How to play with your kids
Playing with my kids is hard. Its hard because I need to play at my kid's level, not an adult level (or what passes for adult behavior from me). I find that I've picked up all kinds of rules and goals that are not necesarily appropriate for Max and Zak. Luckily I can get outside my box and see what the kids need from time to time, but I've kept some notes to help remind me.
- Kids need to play
This should seem obvious, but the number of parents that either drag their kids around doing chores or sit them down in front of the TV is astounding. Raising a kid right takes a lot of work, and one thing you have to do is give them the time, space, and environment to play. And its not just taking them to the park and turning them loose. There's blocks, drawing, exploratory play with toys, investigations, etc. This is how they really learn about the world and try to create a place for themselves in it.
- Our job is to guide them
Sometimes a little mind needs a little kick starting, like stacking up blocks to make a tower, or fitting shapes through the holes. Crayons work great on the table or the wall, but we'd really rather they stayed on the paper. Sand will escape the sand box, but hopefully only over time, not all at once.
- Don't get in the way
Besides keeping them from hurting themselves (or their siblings), our job is to stay out of the way. This is probably the hardest part, as I find myself trying to show my two year old how to play pinball when he just wants to push the button and see the flipper move, trying to interject when Max is drawing a shape, or creating structure for a task where there shouldn't be. Max was helping me dig out around the workshop foundation where the tarp had gotten stuck and I just had to sit back and let him play with his new shovel as he wanted. It matters not to him that all the dirt was going back in the hole, he was having fun and learning to use tools. Kids have far greater imagination than us adults and we only get in the way when we try to fit the kid in our box. Wrong is not a valid word to describe playing (though dangerous and no sometimes have to be used).
- Encourage them
Its frightening how much my kids look up to me. They want to imitate, try thing out that they see, and share everything that they do with me. One critical word from me can ruin their entire day. That's a serious responsibility that I try my best to live up to. In all cases, I try to be enthusiastic (even about Max filling in a hole I'm trying to dig), be positive, and nurture their self-esteem. I can't really tell how I'm doing so far, but check back with me in 10 or so years and I'll give you an update.
- No teasing
Sometimes something they do will be funny, or absurd, or they'll make a mistake. This is not the time to have a laugh at their expense--they really hate it. Max will tell me, "its not funny papa," and I have to get a handle on my giggles. Its bad enough that they're going to get pounded with numerous bad behaviours in school when they get old enough (a problem which along with other issues has my wife considering home schooling), but while they need to learn to get along in the world eventually, my job is to be there for them through thick and thin and part of that is taking seriously whatever they endevor to do.
Obviously this approach takes a lot of time, but I didn't have kids to free up more time for other projects. My kids are a big project that I'm putting a lot of time into, and other things can wait. Ok, its going to take me five years to build a garage at this rate, but that's ok. They don't stay little that long, and Im trying to enjoy it as much as possible.