When You Don’t Know How to Play With Your Kids

Lindsey Bell

Playing is hard for me. It always has been.

A few months ago, my niece asked me to play dolls with her. As the mother of two car-loving boys, I had no idea how to play with dolls. I’ve finally figured out how to play with cars, dinosaurs, trains and superheroes. But dolls? I don’t even know what to do with them.

I remember feeling this way when my boys were first born. I felt awkward playing. I sat on the floor and vroomed a car around for a few minutes, but then what?

I wanted to talk to other moms about this, but I felt like admitting it made me a terrible mom. What kind of mom doesn’t know how to play with her kids, after all?

But then, a few weeks ago, I was chatting with a new mom who recently adopted three kids, and she bravely admitted the same thing, that she too struggles to play with her children.

It turns out there are a lot of us who struggle to play, but here are a few things that might help us.

Stop feeling guilty that you don’t like to play a certain way.

I love reading to my kids, but I’m not a big fan of free play. I just don’t know what to do with it. I can drive a car around for a few seconds but then I wonder, “What now? Do I just keep driving it in circles? What am I supposed to do next?” I’m terrible at playing house or school or making up story lines for the cars we’re driving. Instead, I like organized fun. I like puzzles and board games and books. I like going down water slides. I like playing Hide and Seek. I like games that have at least some semblance of order.

For too long, I’ve felt guilty for not enjoying certain types of play. And because of that guilt, I’ve missed out.

Follow the child’s lead.

remember when my boys were babies thinking I needed to do something with them. They would just lie there with their rattle or small toy, and I felt like I was doing something wrong. I wasn’t playing with them or teaching them. What I know now is that they were learning. I should have just followed their lead and relaxed a little. Sure, our kids might need a little help getting started, but once they get going kids are typically pretty creative. Let them handle the story lines as you participate.

Don’t make it so hard.

Playing with children doesn’t have to be hard, but for some reason, I get it in my head that there’s a certain way I’m supposed to be doing it. Then I question my abilities as a mom and wonder if I’m doing it right. The truth is, my kids want me more than anything else. They don’t care if my storylines are a bit awkward. They don’t care if I’m not very creative. They care about me.

And your kids … what do they want more than anything else? You guessed it: you.


*A version of this article was shared previously at lindseymbell.com.

Lindsey Bell is the author of the parenting devotional, Searching for Sanity, and of the Bible study and devotional, Unbeaten. She blogs regularly about faith, family, and learning to embrace the life she’s been given at lindseymbell.com.