Play Time With Daddy: A Father’s Guide to Creative Play

Being a father can be one of the most difficult and most rewarding times in a man’s life. New dads tend to be very anxious. We take care to provide the best environment for our children and we are constantly questioning the impact we have on their lives. We want to have a good relationship with our children, and be sure they have the life skills to lead a productive, happy life.

When raising children, many men naturally use the same skills they learned from their fathers. Men who had no connection with their fathers do not have this advantage. Fortunately, new fathers can get a good start and have fun by following a few simple tips.

For first time fathers, play time is a pleasant and effective way to bond with your child while teaching him / her about life. The amount of time spent playing isn’t as important as the intensity and frequency. Find out what your child enjoys playing by experimenting with different games, toys, or activities. When you discover your child’s favorites be ready to engage at a moment’s notice. For my three-year-old and me it is usually a toss up between cars, trains, action figures, or fighting / chase games. Naturally I prefer the active games, but with a busy lifestyle there are times when sitting down to play with toys is the perfect respite.

When playing with action figures, cars, or other toys try to create a good story. Decide on a protagonist by stating, “So and so is the good guy.” Then decide what needs to be accomplished to make the hero successful. Also create an antagonist that is trying to prevent the hero from being successful.

Keep it fun and simple. This kind of setup makes for endless unfolding plots and exposes your child to the process of using imaginative play. Only play as long as everyone is having fun. If interest fades then try moving on to something else. Try to give your child a chance to lead, as well as, follow. You want him / her to try to narrate as often as possible. While they are telling you what they want you to do, they are using their mind in new ways. It doesn’t matter if they are simply repeating the plot you used the last time. Go with the story and encourage them to transform the it by adding something new. After a few times of playing this way it is not uncommon to find your child creating more elaborate story lines by themselves and being so engrossed in what they are doing they barely notice anything else.

For active games my boy and I have foam swords we use to chase each other around the house or the backyard. My wife tolerates this as long as we specify “safe zones” to make sure we avoid breakables and no one gets hurt. You can use a similar technique when playing with toys. Verbally create a story that includes good guys, bad guys, and quests to be accomplished. At first make sure you are on the same side as your child and be sure to add lots of action. Another active game we like to play is “River Rapids Ride.” My son sits or lays on a folded blanket as I pull him around the room on a planned course. Please note you may have to actually continue pulling your child around for a time so this isn’t a good thing to start if you don’t have the energy.

Eventually, there comes a point when you need to create a make-shift fort. This may serve as a home base or shelter from indoor “snowball fights” with rolled up socks. This game allows your child to practice his throwing accuracy without feeling pressured. The fort can be built with an old card board box or sofa cushions if you are indoors. You can also purchase inexpensive types that assemble in a few minutes.

A good verbal game to play with your child is an “opposites” battle. This occurs naturally with toddlers and many parents find themselves playing without realizing it. I will usually use this game during driving trips. I will generally state something like, “Do you want to play opposites”? Regardless of the answer I state the opposite. After a few “yes / no’s” I use other familiar words. Emotions, directions, and colors can all be used to help increase your child’s knowledge of opposites and contrast. When you want to stop playing be sure to make some sort of announcement, but don’t get upset if your child doesn’t stop playing right away.

In conclusion, one of the effortless ways to help your child develop the skills necessary to progress through life is through play. It allows for father / child bonding that is filled with unforgettable memories that you and your child will treasure for a lifetime. Your child will enjoy what is unknowingly learned and remember only the fun you had together. These games are only a few of the possibilities. It is all up to you to engage your child and encourage him / her to lead in the action as much as possible.

Happy adventuring!

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