Playing with your kids – is it OK to say no sometimes?


By Danielle Galvin


“Mummy, can you please play with me?”

This may be one of the most common phrases in my household in isolation at the moment.

My 4-year-old LOVES pretend play.

She could play Barbies, babies, mums and dads, dragons and fairies, buzzing bees or angry giants for hours and hours.

All day. Every day.

I’d been thinking about it more and more, finding myself at times losing interest during play sessions, or getting anxious at the other things I should be doing.

I came across a blog post entitled ‘Five reasons I don’t play with my kids and that’s OK’.

It got me thinking about playing with our children.

I really can’t imagine not playing with her. As she gets older in a way it’s easier to connect with her and her games, getting an insight into her wonderful little world.

She’s recently discovered Barbie (Elsa is slowly on the way out) and we have shared some truly hilarious, memorable moments.

I love playing with her. And in these strange times, she is now accustomed to my attention for 12 hours a day.

But I find myself getting weary and frustrated particularly as the day drags on.

I realised as much as I love it, I do need to allow myself time away from play.

I want to play with her and I believe in fostering her creativity and spending meaningful, one on one time with her.

I also recognise I need breaks – and I am trying to teach her that it’s OK for mum to tend to her younger brother, do chores or eat lunch or respond to emails – even if that disrupts the game.

Unfortunately the adult world is still spinning.

In a Janet Lansbury podcast, she addresses this very issue.

Her view is that it’s actually most beneficial for the child and parent to engage in this sort of play when the parent actually wants to. And not just do it out of obligation.

It is easier said than done, but I like the sentiment.

I am a believer in finding ways to engage with your kids that you enjoy.

My partner is great at Lego and building train tracks with her, whereas I will happily set up a birthday tea party for her babies and soft toys.

There is a part of me that thinks – she won’t always want to spend hours on end with me.

Soon enough, she will be at school, and we won’t have this precious time together.

In saying that, as Lansbury points out in her post, limits are important and guilt doesn’t do anyone any favours.

It’s OK to say to your child – “I’ll play with you when…” and give them a definitive answer.

It’s also OK if you don’t play with your child in this way – you have another way you engage them, maybe through puzzles or bike rides or whatever it may be.

In her view, there is no benefit to imaginary play if your child can sense you don’t want to be there.

I think it’s a balance. And once the game has started, often I find it impossible not to enjoy it when I see her face light up.