Way back on January 2, I was so energized to make some changes to my daily routines and habits in 2023!
Now, in mid-January in gloomy Michigan, not so much. My role overload has returned, and I’m feeling like the only resolutions I am going to keep are the instantly gratifying ones — they reinforce themselves, so they are easier to stick to! Here’s a pitch for making a daily play routine one of your resolutions that becomes self-reinforcing fun.
Here’s why: even 15-20 minutes of dedicated play time with young children — what therapists call “special time” — has been shown to improve child behavior and parents’ feelings that they can handle the ups and downs of raising a growing human. As a developmental pediatrician, I recommend this for any caregiver dealing with child oppositionality, intense emotions, or constant battles.
Think about your daily schedule and where you could consistently set aside special time: cuddle time in the morning (without your phone)? Downtime after dinner (without your phone ;P)? As you can see, I’m emphasizing the act of letting go of your to-do list, your social media feed, or whatever else creates buzzing noise in your parenting brain, and just protect it for time with kids.
3 Ways to Make Play Part of Your Daily Routine
You don’t have to do anything fancy or ridiculous. It’s not productivity-oriented time, it’s time to let go. A goal with no goals! Here’s what to remember:
Let the child lead and decide what to do (within reason. It’s OK to give them choices you know they like: “ok let’s have some quality time! Do you want to listen to music, draw, or play ice cream store?” All you need to do is go along for the ride, ask questions here and there, and not micromanage. The point is letting your child feel in control and knowing that you’re there and love to be with them.
Share your favorite way to play. If your child is resistant (ahem, they’d rather play on the tablet?), you might need to teach them something you loved to do as a kid. Put on the timer for 10 minutes and tell them that, even though it’s new to them, it will be short (resistant kids want to know that it won’t last forever). Teaching something new — like how to do a somersault, use modeling clay, knit, or shoot hoops — can take a lot of practice, so kids might like trying it over and over every night with you. If your child refuses to try something new, you can bring out something silly like Mad Libs, joke books, or something else that gets their guard down like playing with a pet.
Tolerate the downtime. We are all so accustomed to rapid-fire work schedules and feeds that it can feel strange, and boring, to suddenly do LESS for 15 minutes. But some parents tell me they love this time for “single-tasking.” Turn off notifications, let those content creators and news pundits take a rest, and take your mental space back.
And don’t be hard on yourself! There’s no “right” way to do this and no one is judging you. Some days you and your child will be a bunch of cranky-pants who argue, but if you feel a little more connection and synergy overall, you’re doing great.