Why do adults often find it boring to play with children, sometimes to the point of feeling physically uncomfortable? Is there a way for us as adults to enjoy playing with children when we feel like it is the last thing we’d want to do?
This is something that I’ve been exploring over many years as I was working as a teacher, and couldn’t understand why it crippled me in my ability to enjoy my day and stifled my relationship with the children I worked with, because I became irritated and annoyed with them, completely without reason. What I found is that we as adults find it boring to play with children because:
A) We’re completely immersed in our ‘adult mind’ which prompts us to focus on being efficient and getting things done, and most of us have long since left behind our ‘child presence’ of being able to truly BE HERE and enjoy the moment and be immersed in what we’re doing. So we simply don’t see the value of play. We’re disconnected from our own bodies, which is one of the reasons why we may feel physically uncomfortable when sitting down to play with a child. Because we are confronted with ourselves on a level we’re not used to. So we see it as a waste of time for us to engage in, even if we see the benefit of spending ‘quality time’ with our child.
B) When adults play with children, we tend to let them decide everything while we passively tag along – exactly because we can’t or won’t fully engage and participate on equal terms. So we ‘halfass’ it to put in as little effort as possible, while our minds are often preoccupied elsewhere with ‘more important things’.
(Children pick up on this by the way, which is what often make them go all up in our face, asking the same questions over and over. They’re trying to get us to engage and be present.)
When we play only on the child’s terms and let the child make all the decisions, it is really boring to play. A child would never let another child make all the decisions in play. It simply wouldn’t be fun.
So – the way to engage with a child in play that can be mutually enjoying for the adult may include:
A) Play something that YOU TOO ENJOY. If you don’t like role play then don’t do it (or maybe challenge yourself first and see what it’s like). If you enjoy building and construction, why not pull out the legos? If you like creating homemade birthday cards, then make that into a mutual moment of play if you find that your child too enjoys playing with paper. If you can’t come up with anything, then that’s fine too. You can cook or bake together or clean out the garage in a fun and engaging way. You can even have a play date every week where you try out different things to find something that you both enjoy. What matters is that you participate on equal terms with your child so that the activity is fun for the both of you. And don’t halfass it.
B) Ground yourself in the present moment, in the sandbox or on the floor with the train set or with the dollhouse – and physically focus on becoming present here and letting go of the constant undercurrent of stress and pressure and time. Know that it takes practice to come back (and for some of us, for the first time) to a state of playfulness. As adults, we’ve spend 20 + years in a state of stress and hurry and getting things done, so don’t worry if you don’t immediately enjoy sitting down and hanging out with your kid. Can set a timer to 20 or 30 minutes to begin with if that helps.
This is actually a really cool ‘zen exercise’ that may be as valuable as meditation is to many people, as it brings you back HERE – to reality, to your body, to your child. And so, as you accept and embrace the current moment, you may start reconnecting with yourself on a whole other level and start seeing the value of the simplicity of play – and of spending time with your child in this way. Who knows what doors it may open up?