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Daddy Can't Play Right Now, He Has to Work
by Don Harrold, www.practicaldad.com

Practical DadAs kids grow and the schedule tightens, it's easy to say 'no' to a child who wants to play. There is a long list of items to be checked off in a finite period of time and that leaves little room for messing around. But the reality is that playing with your child might be play for him, but it's actually an important part of a parent's responsibilities.

That was the case on a recent Saturday morning as I sat at the laptop and tried to do some writing. We have guidelines on when the Saturday morning television can be turned on and I came downstairs to find Youngest ensconced in front of Cartoon Network's Ben Ten. After I reminded him of the hour, he turned off the television and approached, asking if I wanted to play Fiki Football with him. My initial response was a firm no but as I looked at his face and considered that I'd been sitting in front of a laptop on an early Saturday morning, I changed my mind and cleared the kitchen table for the game. It lasted for the better part of an hour and the accompanying conversation veered to school and classmates as well as the best technique for kicking the football.

Taking the time and making sure that you play with the kids is actually important for multiple reasons.

  • It reinforces their sense that they matter and are important, which is crucial in these days of harried schedules and blown-to-kingdom-come family meals.

  • It builds bonds that can help move beyond the communications problems that often develop as they age and begin to push their limits. On more than one occasion, I've found myself playing horse at the driveway hoop after undergoing several hours of parent/teen tension.

  • The conversation that occurs while shooting hoops or playing a board game can be revealing to what's inside their heads and lives at the moments. At times, it's akin to finding a thread and following it to see how far it goes and where it leads.

  • A regular habit of playing with the kids creates an opportunity for them to unburden because they feel more relaxed with your presence. More than one conversation about sex and behavior has arisen from just playing some game with the kids.

  • It helps you reinforce honesty and manners when they're young. Honesty and sportsmanship are learned behaviors and won't just occur on their own. I realized that if I was called away to the phone during a game of Candyland, one of my kids - then four years of age - would reshuffle the card deck so that that the next card I drew was Plumpy while her next card was Queen Frostine. I became suspicious after two occurrences and confronted her when I was comfortable that this was the situation. For the uninitiated, Plumpy is back at the beginning of the board and yes, I set up a sting phone call.

  • It helps you determine what areas of development need to be addressed. How are the fine motor skills - drawing and using scissors - versus the gross motor skills? Is there anything that you can do to help things along?

  • It's simply just fun. Spending time with a board game or outside activity helps them learn to pass the time without having to spend money or involve themselves even further with electronics that are sometimes both violent and/or noisy.
It's important to provide a roof overhead and food on the table. But paying attention to the kids is vitally important and play is an often-neglected part of the job.

Don HarroldAbout the Author:
Don Harrold is the creator www.practicaldad.com and a father who resigned from corporate life to manage the household and raise three children. Along with discovering the trials and joys of fatherhood, Don shows dads how to redefine what it is to be a father who's blending that with roles previously held by the mother.

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