First, let’s get this out of the way: Yes, you love your darling child more than life itself. Yes, you would walk over hot coals to make them happy, and yes, the sound of their laughter makes your heart swell with indescribable joy.
It’s also okay (and understandable and human!) to get bored to tears with a seemingly endless game of “build the block tower, knock it down.” Or to never want to see another Paw Patrol figurine without hoping you don’t have to help it report to the lookout for the 100th time. But there are, of course, tons of benefits to playing with your child. Your child is learning a variety of social and practical skills and getting to connect to you. Plus, active playtime together is a way for you to demonstrate to your kid that you’re there for them — and provide time for all kinds of connections, conversations, and memories to happen. Not to mention it can ideally keep your kid off screens and away from playing with “passive” toys.
Of course, it’s one thing to know this — and another to remember it when you want to reach for your phone during a very long game of teatime at the princess castle. So we asked real parents how they keep from getting bored while playing with their kids, and some patterns emerged.
Not everything will work for every kid or every parent, but maybe some of these ideas will spark ways to make playtime feel a bit more stimulating for you, too.
Follow Your Own Passions
Try to find activities you and kiddo can do together that are based on what you already love. If you like art, you can draw together. If you would rather be in the garden, find a way to include your child there. Of course, you may have to sacrifice some quality to include your child depending on the activity (you may not get a Pinterest-perfect baking project final product, for example) but it’ll be worth it to include your kid in something you love.
It’s also possible to find an activity you can do in parallel; if your kid is old enough, you could set them up with their own needle and thread while you embroider, for example. Just make sure to keep it in the spirit of play, where there is plenty of room to explore and make mistakes.
“I bought toys… FOR ME. Since I’ve spent so much time building block towers and knocking them down and putting race car tracks together, I knew exactly what WASN’T that fun — and that’s mindless things. As adults, our brains need to be able to engage a little. I found these amazing magnet tiles that allow me to be creative, and my son loves them as much as I do!” —Carly, Mommy On Purpose
“I’ve started to allocate some weekends as ‘writing time’ for 30 or 60 minutes. I can write (journal and or draw) and my kids will draw/color or my oldest might work on writing comics. This is something we can do together, that I value, and a skill I want to teach them (creativity, writing and being artistic) that is fairly flexible even though they differ in age and sophistication.” —Leslie Forde, Founder, Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs
“Twenty minutes playing some of these kids games feels like eight hours. We’ve taken the nostalgia route with our kids. My husband was a Lego kid, so he loves sharing this with the boys. I’m a Star Wars nerd, so we dress up like Jedi knights and save the empire. I think introducing these fun memories to your kids keeps parents interested and shows your child a different playful side of your personality.” —Amber Faust, Faust Island
Learn Something New
If you don’t have a kid-friendly hobby (or maybe just want to keep it separate), you can instead try to find a new activity you and your kid can do together. The process of elimination as you try out new things can itself give you some structure and help you break up the monotony. Once you land on something your child enjoys, you’ll also be able to model patience and perseverance in the face of potential frustration or failures — since the activity is new to both of you. Trying out new things can also help you and your child discover interests and passions you may not have suspected. Learning what you don’t like can also be an important experience.
“I went through a phase with each child where we would try out a variety of activities to find something we both enjoyed doing together. This is great for learning about your child, yourself and spending quality time with them. One of my kids ended up absolutely loving rock climbing, while the other despised it and preferred clay modeling.” —Lucy Harris, CEO at Hello Baby Bump
Change The Scenery
Not only can going somewhere new (even if it’s the backyard) provide you with some fresh scenery, the approach might also help both of you think of new games to play. Parks, libraries, local museums, community centers, kid gyms, and zoos will often have areas dedicated for kids to run around and have fun.
“In order to keep my sanity when playing with my two-year-old, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t stay home all day. No matter how many errands I need to run or how much I need to clean the house, I take her on an outing that is fun for both of us. Our go-to spots are indoor playgrounds; they allow us to go rain or shine and each one is different enough to keep it interesting (especially for me!).” —Christina, Mom in the Six
Think About Your Own To-Do List
If you’re always trying to squeeze in things like cooking or a workout into your day, finding ways to include your kid can make you feel productive and engaged. Chasing your kid around the yard works for quick cardio, but you can also find ways for your kid to practice sit-ups or yoga with you. With cooking, even toddlers can help “stir” (even if you do the final stir at the end), and older kids can help with prep, measuring, and more.
“We make pancakes together every weekend and they have roles in mixing, measuring, egg cracking (for my 9-year-old,) etc. It’s less efficient than when I bake by myself, but they enjoy it and I enjoy having them learn to be helpful — and hopefully over time appreciate the cooking and baking process.” —Leslie Forde
“There are a lot of things you do every day that are easier if you just do them yourself. But try to say, ‘Yes, you can help.’ My two-year-old loves to help me pick raspberries. She would pick exclusively unripe berries! She wanted to be with me, though. Through the season, she’s learned what ripe ones look like, and she’s about 75 percent successful at picking appropriate berries. It took some time, I lost some raspberries, but I’m so proud of what she’s learned. It’s worth it to let them help.” —Melanie Musson, writer at Exercise.com
Even if you get creative, sometimes your child will still want to play a game you find completely boring. Instead of feeling like you’re stuck in an endless hell of Hot Wheels racing, set up a time limit. This comes with the obvious caveat that this shouldn’t be used to ignore your child for all but the 15 minutes of the day you agree to play. Instead, it can be a way for you to satisfy your child’s desire to play a certain game with them while keeping your sanity intact. Once you set the limit for 15, 20, or 30 minutes, challenge yourself to not look at your phone while you play. Hopefully knowing you can soon leave your kid to solo play with the game they’ve chosen will help your attention stay on them. And, hey, once the time is up, you may find you don’t mind continuing to play after all.
“It’s hard as a parent to fight the never-ending guilt associated with incorporating hands-on playtime with our kids instead of filling our days with screen time and housework. What has helped me to enjoy it more is to set a time limit up front, so they know how long I’ll have to play. They’re never satisfied with it, and often I’ll wind up enjoying myself so much that I spend more time than I planned. I try to make our activities as active as possible. We’ll dance, even do a hip-hop workout routine on YouTube. By the end of it, they’re worn out, I got some exercise in, and we’re all happy.” —Jen Babakhan, author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom