Mama Says: Should I Play With My Son?


Dear Mamas:  When my 4-year-old son plays he will ask me to build blocks, play trucks and diggers or whatever he is doing with him. Sometimes it works out okay, but there are many times he gets angry because I am not building the right way or moving the trucks the way he wants and he throws a fit. Quite frankly it is not fun for me and I would rather be doing something else, but I feel guilty turning him down. How do I get him to play on his own or should I just bite the bullet and play with him?


Derek E Rothchild

I was one of those rogue mothers who did not enjoy sitting on the floor and playing with my kids when they were growing up. I consider myself a very playful mama, and we played lots of goofy  games like Chase Me and Monster and Let’s Fool Daddy, but I was extraordinarily busy with 4 small children, my husband was absent for months at a time in Alaska and I was on my own. I did not want to sit on the floor building with Legos; I had too many things to do. It made me restless.

I also believe that when adults are involved in imaginative activities, kids will dumb down, can act helpless, and wait for you to make the move in order for them to make theirs. There is an unspoken climate of judgment when adults step in (even praise is a form of judging) and judgment/feedback kills creativity. It becomes your project, not theirs and they will abandon their efforts more quickly and want to move on to something else. They didn’t build the foundation for the tower themselves, Mommy or Daddy did and now it belongs to them.

I believe in authentic parenting and it quite simply was not authentic for me to be a playmate for my children at the table or on the floor, my mind was someplace else. But if you are happy playing with your child, stay with it! If you are resentful of the time or concerned he can’t create independently, he will sense it, and it is time to make some changes.

Dig+Dig+10Consider weaning him slowly off your playtime. Participate beside him at first, then rise and busy yourself with what needs, or what you want to be done, even if it is reading a magazine. Assure him you are near for ‘consultation’. It is okay to say you have a few things to do and you will get back to him, and then gradually lengthen the time it takes.

A caveat here: technology—cell phones, I-pads, computer time—have a whole different take to being absent. You are not available in the same way as you would be if you were physically doing something nearby. Think of someone answering texts while you are having a conversation—they are present but unavailable to a deeper connection.

There is nothing wrong with telling your son that Mommys have things to do just like boys do and treat it matter-of-factly. That attitude will allow him to treat his own independence matter-of-factly and develop self-sufficiency. Then after his digger play is done go outside and play a rambunctious game of Catch Mommy if You Can!6222293-happy-mother-playing-with-children-on-a-lawn

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  1. I’m concerned that the little boy tells mom that she’s doing things wrong. Does he tell his child playmates that they’re doing things wrong? Maybe he needs guidance to learn that everyone can bring their own talents and preferences to games and projects.

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