How much time do you really need to spend playing with your kids?

How much time do you really need to spend playing with your kids?

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When my son was 18-months-old I read a parenting book in which the author confessed she didn't like playing with her kids. I was appalled.

Who doesn't like playing with their kids? That's messed up.

My son was so fun and curious and cute and he did the sweetest things when we played together on the floor for hours a day. Then he got older and we played the same blasted things over and over and over again.

Now I get it.

I don't love playing with my 5-year-old son. There. I said it.

After about 20 minutes of focused playtime, I am like a caged animal. I'm ready to move on and do something productive in the adult world. Let me fold the clothes or pluck my eyebrows or do my taxes. I just need a break!

There's a guilt that creeps in on me particularly about playtime. I spend a lot of time with my kids – going to the park, running errands, doing crafts and taking walks. But actually sitting on the floor playing? I don't do a lot of that.

I mean, how much time do kids actually need of one-on-one playtime with parents?

We all know it's crucial for their development.

Not only is it important for skill-development, but it forges the bond that your parenting relationship is built on. I learn a lot about my son through our playtime together. I'm able to gauge his strengths and growth-points. Sometimes when we role play we can work out issues that have occurred earlier in our day.

Kids need to play with other kids too.

As an adult I can't always give him what he needs. He needs to play with kids on his own level. He needs to problem solve and work his way through sharing issues. Kids need to play with other kids to learn to get along with other kids.

Independent playtime is so important.

Before you start feeling like the worst parent ever for not spending all the hours of your days crouched on the floor building blocks, let's talk about the importance of independent play. I love the quote by Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor: "If you don’t teach your children how to be alone, they only know how to be lonely.”

When kids play by themselves it fosters creativity and independence. These are important skills! If we are constantly entertaining them, they will never go into their rooms and discover an amazing new game with their old toys.

Reframe what you think of as play.

I've been trying to answer this question of how much playtime my kids need from me, but in doing so I realized that we play in bits and pieces throughout our day. We play I spy in the car on the way to the store, color together before dinner and take walks to find bugs. All of this is actually play. And it's play that I truly enjoy

So how much time should we really play with our kids?

A 2015 study revealed that parent-child time can actually become harmful to children at one point. When parents were stressed, sleep-deprived, and anxious, their time spent with their children led to behavioral and emotional problems for their kids.

The bottom line?

Parents who enjoy spending time with their kids actually have more of an impact on their children.

Quality over quantity.

So maybe it is just 15 minutes in the car on the way to school or 5 minutes spent discussing the day's events around the dinner table. Maybe we are asking the wrong question altogether. Maybe instead of asking if we are playing with them enough, we should ask ourselves this: Are we connecting with them enough?

Images by iStock

Do you worry about not playing with your kids enough?

Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.

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