What to Do When You Hate Playing with Your Kids

Of the many parenting dilemmas I’ve encountered since becoming a mom, one of the most unexpected is that I hate playing with my kids. To be fair, it’s not all the time and not everything. Overall being at home with my kids every day is the greatest joy of my life. But there are some days when my daughter asking me to play with her is more nails on a chalkboard than music to my ears.

It was a relief to me to Google this topic and find there are other parents out there encountering this same dilemma. And almost every post on this issue has a paragraph or three about how they really are a good mom. Really. They love their kids. They just don’t love playing with them ALL THE TIME. And they feel really guilty about it.

It’s like when you research formula feeding your baby and every blog post or article carefully explains the medical reasons the mom writing the article HAD to use formula. She’s not a bad mom she assures you. She had NO OTHER CHOICE.

Ladies, it’s cool. I believe you! You have your reasons.

I will spare you that here. I’m a good mom. No other qualifiers needed.

Back to our dilemma.

For years my husband and I have been quietly proud of the fact that our daughter is able to play independently. From the time she could hold a toy she has spent hours sitting happily on the floor creating complicated stories and worlds out of stuffed animals or plastic toys from the dollar store. It’s adorable to watch and requires blessedly little parental interference.

Then she turned four. I only mention her exact age because multiple posts about hating to play with your kids mention a kid who is four. There must be something about that age. And I know what it is. They get bossy!

Ellie still loves to play with her animal friends, both stuffed and the plastic dollar store variety. But now she wants Mom or Dad to sit next to her taking instructions. And not moving a muscle unless and until she’s given us said instructions.

My favorite description of playing with a four-year-old was in this post on Scary Mommy. When my daughter asks me to play with her, what she really means is sit next to her and let her dictate every word I say and every move I make for the next hour. Can’t do it, Sunshine. It makes Mommy want to put her head through a wall.

This post isn’t just a rant about feeling trapped when I play with my daughter. Although it’s good to get it off my chest. It includes some helpful tips too.

If the idea of playing with your child has you screaming into a pillow, here are some tips to help you enjoy play time with your kid again. Or at least get through it sanity intact.

What to Do When You Hate Playing with Your Kids

1. Play Something You Do Like

While I don’t enjoy sitting next to my daughter while she plays dictator, there are plenty of things we do together that I do enjoy. When I want to spend time with her but can’t stand another minute of the plastic animal parade, I suggest a new activity.

I love taking my kids outside. We can run around, get some air. I’ll play tag, push them on the swings, go for a walk. It’s all fun. For all of us.

When the weather isn’t optimal for outside play, I invite my daughter to choose a book we can read together. Or have her help me make cookies.

Basically, I suggest you have a go-to list of activities you can do with your child one-on-one that won’t make you bonkers.

2. Invite a Friend

My daughter will be starting preschool in the fall. And swimming lessons in a few weeks. She started attending Sunday school several months ago. All of these new activities are great ways for her to play with other kids and make friends. She’s ready. She clearly craves interaction when she plays and it would be great if some of that interaction came from her peers instead of her parents.

Unfortunately, not many of my friends have kids the same age as my daughter. And those that do have schedules that don’t align well with ours. But whenever there is an opportunity, I think it’s a great idea to have a play date and bring your child a friend to boss around. I mean play with.

And when there are no little friends available, throw Daddy under the bus. That’s right, I said it. I do it all the time. “You need someone to play with, Honey? There’s Dad. He’ll play with you! Yay!”

3. Give Up and Give In

I really hate to disappoint my daughter. When she asks me to play with her, I do often end up giving in. And having a blast!

No seriously. Like I said, it isn’t my idea of fun. But here are some ways to play with your kids and not lose your mind.

  • Set a Time Limit

One way to play with my daughter and save my sanity is to set a time limit. And I let my daughter know. I usually max out at about ten minutes. So, I will tell Ellie I can play plastic animal party for ten minutes but then Mom has to go make dinner. Or run a lap around the house. Or take a nap. Anything that will end play time.

  • Pick Your Moments

Giving in to mom and daughter playtime works best when I am not staring at a messy house, a sink full of dishes, and a mountain of laundry. It’s easier to be charmed by my daughter’s dictatorial style of playing together when the stress of housework or dinner or my lengthy to-do list isn’t breathing down my neck.

