Surviving Summer with Young Children Is All About Letting Go of Control

Children are our future…let them lead the way

Children are our future…let them lead the way

Ah, summer! There’s nothing quite like the heat, sun, tremendous thunderstorms, and long, languorous days. Of course, those days seem even longer when you have a toddler in the house.

I have one toddler left — a recently-turned 3-year-old to be exact — so I still have to get creative to help us avoid a summer swoon. Actually, that’s not true at all. I don’t get creative; I let my 3-year-old get creative and I follow her lead.

You might find this hard to believe, but she actually prefers being in charge. What a surprise!

First off, we play tons of make believe with toys and dolls. Now, you might be thinking, that sounds great, but how do I know when my child wants to engage in such imaginative play. Good question. You have to read the signs carefully.

Examine your child’s body language for any hints. For example, when my daughter is ready to play, she says, “Come play with me in the playroom,” grabs hold of one leg of my shorts, and drags me to where I’m supposed to go. It’s subtle, but with enough experience, you can sniff it out.

Before you start your imaginative play sessions, you need to keep one thing in mind. When you’re running dialog with the doll or toy figure your child assigns you, make sure the first lines you give your character are your best work because you’re going to be repeating them for the rest of your life.

For example, my daughter likes to play with plastic princess figures. She asks me to select one, I pick, and then she gives me whichever one I don’t pick. The first time we did this, she started making her princess climb on top of the roofs of the toy houses, castles, tree houses, and such. The first thing that popped into my head was for my princess to express concern about the climbing princess’s safety.

“Oh no, come down from there! You’re going to fall,” my princess said.

Then, to spice things up, I grabbed a third princess and made her say, “Oh, be quiet. She knows what she’s doing!”

Anyway, long story short, I’m now typecast as a very tiresome nag and a spunky free spirit. We’ve been replaying this same dialog every day for several weeks now and I’m not sure how much more I can take. I have so much more dramatic range and my daughter just won’t let me unleash it.

When I get a little too frustrated by the theatrical shackles my daughter has placed on me, we venture outside. Sometimes into our backyard or onto the street to ride bikes or scooters, but our preferred destination is the park around the corner from our house.

Our local park is quite versatile, but there are currently only two very specific games we are allowed to play.

The first game involves the zip line. My daughter is the law breaker and I am the police. My daughter stands at the top of the launch and I am required to turn my back and pretend to scope out the area for any bandits. She then launches on the zip line, I look around confusedly, say “Hey,” she laughs, and I chase after her.

Then we do this 213 times or until another child arrives who wants to ride the zip line without any accompanying back story.

Next up is the swing. We don’t actually swing in any traditional sense, of course, we do something much more interesting and soul crushing.

My daughter places her chest on the swing, runs forward, and pushes off with her feet. Picture Super Man, but much smaller and more aggressive.

Meanwhile, I stand just in front of the swing, and once again, I’m looking the other way so I’m none the wiser. She slings herself forward repeatedly, until her forehead eventually collides with my rear body area.

I usually play my role convincingly enough, acting startled and in agony at the right moments, but sometimes I stray off my mark. When this happens, she stops, clearly perturbed, and repositions me slightly like a photographer adjusting her subject during a photo shoot.

Hmm, let’s try this hand here and this leg just a bit forward. Now, shuffle forward one small shuffle. Nope. Back just a little. There. That looks lovely.

Then, wham! Crash into my hindquarters.

We repeat this about 152 times until we pack up and head on our merry way.

Of course, it’s not always practical to let your children set the schedule or plan their own activities, but when it is, I say, why not? As parents, we have to make plenty of decisions, so we might as well leave the less important decisions to our kids. And let’s face it, considering that my idea of fun is checking email, my children are probably much better equipped to determine what is fun and what isn’t.

I mean, never in a million years would I have guessed that ramming into someone on a swing could be so consistently hilarious and rewarding. For everyone involved, really. My daughter gets many minutes of active play and empowerment, and I get a few sporadic seconds of Zen punctuated with moments of random hindquarter pain.

Children can be leaders, we parents just have to get out of the way sometimes. Particularly when they are hurtling toward us at high speeds.

If you want a peek behind the scenes. Check out this video. I got to expand my range this time!

If you love this post, I have some good news. My book, Fatherhood: Dispatches From the Early Years, is available at Amazon. And if you haven’t, don’t forget to like my Facebook page and sign up for the email list to get updates right in your inbox.