For some dads, parenthood seems to come easily. They play, respond to children’s needs, understand children’s feelings, and trust themselves. The rest of us need to work at it a bit more. But that’s OK, we don’t have to all be naturals. This article, focusing on playfulness, is the first of a series about how to nurture the talents of fatherhood.
Playfulness is harder when you are racing out the door and your child is dawdling over tying shoes, or when siblings are screaming at each other and screaming at you. In other words, playfulness is hardest when we need it most. Fortunately, all dads can learn to be more playful, even at these tough times. It’s a trait that can be nurtured, especially if you are willing to give up a little dignity.
Make silly faces at the next baby you see. With toddlers, fall down a lot, and make a lot of noise as you topple over. Preschoolers love when you put on a funny hat and play dress-up with them. Even if it feels like you don’t know how to “make pretend,” do it. Start a pillow fight with five or six year olds, and then yell out, “Waaaah, pick on someone your own size!” Seven and eight year olds always crack up when you tell them that you want to get married to Barbie. Next time you want your pre-teens to clean up their rooms, don’t nag at them; sing your request in a fake opera voice. It gets them every time.
Of course, you’ll probably feel silly. Don’t let that stop you. Playfulness builds closeness with our children, and that’s worth it. After all, it’s also embarrassing to be seen yelling, screeching, threatening, or pleading with our kids, so we might as well be doing something useful and fun.
So next time your child says, “Will you play with me,” don’t make excuses about being too busy; say, “OK!” and let them show you how it’s done.
– Lawrence Cohen, PhD