  • Consider it a Patience Test

When I was a kid whenever I had to endure something long, difficult, boring, or otherwise unpleasant my dad would tell me to consider it a patience test.

Plus you probably feel guilty for not playing with your kids enough. And the fact that you don’t really enjoy it when you do. So, jump in, relieve your guilt, wipe your conscience. What’s another sacrifice in the name of mom guilt?

Is it Just Me?

Does anyone else feel like this about playing with your kids? At least some of the time? Or are you all loving it? If you have tips for making playing with your kids more fun, please share them in the comments!


  1. justine
    March 30, 2017

    soooooo i thought i was a big brat because i HATED playing certain things with my boys. Unfortunately, the games that they would love to play were the games I hated playing with them. I’m more of a “lets sit down and color, do a puzzle, or build a tower” type of player… while my kids want to jump off things, make the puzzle explode, or build a tower to have an action figure crash into it and make it fall down. It’s very exhausting LOL I normally just give in. If I’m totally not feeling it, then i suggest another activity — like going outside!

    1. Elizabeth
      March 30, 2017

      My kids and yours would get along great! They definitely have a destructive streak I don’t share. Yay for going outside as a distraction!

  2. Laurie
    March 30, 2017

    It’s not just you. I too have certain activities I enjoy doing with kids way more than others. And if we are honest, sometimes we are “just not feeling it”. I believe there is a certain age range where kids like to dictate to others how to play with them, also some personality types LOL!
    If we are honest, we don’t always want to play with our kids, sometimes the best times are watching them play and imagine without any adult help at all 🙂
    And that is a great skill for them to learn 😉

    1. Elizabeth
      March 30, 2017

      I agree learning independent play is an important skill to develop. At least that’s what I tell myself when I send them off to go play without me, LOL!

  3. The Momproviser
    March 30, 2017

    Yikes! I will be saving this to return back to when my daughter turns four. Anyway, great list. I especially like the idea of turning it into a playdate. Also, what a great idea to have a list of things you do like to play readily available!

  4. Luckily my daughter is pretty easy to distract right now, so I’m able to redirect her to a different activity. But the “twos” seem to be coming and she is getting a bit more demanding….

  5. Elizabeth Brico
    March 31, 2017

    I love this post. These are great. Yeah, I’m there too. sometimes I love it! But sometimes playing with my kids is the last thing I want to do…I’m so grateful that my two girls are so close together for that reason; they often entertain themselves and I don’t have to feel crappy about it because they have each other. But other times nope, and for those time I will use this list!

  6. David Elliott
    April 4, 2017

    I have definitely questioned a time or two whether something was just me or not. But for me I just started making up my own silly voices to go with play. She certainly wanted to dictate things but as long as I was doing the silly fun voices, I had control of what I did and how long I did it. I don’t know why it worked but it seemed to.

  7. Kayla O'Neill
    April 5, 2017

    These are all great tips to make playing with your child a bit more exciting! I like the idea of doing the things you like to do to mix it up. Going outside can change both of our moods!

  8. Belle
    April 5, 2017

    I have days like that too. It’s such a relief to find out that I’m not the only one.

    Belle | One Awesome Momma

  9. Anna
    April 8, 2017

    I’m right there with you! I do not like playing with my kids. Funny thing: I just had more kids so they could play with each other! It worked! However, this is the most expensive and exhausting solution. Haha!

    1. Elizabeth
      April 8, 2017

      I love this! I’m still waiting for this solution to work. When my youngest is a little older hopefully she will take my place as the on-call playmate, LOL;)

  10. Thena
    June 2, 2017

    Love this post. I at times, struggle with this. Some days, I just can’t squinkie anymore…:-(

  11. Cassie Kitzmiller
    January 23, 2018

    Have another baby isn’t on your list! Lol. But in all honesty, my oldest son can’t stand to be alone and still doesn’t play by himself well (he’s 7) but having younger brothers gives him built-in play mates that give me an occasional play-break.

  12. Laura - Chaos & Quiet
    July 26, 2018

    Not just you! I had more so they could all play together, but now I have to play the role of referee, lol! Some things I can play longer than others. Games, puzzles, colouring, baking, Lego, magnet tiles – that’s all good. It’s the imaginative play that bores me to tears after about 5 minutes!


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