When All Else Fails … Play

August is always a difficult month. We try to cram the last bits of summer into a few short weeks before school starts up, and getting myself organized and in a better routine is always on my mind.

It seems that there’s always so much to do and plan.

This year we have more going on than most. We’re moving soon, so boxes litter the floors and my to-do list is about ten feet long. There are closets to go through. Decisions to be made. Old toys to toss and last-minute projects to be done.

With my 9-year-old in school now, my little guys are home with me as I attempt to accomplish it all. They’re underfoot when I take pictures down from the walls. They’re providing background noise when I make important calls to the bank. They’re “helping” as I scrub the insides of cabinets and refrigerator doors.

Through all of this necessary work, my toddler has grown increasingly needy. She whines. Protests. She seems to want me to entertain her at all times. She’s used to more attention and one-on-one from me, and I’ll be honest— I miss it too.

So today, instead of getting frustrated by her whines and dwelling on the urgent items on my list, I decided to do something different. I dropped what I was doing (literally— I was packing up a bag of her shoes to take to Goodwill), sat down on the floor with her, and we played.

It sounds simple, but as parents we often forget about the importance of play. It’s easy to get into the habit of seeing playing with our children as just another dreaded chore.

We’re all so busy, and whether we work outside the home or not, we all have a lot of responsibility. I’ve noticed, though, that when I’m not playing with my kids as much as we normally do, our relationship suffers. They act out for my attention, and they don’t yet have the skills to communicate their needs.

Some simple ideas for toddler/parent play include:

  • Do an easy craft
  • Read a favorite book
  • Have a tea party or picnic with stuffed animal “friends”
  • An old standby in my house- playing with the train table
  • Make a activity out of a cardboard box
  • Go outside and blow bubbles
  • Color together
  • Make a collage out of magazine pages
  • Make homemade play dough
  • Go on a nature hunt in your yard or neighborhood (collect acorns, leaves, and rocks along the way)

Playing with toddlers isn’t rocket science, but it’s crucial to their development. The next time my toddler seems “needy,” I need to remember that it’s simply because she is— she needs MY attention.

No matter how long that to-do list gets, the first item on it should be this: to play. Everything else can wait.

Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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