthusiastic every time I do it.
At any rate, the advice in the article was to set a timer for 20 minutes, then spend those minutes in active pretend play with your kid or kids, really being into it and creative and letting your kid take the lead and just having fun. The idea was that the kid would be satisfied with your involvement and after about 20 minutes they would keep playing on their own happily. Then you could go do something else and feel good about playing with your kid, etc.
Good advice, I think. Kids are happiest when their parent or caregiver is down on the floor with them actively playing with them, with the adult giving them undivided attention. Kids will be better behaved, happier and less whiny, and just be all around more pleasant to be around if their parents (or aunties, grampa, whoever) take the time to play with them without distraction. I know this, and I know it to be true and helpful. And yet.....it is one of the hardest things in the world for me to do!
Now, after reading this article I resolved to try it, and see how well it would work for us. I actually only set a timer a few times. As a stay at home mom, it was easier after a few days to just play until there was a good time to "exit." Also as a stay at home parent you don't have the option of playing with your kids for 20 minutes then ignoring them for the rest of the day (or do you?...insert evil laugh...). Certainly, I was going to be playing with them here and there all day, but trying to be focused on them and not always on my way to do something else was the goal in our play times.
What I discovered with my kids, is that the more focused time I spent playing with them, the more they wanted me to play with them! Not exactly what I had in mind for our result, but I cannot say that I am surprised. It came down to personality types; introverts and extroverts.
I come from a family of 7 people, all of us introverts. This means when we need to recharge our "batteries", we like to spend time alone or with one or two favorite people. It worked out great in our family! We are all very fun, loud, silly and playful people, and we always have a blast together. We just all need our "alone time", too. So I happily married another introvert, and then we had two kids, one who is an extrovert, and one who I suspect is an introvert (as she gets older the more I suspect it to be so).
For an extrovert to recharge their batteries, they need to interact with other people, to talk to them and basically unload every single thought going through their mind onto them. An extrovert thinks out loud, an introvert does not. An introvert stews things over for hours, days, weeks. An introvert needs to talk decisions out, as she thinks about them. Introverts and extroverts can both be outgoing, fun at parties, loud, bossy, great leaders, and all that. The main difference is in how they recharge.
So two introverts who need several sessions of "alone time" a day get a spirited extrovert as their first child and BAM! Steep learning curve for us! (Alone time, mom and dad? Why would you ever want to be alone, that sounds TERRIBLE! Don't worry, I won't ever leave you by yourself!)
So you see, it did not surprise me one bit that our oldest child, given some major playtime attention from mom for extended periods of time simply led her to want more of that. I really can't blame her; it is just who she is. It is now simply our job to teach her that some people like to be alone for awhile, and to be patient with waiting for more playtime. And that her parents are totally not responsible for keeping her entertained (which she did not like one bit, let me tell you!).
Part of me feels really guilty for saying this, but I really really do not like playing certain types of pretend games with my kids. Like dolls or ponies. I really really do not like to. I tried for awhile but just could not handle it. So I had to make it my rule that I will play anything else, but not ponies or dolls. Oh, how Big Sis despises that! Well, Lil Sis, too. I am so happy to play Candy Land 3 times in a row, play restaurant, play dance party, school, Legos, etc. But I just can't do the dollies. Is that so bad? I hope not.
Experimenting with active pretend play with my kids also made me think back to my own childhood, to see if I could remember my parents playing dolls with me and......I don't remember them ever doing that. Now, I had three sisters to play dolls with, so maybe that is why. Or maybe it never occurred to me to ask my mom to play dolls with me. I don't know. The Hubby says his parents never played pretend with him, either. So, is this another thing that is something today's parents are "supposed" to be doing with their kids because some expert said so? When the previous generations of parents never did it? It makes me think of the glut of toys kids have these days and how perhaps that is what is causing our kids to need us to play with them, because there are too many toys, and they don't know what to do; too many choices.
I also played outside a lot as a kid, and that kept the "I'm boreds" at bay. Not too long ago, that is just what kids did; mom kicked you outside to go play, and so you made your own fun. Oh, how I wish I could do that with my kids! Where we live that wouldn't work too well, besides the fact they are not old enough to roam the neighborhood by themselves.
Perhaps the lesson here is to just be intentional with your kids, to pay attention when they are telling you something, and to purposefully take the time to play with them, but not to feel guilty about not playing with them whenever they want. They need to learn to entertain themselves, and to respect other people's time and needs. As with all lessons we teach our kids, it is ongoing and so stinking hard sometimes. But that is what makes a good parent and a good kid.