Spaghetti Box Kids

Strategies, Tips and Activities for Learning

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Parenting: Be Yourself

February 9th, 2009 · 6 Comments

parenting strategiesHere’s a question for parents–why is it easier to do an activity with a friend than it is to do an activity with your child? Pretty simple: when you do an activity with a friend, you are your natural self. You’re at normal speed, so to speak. If something’s troubling you, chances are you talk about it. If something new interests you, chances are you talk about that, too. Plus, your friend has better reasoning abilities than your child, and—significantly—if your friend begins wearing on your nerves, you know you can find ways to disengage. It all makes sense at normal speed when you are your natural self.

For some reason, when you do activities with your child, it seems to require more energy. Why is that? One reason is that you’re at half speed. You’re pretending to play. Look at it like this: the difference between standing and sitting, in terms of difficulty, is hardly anything. Right? They’re both pretty easy. But now try half sitting. That’s very difficult to do. That’s what participating in kids’ activities at half speed is like.

Why not try a new approach, and instead of pretending to play, actually play? Find some actual meaning in the activity and pursue fulfillment. If you’re playing blocks, for instance, make something cool. Look for symbolism. Why make a wall? A road? A castle? Do you have a character (represented by a single block or a figure from another play set)? Where is your character going? Where would you like to go? Who will meet you there?

If you’re coloring, pursue the same lines of fulfillment. Color things that interest you–things you’d like to have or used to have: a garden, a boat, a day on the sea shore, etc. The items don’t need to be elaborate–just symbolic. Express your mood, your hopes, your silly inventions–just do it at normal speed. Do it because you want to–because it’s interesting, fulfilling, redeeming.

You’re not going to be able to use the normal speed, natural self strategy all the time, and it won’t work for all activities. If you’re having a snowball fight, for example, normal speed isn’t a good idea. But if you’re playing a theater game, for instance, invest yourself in your character. Be the queen you’ve always wanted to be, or the wood-cutter that doesn’t take any bull.

In general, when it comes to playing kids activities, the key to operating at normal speed is to direct your energy at what you’re doing, not at your child. What does this do?

  • It gives you a better chance to enjoy the activity on its own terms
  • It tells your child that you are a separate person with separate interests and needs
  • It accustoms your child to independently exploring meaning and finding enjoyment

What do you do if you’re playing Legos, for example, and your child keeps interrupting your efforts to make a house? That situation will, and probably has come up hundreds of times. That’s why playing kids’ activities can be so exhausting in the first place, and why finding ways to operate at normal speed is so vital to your overall well being. You can’t consistently give your child all the benefits of quality playtime if you’re using all your energy in the process. So stand your ground. It’s your house. You’re working on it, and that’s that. If you want to incorporate something your child is doing into the design–great. If not, say so. Use a firm but reasonable voice. Your child will return to her own independent efforts.

Again, you most likely will not be able to sustain normal speed, natural self participation–not all the time and not for all activities. But it is a strategy you can employ in order to gain some separation from your child while still providing the extraordinary benefits of playtime activities. If your child sees that you are in the habit of settling completely into an activity, she too is more likely to settle completely into an activity. That strengthens her confidence and ability to learn, and at the same time gives you, the parent, some much needed distance. It’s a win-win situation.

Tags: Parent Strategies

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Karen // Feb 10, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    This is great! Sometimes it is so exhausting “to play” when your mind is on other things. It is hard for me to let go of everything to enjoy playing with my child. Actually playing and enjoying a good break might be a good for me also. Perhaps my energy level will be renewed with this new attitude.
    Thank you again!

  • 2 anicam // Feb 10, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    Nice article…and highly informative.
    I appreciate the strategy here.

  • 3 Spaghetti Box Kids // Feb 11, 2009 at 3:27 am

    Thank you both . Hope it goes well for you.

    All the Best—


  • 4 Audrey // Feb 19, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    This was so encouraging and helpful. As a mom of two girly girls I struggle to play their games. I didn’t like Barbies (I sold mine) and didn’t play princesses when I was their age. I was an outside kid. I tend to zone out when they make me play Barbies. So, instead, i just play my way… I talk about what the Barbies are studying in school. Where we are traveling in the world…etc. Educational and fun for all!

  • 5 LunchHourBytes // Apr 29, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Great post! I wish I had had this when I had my first baby. I didn’t know how to enjoy playing except to try to force myself to think like a toddler, :) and it really would have been better for him if I’d used more advanced (normal adult) language and play situations sometimes instead of trying to figure out what a toddler would know or do.

  • 6 Spaghetti Box Kids // Apr 29, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Well it sounds like you invested a lot of care into playtime with your son, and that goes a long way. I think just being there–gentle, patient, interested, helps a child to know that playtime has purpose.

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