Don’t just “play” with your kids…

I think I’ve finally realized why I can identify with kids – why writing for children, being a stay-at-home parent, and cracking up at the same Spongebob episodes I’ve seen a million times all seem to suit me.

And it’s not just that I’m a “big kid” myself, as they say.

Sure, I enjoy playing with my kids – I always have – but I learned something at my book signing earlier this month that I don’t think ever occurred to me…

I play “like” my kids

When my 5-year-old wants to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” I don’t just say I’m Shredder or a robot or something and then half-heartedly chase the little dude.

Honestly, I’m not even sure which turtle he’s supposed to be – but I’d still watch out, nonetheless.

I act like Shredder, running around like a nut, throwing myself on the ground, and even slamming into our parked car or the fence and spinning ridiculously around and around until I collapse at his feet.

When the 23-month-old wants to dance, I don’t just stand there and shimmy back and forth – I bounce and run and shake myself to near-unconsciousness just as she does.

And when a friend’s 4-year-old tries to “zap” me with some sort of invisible instrument, I completely throw myself into the role of victim – which is what happened at the book signing.

Kids aren’t as easily embarrassed as stuffy grown-ups

Here’s what happened: a friend of mine who had stopped by the bookstore while I was signing brought his grandson, who was a typical, wired, fun-loving 4-year-old boy. As you might guess, he was very much excited to be in a place that had so many items not nailed down.

In typical 4-year-old boy fashion, he started pretending to “attack” me somehow – either with a magic stick or repulsor ray or live electrode or whatnot – so I briefly played along.

I stood up and started spinning around, jumping up & down madly while making some sort of crazy sound (seriously, I make this stuff up as I go, so don’t expect me to remember half of whatever I do). The little boy was quite amused, giggling loudly – but my friend just turned around and rolled his eyes away from me, jokingly noting that he couldn’t tell which of us was the kid.

I took that as a compliment.

She asked, so yes, I put it on my head, too. Unfortunately, there was no one else there to capture this moment in lunacy, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The take-away:

It was then that I realized he and I must have very different ways of playing with kids. If his grandson asked him to be Hulk or Iron Man or Queen Elsa (don’t laugh, it has happened), I don’t know how he’d respond. Personally, I know what I’d be doing: “Hulk-Smashing” things left and right, zapping my opponent with my repulsor rays, and trying to freeze my little pal in his tracks.

That’s why, for the past week and a half, I’ve been rolling around in my brain what it all might mean. Is there a wrong way to play with kids? Is there a right way?

Of course, the important thing is that you play with them, period. But I definitely learned there is a difference.

And I learned that it’s not enough simply to play with them.

Play like them!

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8 thoughts on “Don’t just “play” with your kids…

  1. Karen Eastlund

    Matt: I love this post. Kids learn by trying out various roles, anything from cradling dolls to brandishing the sabers of superheroes or villains, and adults can enhance this learning when they play along. What we call play is a child’s work, and the child is actually trying out a role to see what it feels like. It is important life work. When we play along, and help them extend their actions, or challenge them, then they have a chance to learn and grow. Your actions tell me that you are playful and confident, and interested in the child. So… good for you. Yes, you are in the right work!

    Like

  2. Matt,
    Good post. The real key is to play. Too many adults think that to be an adult, a grown up, they must put away their playful things. They must be serious.
    I can remember in a job performance review, my supervisor wanted to know why I was always laughing. I was told, “In a professional business, there is no room for humor.” Obviously, we parted ways shortly after that.
    Being able to play, is probably why I love to write for children–it lets me be silly, and kids get that.
    When was the last time you got the giggles so bad you had to stare at a wall or door to stop? Kids know about this feeling, most adults have forgotten. Thank you for reminding adults to play.

    Like

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