by Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD
One way to balance time with young children is to find the right amount of kid-centered and adult-centered activities. The right mix makes it more likely that kids will feel included and connected to our worlds and we won’t have to play Mr. Potato Head on such a regular basis.
It’s great to get down on the floor with kids and play Legos, toy kitchen, trains, play dough, or puzzles. Kids love it when adults enter their little worlds and engage in fun, playful, storytelling and make believe right beside them. They are delighted when we make funny faces after drinking out of their toy teacups or watch as they build castles with their blocks.
Although it’s important for kids to get “kid time” to climb on playgrounds, use their glue sticks, and feed their dollies bottles, it’s also great to include them in our adult worlds. Kids feel proud and happy when they’re doing something grownup or making a meaningful contribution to the family.
While nobody likes to be dragged along for a full on day at the mall or to be half ignored at the hardware store for hours on end, kids love to partake in some of our adult errands, chores, work, and daily life activities.
Keys to Including Kids in Adult Activities
- Leave more time – Start early so you can have time to laugh and goof off.
- Simple is better – Keep the task you give kids super simple so they can be successful and you don’t get frustrated.
- Ask for kids’ input – Ask if your child would like to sweep the floor or spray the counters. Ask if they want to vacuum the rug at the car wash or wipe the windows.
- Keep it short – Young kids like doing things for 15-20 minutes at a time or so.
- Keep it real & authentic – Kids will know when they are helping out for real. They enjoy it because it’s different from play and make believe.
- Look for good “openings” where your child’s in a great mood and not tired or crashing – Look for the “windows of opportunity” when your child is agreeable and open to new things. If your child’s “off,” save it for later.
- Use ritual – Do the same things over and over with your kid so he or she takes some ownership and feels a part of something (for example, always hang the Christmas lights with your daughter or always rake the leaves with your son).
- Wait and try again when they’re a little older – Sometimes kids just aren’t ready for certain activities, but they will be in another 6 months to a year.
Ways to Include Kids in Adult Worlds
- Getting ready for work – Let kids watch you shave, fix your hair, pick out clothes to wear, or put jewelry on. Give your daughter an old lipstick or eyeliner to decorate a smiley face on a piece of paper while you put on your makeup Put an old tie on your son and help him see himself in the mirror. Choose two necklaces and ask, “Which one do you like better?”
- Gardening – Let kids plant seeds, pull weeds, or water the flowers.
- Vacuuming – Let kids take a turn pushing the vacuum.
- Bill paying – Let kids put the return address stickers and stamps on the envelopes and carry them to the mailbox to send them.
- Hardware store – Bring kids to the hardware store and let them be in charge of something like choosing between 2 paint colors or picking the color for the key ring.
- Mall – Bring kids with you to one store to buy a birthday present for someone. Let them carry the credit card in a special purse or wallet.
- Chores – Let kids haul out the garbage with you or change light bulbs with you.
- Raking leaves and shoveling snow – Get a child-sized rake or shovel so kids can help.
- Cleaning – Give your child a spray bottle with water and a rag to wash the counters. Let your child take a turn scrubbing the dishes with a scrub brush. Have your child match Tupperware lids with containers or sort silverware from the dishwasher baskets.
- Packing – Let your child help you pack for trips.
- Watching soccer or football – Let your child watch part of a game with you. Always share popcorn. Teach them a bit about the game. Give them a scarf or flag to wave or a sign to hold up (even if it’s in your living room).
- Laundry – Let your child sort the socks or clothes and then deliver the clothes to all the right rooms and dressers using a delivery truck (a laundry basket).
- Talking on the phone – Let your child call grandma or an aunt or uncle and talk first, teach them phone skills through practicing.
- Baking – Let your child help you bake muffins, cupcakes, or cookies. Let them pour the ingredients, put the muffin cups in, and stir it up.
- Cooking – Give your child a scrub brush for veggies, potatoes, or fruits.
- Going to work with you – Take your child to your office to see where you work or have lunch together there.
- Passion – If you have a passion, such as cross country skiing or outer space, ski with your child in a sled behind you or take your child with to the Planetarium on a regular basis.
While it’s important to play fire station, kick the ball around, or scoop in the sandbox, it’s also great to let kids in on the things we do and love. By finding the right conscious balance of each, we can build enduring connections.
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Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three, is a psychotherapist for individuals and couples in Chicago’s western suburbs. She specializes in counseling for parents of babies and young children. www.erinleyba.com or firstname.lastname@example.org To follow this blog by e mail, click the follow button on the left.