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Play dates with an active and strong-willed child can be less than organized. Sure, we can set the date and time, and I can generally get out the door on time (for now). But, once we are there, Jimmy struggles with patience and focus, unless it’s something HE wants to do. He will usually be the child off playing in the corner or running as far away as possible from the group at a park. Rather than sitting to enjoy a toy, Jimmy prefers to jump, run, climb, chase and throw (something we are working on…).
For example, one of my mom groups is having a meet up where the kids are going to paint rocks at a kitchen table. We arrive prepared with a change of clothes and a painting apron to try to avoid needing said change of clothes. Jimmy needs time to adjust to a new place so I give him time to run around so long as he is making “good choices” (not breaking things, being kind to others and generally not interfering in the provided activity).
When it comes time to do the painting, I will place the apron on him and sit him at the table. He gets excited to mix the colors and make a horrible mess. What follows is usually paint in his hair, water cups spilled, paint on the paper plate under the rock (with very little on the actual rock) and jealousy at the child next to him who is using exactly the same paint brushes and paint (but if someone else has them they are soooooo much more interesting and fun). That’s ten minutes in…then he’s bored and wants to be done.
This applies to almost every activity or gathering with any sort of structured play. Most of the time I roll with it and hold him to at least trying the activity before he’s off doing his own thing. The problem arises when we have paid for a class (which is rare given our budget and his lack of participation), and my frustration rises as he resists the wonderful activity I have planned and forked over money to enrich his little brain – being a “good” parent, right?
Most of the time, I have given up on any sort of paid class that hasn’t already proven to be enjoyable for Jimmy and, in relation, myself. But, if I take a step back and really think about how to make it work, here are some things I know about my child:
- Needs to investigate a new place before there is even a chance of participating in activities
- Has a hard time sitting still for crafts
- Loves to be with friends (pronounced “fends”)
- Currently plays side-by-side rather than directly with other kids
- Loves loves loves physical play
- Enjoys being outdoors, but he will test his boundaries by running as far away as possible (true of anywhere that isn’t contained)
So by looking at this list, I know what to expect and, hopefully, some ways to make play dates more enjoyable for everyone. I may choose to join a paid class to expose Jimmy to new experiences, but I can either:
- Change my expectations of total involvement
- Try to find a class that better matches what my son enjoys to do
Through some mom friends, I discovered a weekly toddler gymnastics class that was fairly inexpensive. I knew that this would have a bit of structure (to help Jimmy learn there are times for free play and times to listen and participate), but also incorporate his love of physical play.
Our first visit was a bit of a trial on my patience – he ran everywhere within the gymnastics center rather than stay with the class (there was no way to get there early since the teacher needed to be present). He struggled with the starting stretches (a kind of “circle time”) with all the exciting trampolines and climbing structure around, and the goodbye song circle time at the end. But he had a blast! It was amazing to see him have so much fun – my face even hurt from smiling so much watching him bounce and laugh for the 50 minute class.
What I love about this example is that it incorporates a lot of what Jimmy loves and builds at least a little on the skills I would like for him to work on. We attend gymnastics weekly and through some practice and patience, he now has the hang of the structure and knows to stay with the class (though he still goes in areas he’s not supposed to sometimes).
I guess what I’m saying is to actively listen to your child – try to include things you know he or she will enjoy while still teaching your child the skills you know will be needed (and greatly appreciated) down the road. If you have an active child, it can be an amazing challenge to find ways to encourage participation in less active tasks or activities. Just keep at it, past the tantrums and frustration, and your child may surprise you when he or she starts to “get” it!
I love my little man with all my heart. Being a physical and active child is NOT a bad thing (it just poses some challenges). But I wouldn’t change him for the world!
I will discuss more in another post how I try to prepare Jimmy for changes (like leaving a place he is enjoying or changes to the daily routine) and attempt to change his resistance to structure with the right language (although this is not always possible!).