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My son is 2, and is seemingly a perpetual motion machine.

He constantly wants me to "play cars" (we stand at a window sill and smash matchbox cars into each other), play "tag" or "chase me" around the house, or get down on the floor with him to play with his train sets.

On the one hand, I love it. Its cute, healthy, and flattering that he so clearly wants me to participate in his activities.

On the other hand... keeping up with him is hard!

Its not just the physical aspect that is difficult to keep up with (although I am constantly astonished by just how much energy he seems to have!). In all honesty, some of the things he wants me to do are just so boring I have a hard time keeping at it.

There's only so long I can smash matchbox cars together, or push a wooden train around a track, or spin around in circles until we become dizzy, before I want to add some depth to the game, or move onto something new. My son, however, seems able to do these things for hours on end.

I think its great that he can focus on something he finds fun, and stick with that for extended periods of time. I don't want to discourage that behavior.

How can I find a proper balance between participating in the activities he enjoys, and wants me to share with him, and my limits of endurance/patience?

Most of the time, I am happy to jump in for half an hour to an hour and a half (sometimes more, sometimes less), and generally he seems quite content with that. But how do I approach this when I'm feeling particularly stressed/tired/sick, when my ability to do these sorts of things seems much lower than normal?

Is it horrible for me to find myself bored with some of these games? It makes me feel like I may be doing a bad job as a parent.

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You're not doing a bad job as a parent. You are connecting with your child, conscious of his needs and interests, and conscious of your needs. Sounds good to me! –  Christine Gordon Oct 30 '12 at 22:17
    
You've already noted "I want to add some depth to the game" so why don't/can't you do this? If he is pretty focused on smashing cars, or whatever, it is going to take baby steps, but I think it is in his best interest for you to add more depth, but in little bursts so that the majority is still child-led play. And, he still needs his own time playing by himself, but he'll start to incorporate this new depth there too. Patience and consistency! –  Christine Gordon Oct 30 '12 at 22:19
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Just because your child is smashing cars does not mean you have to. You are an adult, you are free to act like it. Play with the cars in a way that keeps your interest and let the child play the way they play. Sometimes the two will mesh together and you will both play the same way for a little while, the child will learn from you and you from the child. I think it is important for my child to see alternative ways to play and the fact that I am on the floor with him playing appears to be more important to him than how I am playing. –  Dave Nelson Nov 1 '12 at 15:22

6 Answers 6

up vote 8 down vote accepted

TL;DR
Have fun together, but back off sometimes and just watch. And when you're too exhausted, just say so.


I think your son is lucky to have a dad that is so engaged. You're certainly not doing a bad job of it!

You just need to steal Iron Man's power source and put it in your chest. If that can't be accomplished, then you could try some of these ideas:

  • Simply tell you son when you're not operating on 100% energy (i.e. when sick, exhausted). He will eventually understand that this means he can still have your attention but with less enthusiasm.

  • Suggest activities/games where you don't have to be as active as him. Better yet, become a spectator. My son is just as happy playing in front of me while I watch as when I participate, and then he doesn't reprimand me for my "wrong" play either ;) Sometimes I play along a little in the beginning, and/or again along the way, but he's glad to just have my company. Of course I'm not allowed to do anything very spectacular while I watch, so no smartphone for me just then. But I can get away with reading some book or papers. I just have to watch and converse a little at the same time.

  • Let him play in his style. You can try to play in your style alongside him. When he finds just two Lego Duplo blocks fascinating, you can use the rest to build the tallest possible tower, or assemble all the red ones into the most compact shape possible. These are simple but fun challenges that work for me.
    Yesterday we drove my mom to the airport - when we came home, I started to build an airplane out of Lego Duplo. My son participated and inadvertently but repeatedly showed me which parts needed to be sturdier. The end result was interest but still somewhat recognizable.

I've mentioned my preference for open-ended toys before: Lego is the absolute best, and Brio railroad tracks and other buildable/creative toys are great too. My son nearly never catches me playing with his toy phone because it's just not that engaging. All these electronic baby doodads are mostly single-purpose or single-intention toys, and for all their blinkenlights and beepy sounds, they just aren't fun for very long. Pick toys that you find interesting and I'm sure your son will benefit from it.

