playing WITH children

from: Larry Magid

It really did warm me up in this cold weather to read about playing with children and to have a virtual visit with my good friend Major Fun. I would like to see another installment giving ideas on how to play with children — or perhaps how not to play with them.

It occurs to me that much of our play with children is actually a bit hurtful or scary. Tickling a child, picking him/her up and holding in some precarious ways. Playing in a highly competitive game where the child feels inadequate. Maybe I’m just recalling my old childhood.


(Larry Magid has been a friend and advocate ever since I started my Computer-Enhanced Meetings business in 1986. He has two beautiful children and is, among many other things, author of Larry’s World.)

Odd that you should mention it, Larry. There’s actually a book called “How to Play with Your Children (And When Not To)” by Brian and Shirley Sutton-Smith, Hawthorn Press, 1974. I’m going to try to find out if it’s still in print. Brian is friend and mentor, major Emeritus from the University of Pennsylvania, psychologist, folklorist, arch-advocate of play for the sake of playing, and for the sake of the players. Anyhow, the whole book’s devoted to describing the development of a playful relationship between parents and their children. From birth to teen. And he keeps on reminding us that in the game of parenthood, we are never equals. That when we are playing together with our children, the only way we can win is when they win, too.

Intergenerational play is remarkably beneficial, deeply healing, to our family and its extensions, to our community and its extensions. One of my favorite things to do in the world is walk through a park on an afternoon, where families actually play together. Miracles of democracy. Acres of peace.

When intergenerational play is healthy, it is miraculously healing. But it is remarkably fragile. As parents, our play is fraught with constant danger that we’ll make the baby cry or the pet bite or the forest die. We tickle too much or throw too high or drop too hard.

In our relationships to our children, in relationships between generations, between our parents and ourselves and our children and neighbors and native peoples and our planet, civilization is still not wise enough to produce the kind of parents we deserve. We still hurt each other and our world. We still forget to make the fun loving enough. We drop the baby and the ball and we poison the planet.

It’s too easy to make our children into objects of our love, to find ourselves, not really playing alongside WITH them, but playing with them as if they were toys. Like most of the people we work for toy with us.

So, Larry, I think you are very right that we need to learn how to play even more sensitively with our children, more consciously, more conscious of their enlivening presence. And I’ll definitely be writing more about that, even though I’ve already described a whole bunch of such mutually-empowering games on my games page.

I think the fault is really only in a very small part in ourselves, or in our relationships to our beautifully fun loving children. And it has ridiculously little to do with what game we’re playing with them.

It’s the times. The too many times we spend away from children. Too many times in relationships with people who aren’t even playing, in offices and conference rooms and military camps, on airplanes and in hotel lobbies where no kids sing.

And even when we finally find ourselves actually at play with our children, rapt in some game in the name of loving and fun, we have to be reminded that they are not our toys. We have to be reminded what the game is for. We have to reminded that in the real world, for all our fame and gain, getting to play WITH our children is the biggest and longest-lasting prize.

See, for another example, The Oaqui Family Picnic, revealed.

(this article was originally published about 15 years ago, maybe 20. given my last post on the Bernie DeKoven School o’Fun, it seemed time to republish it here.)

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