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Games For Parents That Are Too Tired to Play

Dear Hand in Hand,

Since the new year, i'm trying to play more with my children. We've been playing lots of hide and seek and roughhousing, and it feels great most of the time, but sometimes I'm just too tired to play!

I read your recent post about triggers that might be holding me back from play. My mom didn't have much time to play with my sister and I growing up, and there is some part of me that feels guilty about playing with mine, for sure. I'm working on those feelings but some days it feels like I just don't have the physical energy.

What do you do when you are just too tired to play? I know that laughter is a great thing for my kids, and I really, really want us to have a strong connection. Help?!

Dear Tired Mom,

Tiredness and exhaustion comes naturally with the tough job of parenting, and you are doing a great job. Our instructors are a team devoted to play, but they all of them admit that sometimes tiredness gets the best of them.

The upside of this is that many of them have go-to games to play when they are too tired for running and jumping. For many of them an armchair is all you need.

Let the Games Begin!

“I have a bunch of games I play with my kid where all I have to do is sit in my recliner – i'm kind of a pro,” says Hand in Hand Instructor Heidi Granger Russell.

“I get this weird thing once a month called menstruation that basically renders me near motionless for a day or two!” she says. Added to that, her 5-year-old was off school for a year, it's been a long rainy season, and Heidi has been through some bouts of flu.

A favorite of theirs is Balloon Volleyball. “I sit and he stands and we bat a balloon back and forth and count the volleys without it hitting the ground,” she says. The game is surprisingly fun, she says, and works double duty to help build counting skills.

If your child needs to be active but that's the last thing you can cope with, set them challenges while you keep score or keep time. Laps around the house, obstacle courses, stair climbs or trashcan basketball all let you sit back while they do the legwork.

“Most of our armchair games are set up for him to get the maximum amount of exercise, while I get the minimum, but some of the games are quite fun and get my juices flowing and I end up more active than I intended, which is good,” Heidi says.

One good example is a kind of armchair Pictionary. At first they snuggle and draw household objects on a magnetic whiteboard, but the game often turns into armchair wrestling, or a “trap” game where Heidi's son tries to wriggle off her lap, with lots of laughter built in.

Couches and beds offer a perfect place for lazier play. Hand in Hand Instructor Kristen Volk is a fan of squish games, where she tells her kids she's going to squish them, but then lets them play on their strength to push her off, or sometimes her children squish her – and normally win!

Emily Gray Murray, an instructor who also moderates Hand in Hand's Parent Club, prompts play with the “I Hope No-One Game”. In it, she challenges her children by saying, “I hope no-one pushes me off the chair/rolls me across the floor/puts me in a sitting position,” she says. “All of these only require you be be dead weight,” she says.

Get five more games designed to reduce power battles and increase your child's co-operation. 

Patty Wipfler, author of the book Listen: Five Simple Ways to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges says just laying on the floor while your children decide what to do is another winner that never fails to astound and please kids. Other moms actually pretend to be asleep, with lots of comedy snoring, and encourage the kids to try and wake them in ingenious ways.

For quieter options, Tosha Schore, Patty's Co-author on Listen, likes dreaming up funny scenarios and taking it in turns with her boys to play Guess What I’m Thinking? She also likes Hide the Parent, where children use blankets and pillows to, you guessed it, hide the parent!

Emily Gray Murray and her children send little love notes, messages and symbols back and forth by air, via paper airplanes.

For tired moms, “necessity is the mother of invention,” Emily says, “but Listening Partnerships supports getting back that tiny spark needed for inspiration in the moment.”

Talking about issues you have with play, and what prompts those, as well as how tired you feel or how you respond to your children being in your personal space allows you to clear your mind and get more playful.

“We all have times when we'd rather just scream “GET OFF MY BODY!!!!” And I have – both in Listening Partnership time and unfortunately in real life. But when I am getting regular Listening Time I am way more likely to have the extra second it takes to reroute an emotional reaction like that,” she says.

What About Bedtime?

Still, most parents can empathise with the energy low that comes as evening falls. If your kids are still racing, when all you need is for them to sleep, try some laughter before lights out.

Kate Orson, author of Tears Heal, often finds herself just too tired to play at night. However, the fan of Giggle Parenting knows that laughter promotes healthy sleep and so she invented a song where the kids do a whole lot while she gets to do very little.

“Tuck them in and say you'll sing them a lullaby,” Kate says. Begin in a soft voice with something like, “Now it’s time to close our eyes and…” Wait a beat or two and then playfully say, “JUMP ON THE BED.”

Repeat using different actions like “run on the spot,” “leave the room,” “wiggle your tongue,” or anything else that gets laughter going and the jiggles out.

A giggly game like this helps everyone end the day on a high before you all, finally, drop off.

From the Hand in Hand Toolbox:

For more play inspirations read 15 Playful Ways To Solve Sibling Rivalry

Find out why play is such a powerful parenting tool and how it can help you in Listen What is Playlistening? 

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