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Let's face it. It's fun to be a kid with your kid. And isn't parenting at least sometimes about reliving those magical moments when playtime ruled? That is, until you have to take off your "fun parent" hat and replace it with your "serious parent" one.
Jill Spivack, a licensed clinical social worker, co-founder of parent-education site Sleepy Planet and an adviser on Hank Azaria's Web series Fatherhood, explains how parents can keep the lines clear, even when they're bonding with their kids over action figures or apps.
Is it OK to act like a kid and play like a kid with your child?
As long as your child still understands that you are in control, are keeping him safe and that rules and boundaries still apply, playing in a silly way with your child can be a lot of fun. Quality time between parents and children is very important. For some parents, this play comes naturally, while for others it’s more of a learned skill.
Parents who play with their children help to improve their bond and generally improve behavior and emotional health in their kids. As long as you remain a good role model for your child, encourage good decision-making, courtesy and good morals, it’s OK to act silly at times.
Can a parent take this too far or "act like a kid" too often?
When you model the wrong behaviors or when you’re not keeping boundaries up around safety, kind behavior, good decision-making, etc., you’ve gone too far. Some parents want to act more like a friend than a parent, and that has serious consequences. Children won’t take their parent seriously as an authority figure if they act childish too often, and it can be really tough to get children to go along with your rules when you want them to if you’re always clowning around.
Also, this behavior can cause the other parent to need to become the "heavy," because someone needs to keep up schedules, rules and limits to keep the family going.
A lot of dads are labeled as the "fun parent," whereas moms are sometimes the ones who handle discipline. What's a better way to balance this?
While it is very common for dads to play the fun role while moms do more of the mundane child care and household tasks (including boundary setting), it’s definitely something to keep an eye on. If mom is too overloaded with chores, child care, and other family and work responsibilities, she has no emotional or physical energy to have any fun with her kids. It’s important for her to try to delegate some of these tasks to dad so that she can free up some time and energy to spend some quality time with her kids as well. That being said, dad also needs to realize how important discipline is in raising a healthy child and that remaining an authority figure who can guide a child is imperative.
How can parents stay on the same page when they have different approaches to engaging with their child?
Make sure to COMMUNICATE with each other, especially on the big issues like safety, appropriate behavioral expectations, schedules and foods. It’s important for both parents to talk about how they were raised, what resonated for them, what they’re trying to do differently and what is currently going on in their family. Parents also have to share their feelings with each other about the amount of tasks they have on their plates and how it’s important for parents to BOTH have time to play with kids and BOTH also play the authority-figure role.
What's the best way to still be seen as the one in charge while being playful with your child?
Keep up boundaries around your child’s schedule, safety, appropriate behaviors, positive decision-making, manners while at the same time making time and space to play with them in appropriate and fun ways. Reduce overload of unnecessary tasks, like keeping a perfect house or volunteering for the third time in the committee at church, and keep your own physical and emotional energy up. And if the fun goes too far and your child is getting out of control, slow them down; remind them you need to stop the craziness.