Never play with your kids again? Really?

Recently, there have been a couple of blog posts advocating for not playing with your kids. It started with Lenore Skenazy’s post on the site, Parent Dish, titled, Just chute me or do we really have to play with our kids? Her argument is that the western world today tends to think about parents as playmates for their children rather than role models. She criticizes a world where parents believe that they must constantly entertain their children. She concludes that when children are always entertained, there is little or no space for them to be bored. And boredom, argues Skenazy, inevitably leads to children who learn to be creative, imaginative beings.

In a follow up piece (that Lenore Skenazy posted on her own site, Free Range Kids), Emily Geizer supports Skenazy’s argument with a post titled, Never Play with your Kids Again. She expands Skenazy’s argument by clarifying that not playing with your children shouldn’t be misconstrued for not connecting with your children. Yes to connection, no to play.

As a free-range parent, I ultimately support the idea that children should be left alone to discover the world. I agree that boredom precipitates creativity. Even in the adult world, look at the business literature discussing how to enable creative employees – you need to give them time and remove pressures in order for them to come up with innovative solutions. I understand the type of parenting that Skenazy and Giezer are targeting – they are taking aim at the hyper parents who feel that every minute of their children’s lives should be filled with ‘valuable’ activities.

However, I find that Skanazy and Giezer’s argument only touches on the periphery of this debate. Advocating for parents to not play with their children suggests a dualistic dispute – either play with your kids or don’t play with your kids. What, no gray area? No room for the complexities of everyday life?

Let’s take a step back. Does free-range parenting really mean not playing with your kids? I would actually argue, no. Free-range parenting is about supporting play, redefining play and enjoying playing with your kids. It is not, however, about constantly entertaining your children through play.

On Tuesday I reviewed the book, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. In the book, the authors suggest that parents need to provide the ‘scaffolding’ for play. This concept really resonated with me. We may not need to actually sit and play with our kids for hours, but we should provide them with some guidance. This can be in the form of providing children with playthings such as toys or other play materials (heck, toilet paper rolls and a roll of tape). It can also be in the way we talk with our children about their play and therefore encourage it and enhance it. Scaffolding can also be seen in the way that we provide time for them to play freely, along with a sentiment within the home that says, ‘I respect your play and you should continue.’

Beyond the scaffolding for play, we also need to think about how we define play. Doing ‘dishes’ is play for The Bear in our house. She stands at the sink with me and can spend easily an hour ‘washing’ dishes in the warm, soapy water while I clean up around her.

What about when I WANT to play with my child? With the recent spat of spring weather, The Bear and I have enjoyed cracking the ice on all the puddles around our home, letting our rubber boots sink into the murky water. I feel the sun on my face and see the joy and curiosity of The Bear as she watches the flow of water under the mounds of melting ice and snow.

Finally, what about play for adults? Yes, parents have things to do in their oh-so-serious lives. But isn’t one of the joys of parenting having the excuse to re-visit that childhood world? To rediscover that innocent wonder of nature, people and places all over again through the eyes of our children? At least, that’s one of the things I love about being a Mom.

The point that I’m trying to make is that the discussion about playing or not playing with your children is complex. I agree with Skanazy and Giezer about avoiding that obligatory, entertaining type of play. And I certainly see the value in letting children be bored so that they can unleash their own creativity. But, as free-range parents, we can provide scaffolding for play and enjoy playing with our children without entertaining them.

6 Responses to “Never play with your kids again? Really?”

  1. 1 greenlightstudio March 12, 2010 at 4:45 am

    I like how you differentiate ‘playing with’ from ‘entertaining for’ (kids)….which may be more about the adults concerns about being like by the child than really wanting to engage with them in a meaningful way. And to allow boredom — now that’s refreshing!

  2. 2 emilygeizer March 7, 2010 at 7:37 am

    Hey Laura,

    I’m glad we inspired you to expand on this idea of play vs. entertaining. Unfortunately I think you misconstrued my article, Up With Boredom. Or, maybe I wasn’t clear enough.

    I’m a big advocate for playing with kids. It is the best way to connect with kids and can be fun. Play is the child’s form of communication. But, it is not obligatory for parents to always play with their kids. Moreover, it is not obligatory for parents to prevent their kids from feeling of boredom. There are many benefits to a child learning to entertain himself. The benefits are listed in the article.

    Here’s a clip from the article, which further clarifies my point (and the one you make in this post) – do not be your child’s constant entertainment.

    “While parents do need to connect with their kids, connection is different from entertaining or micromanaging. If you are a chronic child entertainer, then it’s time to change your game.
    This doesn’t mean cutting all ties with your kid. Do take time to meaningfully engage with your child. But stop providing his entertainment! Set him free to discover his own ideas and interests. Gradually remove yourself from the role of entertainer.”

    • 3 Mama Tortoise March 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

      Thanks for your comment, Emily. I think that we are saying much of the same thing – connect and engage, don’t entertain. It’s the way that the words ‘play’ and ‘entertain’ seem to be used interchangeably that needed clarification. In other words, not all play is entertainment. Therefore, yes, play with your children rather than ‘Never play with your kids again.’

      Thanks again for the initial thoughts on boredom!

      • 4 emilygeizer March 7, 2010 at 11:11 am

        “Never Play With Your Kids Again” was the title of my post (The title is very different than the take away of my post. Titles can be like that!), which continued by saying that’s what some readers of Skenazy’s article seemed to think that is what she was saying. I don’t think that was her point, but nonetheless, people take what they want. The point of my post was to round out the subject, as you also did. I agree, we seem to be on the same page. Thanks again for your contributions to the topic!

  3. 5 Ms Ella March 6, 2010 at 7:31 pm

    Great post! I love your view…yes…what about that area in between. I think play is integral to humans regardless of age. I remember growing up playing with my parents, and playing solo. I think we should always try to strive for a little balance.

    Again, great article!

    • 6 Mama Tortoise March 7, 2010 at 10:50 am

      Thanks, Ms Ella. I should also add that living slowly – or simply – removes obstacles that tend to impede play. This helps both children and their parents enjoy each other rather than thinking about the next thing that has to be done or activity that needs to be attended.

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