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     I can only imagine that, after being 6 posts in now, you are wondering when we are going to start discussing being a father- you know, like raising kids. Well, I hear what you’re saying. Obviously, I wanted to do a little ground work before we jumped in, but as the title says, it’s time to “get in there.” In this post, we will discuss some of the do’s and don’t’s of engaging with our children.
     Have you ever sat next to you child, and after about five minutes felt yourself start to pull away? Do you often “watch” your children while you are browsing the internet on your phone? Do you keep a countdown of the hours before your children go to sleep? If so, you are in good company. I think most of us can relate to this. I find it difficult to play my thirtieth game of “Ring around the Rosie” with my oldest daughter or wait for my middle daughter to get her shoes and coat on (which she believes she doesn’t need help with anymore). Taking part in the early stages of child development is challenging. Spending time with your children can feel intimidating, awkward, boring, and draining. It’s so easy to give up and move on to something a little more “your pace.”
     Caring for our children in the early stages is kind of like starting a new sport or playing a new video game. At first, you have no idea what you are doing. You don’t know where to stand, when to jump in, and when to let someone else take over. We men, we don’t like feeling inadequate at something, and so we often pull away toward other parts of life that we are good at or makes sense to us. However, just as you can’t get better at a sport or video game without “getting in there,” the same is true when engaging with children. Spending time with your children will feel clunky and maybe even embarrassing at first, but if you stick with it, you will start to develop a flow. With practice, you learn the tricks that help you succeed.
     With all this in mind, let’s explore some application. Here is a short list of some do’s and don’t’s when engaging with children.
  • Read books, tell stories, and take part in interactive play.
  • Share what you are seeing. Make comments like “you picked the purple crayon” or “now you have the big dinosaur and the small dinosaur.” Think Blue’s Clues, but you are talking to your child, not an audience.
  • Re-frame what is said or seen in play. If your son says, “Dad, I caught it! Was that a good catch?” you can say, “Yeah! That was a great catch. Nice job, bud!” Kids love this stuff.
  • Act silly and playful.
  • Set a start and stop time if needed. Let the child know when time is getting close, such as a 1 minute warning, so that the child knows what to expect.
  • Roll with it. You may go from one activity to the next. If your child is young, he or she might not have the capability to stick with a task for long periods of time. This will get better as the child gets older.
  • Have media playing in the background that is unrelated to the play. Interactive play time is not effective when dad is messing with his phone or watching a show. There is a time and place for these activities as well.
  • Dictate the style or content of play. If barbie is getting married to a giraffe and rides a toy hamburger to school, let it go. This is creativity at work.
  • Get frustrated when things work out differently than planned.
  • Force a lesson out of each interaction. This is especially true when the children get older. It’s okay if something is learned while play takes place, that’s the whole point. However, becoming rigid in play will lead to the child feeling unheard.
  • Play in a way that harm’s the child physically or emotionally.
  • Question or challenge the decisions made during play. A child will shut down when they believe they have done something wrong. A question such as, “why would you choose that paint?” might not send the message you were implying.
     As always, this is not a master list. Feel free to check out some books or take a parenting class if it helps. Teachers have a great wealth of knowledge in this department. If you are experiencing special circumstances, there are clinicians that specialize in play therapy and can help you create a bond with your child. Just as we benefit from seeking advice from a coach in a sport or an experienced player in a video game, brushing shoulders with those that have picked up a few tricks along the way is a great way to get started. With all this, I have one last thought. The goal here is to increase the joy that you and your child have with each other. Obviously, your experience is going to be different than that of others, so don’t feel like you have to keep up with every piece of advice you hear. In time, as you “get in there” you will learn what works for your family and what doesn’t. The key is to stick with it.