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+1 for open-ended toys. In my afterschool programs, the first thing I do is bring in a GIANT tub of my personal legos for the students. So many (social) skills to be learned! –  Christine Gordon Oct 31 '12 at 14:35
    
There is a great set out now called, MarbleUs that @Beofett's son will need help with for awhile (since he is two), but it is GREAT and the 4's class loved them and my six year old STILL loves them -speaking of cool open-ended toys. I could play with it for hours if the kids would let me (marble mazes). –  balanced mama Nov 16 '12 at 19:38
    
You are also right On about that it is perfectly okay to say, "I'm not feeling well right now" and then find a good compromise that meets the son's need for attention AND Dad's need for a break. –  balanced mama Nov 16 '12 at 19:39
    
@balancedmama - I googled "MarbleUs" but couldn't find what you mean. Is it a marble game, a Lego set, or something else? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 18 '12 at 21:40
    
It is wooden blocks that can be stacked and arranged as a marble maze. My father purchased it for her, but I've seen them in cannisters next to lincoln log kits at stores in the states like Walmart and Target. –  balanced mama Nov 18 '12 at 21:45

I can sympathize, my daughter is 15 months and seems to be able to go go go. My life-savers are my local playgroup and just going out for a walk/shopping/errands. I try to let her do things herself as much as possible, but the best thing is just to have other people around to distract her from seeking my attention for at least a couple of hours so I can recharge.

Another tip that works for me, especially as I like to have a few minutes to drink my coffee in the morning and check email, is to tell her I want her to do something that she doesn't like to do. This usually means for me to change her diaper and get her dressed. All of a sudden she is trying to avoid me and gets really engrossed in her toys. I noticed how annoying this was when I was trying to get us ready to leave and go somewhere, but now I just allot 30-45 minutes for this song and dance of taking off and putting on an item every 10-15 minutes, and in between I get some time to myself. Of course, this depends on the personality of your kid.

Otherwise, try to get out and interact with other people, it'll take the pressure off of you. We can't afford any of those classes, but we go to the park and the playgroup and visit friends.

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Ages two and three's are classified as the troublesome age. Your child is really hyperactive at this age, and he always wants to try everything. I understand your concerns that as much as you would like to involve yourself in your child's play activities, there are times when you can't go with the flow. In this cases, it is best to try to introduce to your child new activities that both of you will enjoy doing. You can bring him out, like a walk in the park or ride in a bicycle, so he can experience something new. You can also become spectator as others mentioned here, so you can give your child space to grow and discover things on his own. You can also invite your neighbor's children to play with him, so he can widen his social circle, and he can also develop his socialization skills. Anyhow, I congratulate you for being a hands on parent. I know your child is too proud to have you.

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Try reading some of Greenspan's books about his Floortime approach. You can begin to put 'conflict' into the child's play to promote learning. Let the child 'practice' life through his play.

So, if you're playing his favorite car smashing game, grab a dinosaur toy instead. "Rawr, you can keep playing your silly games little humans, but I am going to eat you all for dinner!"

Spark his creativity by trying to get out of that one!

After you initiate the initial spark, let him lead through the response. He will learn and practice all kinds of useful skills: decision-making, innovation, creativity, conflict resolution, analysis, etc, AND it should make things more interesting for the both of you.

All that being said, you still have the option to take alone time if/when you need it. But certainly try doing these techniques in addition, to make the most of play time: learning and bonding!

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Remember that dealing with disappointment is another important life lesson parents need to teach. You don't have to be a martyr to be a good parent.

If you want to spend more time with him without exhausting yourself, a few things you can try are:

  • Just be a spectator. Tell him you need to rest for a while, but you will watch him, or at least stay in the room and look up once in a while.
  • Invite him to watch or participate in something you need to do or prefer to do. If you need to cook dinner let him help, etc.
  • Find activities you can both agree on. Introduce him to some new activities that aren't quite so boring for you.
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wonderful suggestions! better to role model taking a break when you need one than losing your cool! A life lesson in itself. –  Christine Gordon Oct 30 '12 at 22:16

If only you could bottle and sell some of that excess energy, you'd be rich!

Sometimes you just need to explain to the child that they have to play on their own for a while. They won't like it but after 5 minutes alone they'll usually find something with which to amuse themselves. The hardest part is for you to not feel guilty during those 5 minutes. Every time you give in will make it longer the next time, too.

When it stops being fun for you, the child needs to know that and either change the game or go your separate ways. You don't have to be mean about it but it's important for children to learn that other people have wants as well and those need to be respected. That's how life is in The Real World(tm).

Children are infinitely adaptable! Treat them with respect, explain your reasons, and follow through with it. They don't have to like it. They just have to accept it.

So no... You're not a bad parent for being bored. You're a good parent for caring that you're bored.

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