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Parents as Playmates: How to Step In When Kids Can’t Play With Their Friends

2020-03-31 by Dr. Jenny
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One of the hardest things about being stuck at home is that children can’t see their friends or their school community — their special place where they learn new things, have a sense of independence from us parents, and learn through watching other kids. When kids interact with each other, they often are silly, create ideas out of nothing, and use pretend play to try on different personalities. They have fun for the sake of fun — not with any outcome in mind.


To help your child cope with not seeing their buddies, you can arrange videochat lunch dates, card games, or art projects — or just let older kids chat for a while.

But kids may also need playfulness from their grown-ups as well. It’s a crucial part of their coping. So how can we adults — often stuck in our rule-bound, grown-up minds — meet them at their level? How can we be a kid a little bit, to fill in that piece that they are missing so much right now?

3 Ways to Connect to Your Inner Child

  1. Do what feels natural
    If you like being a goofball, telling jokes, or doing silly faces and voices, then do that. But don’t force it. Find the playfulness that feels good to you, which could be throwing a ball around, playing a logic game, or trying to recreate dances from music videos.


  2. Try activities that open YOUR mind and heart
    It might be wondering about nature, listening to a soulful piece of music (from Johnny Cash to Yo-Yo Ma, whatever works!), or constructing a new marble run. Your kids will love feeling you in the “zone” with them.

    family cooking together

  3. Look to your past for ideas
    Think back to your childhood and those activities that kept you engaged when you were stuck inside, be it from a blizzard, hurricane, or power outage. Pillow forts? Board games by flashlight? Indoor picnics? Make new memories by introducing your children to your favorite ways to pass the time.


My kids have been doing some pretty interesting make-believe since the school shut-downs started. Sometimes my younger son wants to wear his Harry Potter costume to “school” all day. My older son wants to have pretend light-saber duels with me (it’s a great way to get out frustration, actually!). Both of them have been wanting hugs and extra goofiness at dinnertime. And I’m eager to let it happen, because these moments of laughing and emotional connection give me the energy to keep working.

As we’ve been saying, play is more than just a distraction. It’s a source of light in otherwise challenging times, and it’s good for us parents, too.

Learn more about the Power of Play >

The American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with Melissa & Doug on the Power of Play to raise awareness about the health benefits of open-ended play and how important play is for both parents and kids.

This web site is not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice, nor does use of the site establish a physician-patient relationship. The use of this web site does not replace medical consultation with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or others.


Dr. Jenny

Jenny Radesky, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician whose research focuses on family digital media use, child social-emotional development, and parent-child interaction. She graduated from Harvard Medical School cum laude in 2007 and is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Her clinical work focuses on autism, traumatic stress, ADHD, and self-regulation. Dr. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to help parents understand the individual ways their child thinks, learns, and feels; to help parents provide the best therapy and play experiences for their children; but to also allow parents to sit back and let their child’s mind take the lead sometimes. She authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children.

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