“I’m totally shocked when I’ll do a parenting seminar and I’ll do something as simple as say, ‘Why don’t you play hide and seek in your house?’ and people look at me and they’ll go, ‘What? I never thought of playing hide and seek in our house,’” Clark said. “I’m not asking them to construct a model of the Eiffel Tower or anything.”
Quality time, she suggested, doesn’t have to mean a hated board game or endlessly pretending you’re a cat. It can mean a trip to the hardware store, if done with spirit — and even TV, something parents may depend on a little too much during school breaks.
One weekend ahead of the Tony Awards, her theater-loving family spent an afternoon drawing the New York skyline on a huge length of butcher paper and taped it to the wall. They taped down red construction paper for a red carpet leading to the TV room, bought sparkling cider and dressed in their fanciest clothes for the broadcast.
“As long as kids have your full attention, it can be as simple as taking the dog for a walk together or getting a bird feeder and reading about how to attract birds,” Clark said.
Parents shouldn’t feel guilty for not liking certain games or a particular type of play, agreed Rita Eichenstein, a developmental psychologist in Los Angeles.
“Your child will know how you are feeling, no matter how much you fake it, so it’s best to create games and activities that you both find fun,” she said.
In addition to developmental benefits for kids, play can reawaken and relax parts of parents’ brains that help them live more in the moment , where children naturally dwell, Eichenstein said.
When a parent has to suck it up and play something they’re not into, Clark suggests setting a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, or establish a special time of the week that’s “kid choice.”