This blog post contains excerpts from our booklet “Daddy, Come Play With Me.”

Learning to be actively involved in play with your kids is an important part of being a dad. This booklet helps dads understand their role in play and how they can build bonds with their kids through play all while helping them learn important skills. To get the full book and learn more, download it now.

For guidance on how you can maximize play with your children, read below.

How Should You Play With Your Child?

The essence of interactive father-child play is simple: Watch to see what your child does. You do something based on his action. How does he respond to what you did? He might show excitement or approval for your idea, or he might change the direction of the play. The pattern continues. The idea is to follow the child’s lead. Use his behaviour and responses as your guide. Don’t just pay attention to his words and actions – watch the expression in his face and eyes. Children’s faces tell you a lot: what they are interested in and how they are feeling. Is he excited, absorbed, frustrated or confused? Is he looking to you for help or an idea?

“Come on, Charlotte, let’s build a big sand fort,” said Phil. Charlotte helped her dad wet the sand with a hose. Then they made piles of sand to form the castle. “The stables for the horses can be over here,” said Phil. “The enemy castle can be there.” But Charlotte kept playing with the hose. “Turn it on, Daddy?” she asked. “Not now, we’re making a castle,” said Phil. He brought Charlotte back to the sandbox. She ran back to the hose. “Charlotte!” said Phil. “What about the castle?” It’s great that Phil wants to play with Charlotte, and suggesting a sandcastle was a good idea. However, young children often lose interest in a big complicated project. It would be best if Phil forgot about the castle and helped Charlotte find a way to have fun with the water, since that’s what she’s interested in now.

Rough and Tumble Play: A Daddy Specialty

“Derek Henry goes crashing through the defence!” Jonah is playing “football” on the bed with his five-year-old son, Zach. The boy tucks his teddy bear under his arm and hurls himself at his father. Jonah gets a pillow up to protect his face just in time. “Easy, little guy. Don’t jump at my head. Try again.” Zach jumps at the pillow. Jonah grabs him in a gentle bear hug and wrestles him down, making sure that Zach lands on top. “Henry gets a crushing tackle from Bobby Wagner!” They fall down laughing.

Many boys and girls love the excitement of rough and rowdy play with a parent who they can trust to keep things under control. Rough play helps children burn off excess energy and learn the limits of their own and other people’s bodies.

Canadian researcher Daniel Paquette believes that the rough and tumble play that fathers often enjoy, makes an important contribution to children’s development. Dr. Paquette says that when fathers are good at this kind of play – when they can play rough without hurting or scaring a child, keep the child’s rowdy behaviour within reasonable limits and see when a child has had enough — it helps children learn about the boundaries of aggressive behaviour. But even more important, rough and tumble play can be an important part of the way fathers and children build their attachment. Attachment is the very close, intimate adult/child bond that helps children to feel emotionally secure and forms the foundation for future positive relationships.

Different Play Preferences

Your style of playing may be different from your child’s, or that of your partner. Some parents and children prefer quiet play – things like art, reading, and quiet games – or dramatic, pretend play. Other parents (often fathers) and children enjoy more active, physical types of play. Some people are more comfortable than others with risky types of behaviour such as climbing.

When they go to the playground and Casey starts up the climber, his mother’s first thought is, “Careful, honey.” Meanwhile Dad is thinking, “How high can he go?” Obviously, not all mothers and fathers fit this stereotype. Children need active physical play and the encouragement to try harder and go farther. But they also need protection and more gentle guidance at times. The important thing is to adapt your own strengths and interests in a way that works well for your child and her way of playing.