How to find time to play with my kids… This is one of my biggest problems. After I spend all day at work, I have few precious moments left before bed time. It’s usually spent eating dinner, reading books, or cleaning something. By the time we’re done and the kids are asleep (or just quiet enough for us to ignore them) and my wife and I are toast. Once you subtract hours spent working, eating, and sleeping from a day, what are you left with?

Not much.

And that’s why it’s become so important for me to find time to play with my kids. It isn’t always video games. We read, we work on our  Lego project, we talk. But some of the easiest ways for us to spend time together is with games. I’ve been meaning to review the few we’ve enjoyed recently. They aren’t all winners, but some excellent ones come to mind, like Machinarium and Armikrog. Both super entertaining and easy enough for younger kids to play. But the real challenge wasn’t finding what to do. It was finding when to do it. Here are some helpful tips on carving out that extra time so you can bond with your kids.

Do What You Want To Do

One of the easiest ways to start spending more time bonding with your kids is by bringing them in on the things you’re already doing. When I say I should find time to play with my kids, it isn’t always ‘play.’ Cleaning up is easy. In fact you’re probably already doing that, but don’t be afraid of making messes either. Letting your kids help you cook may dirty the kitchen quicker, but it will illuminate your child’s mind. Have a Honey-do list? Make it an activity for the whole hive. Teach your kids how to use a screw driver, or how to rotate the laundry. Supervise them so they’re safe, but always let them know it. Then proclaim how proud you are of their effort.

If you’re feeling adventurous you can also bring them in on your work. It does take patience and you should be prepared to be less productive, but describing your workflow to a curious child shows them work ethics and love at the same time. What you lose in productivity, you gain back ten fold in growing closer with your child.

Do What They Want To Do

It shouldn’t all be one sided though! If you don’t already know what your child is interested in, it isn’t too late to find out! Try asking them questions about their favorite games and shows. What about other hobbies they enjoy? For extra points, learn more about these subjects on your own. Surprise them with your knowledge. If they’re young enough, they haven’t yet learned you’re not the strongest, most all-knowing super heroin the world. Make it last a little longer by being a touchstone of knowledge on the things they really care about.

My son got into Star Wars, way more than I ever had. He was talking to me about what color lightsaber was used when, the lore, certain planets and systems. He had me stumped. That is until I spent a couple lunch breaks on Wookieepedia and watched him light up as I answered his questions about the Aqualish race with confidence. We’re never too old to pick up something new, and when it comes to our kids this is such a simple but meaningful way to grow together.

Banish the Bedtime

I mean, definitely don’t. We put our kids to bed around 8 and when they finally go to bed at 10 we feel like we’ve won the Lottery. But every once in a while we surprise our kids (who are old enough to care) with a few extra hours awake. If you can’t find time to play with your kids, you can certainly manufacture it! We have pizza parties, or we ‘camp out’ in the living room with junk food and a movie. This is a treat and as such happens rarely, but I remember these moments with my parents. I know they have a lasting impact on my kids, too. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, it should just be a few more minutes spent with your kids.

Take Your Kids on a Daddy Date

Don’t let the hokey name fool you. This can be an errand to the hardware store or grocery shopping. But it can also mean stopping for an ice cream cone on the way home. I take each of my kids on Daddy Dates (and my wife takes them on Mommy Dates, too) as often as I can, which isn’t that often at all. It’s usually a spur of the moment, “Grab your coat” before we’re out the door. But that’s really all it takes. One less kid for your wife to wrangle and a fun memory for your kids at the same time.

Find Time To Play With Your Kids

When you finally go outside after spending weeks indoors.

Take a Hike

Literally. Sometimes it isn’t enough to squeeze in fifteen minutes at a time. Sometimes we just stop everything, save the laundry for later, and out on some shorts and sneakers to make a run for it. This isn’t a tip for everyone, but for many of us dads we spend most of our day staring at a screen, cooped up indoors. It is irreplaceable to escape for an hour and go for a walk. So far my family and I have explored our neighborhood (and resisted the urge to catch any Pokémon) and found some amazing trails we didn’t know were here for years. This is arguably one of the most difficult tasks on this list. Then again, it’s also hard to find time to play with my kids. But this is a powerful tip. Physical exercise, time with the whole family, breathing fresh air; it’s so good for everyone.

Setting a Routine

This is easier said than done! Special excursions and treats are one thing, but to make a lasting impression on our kids we should try and be reliable as well. Make an effort to set aside an hour here and there that you can come back to each week. What you’re doing together isn’t important, but carving out that precious time is. If you can make it 3 months without skipping, you have a much greater chance of making it last their entire childhoods.

Growing up we had dinner nights. It was practical, but it was also comforting knowing what to expect. In my household we make pizza every Friday. Beyond that we have groups we attend and park dates and a few other curated moments that the kids can count on. What it means for us dads is pretty much the same thing. Just fight the urge of taking it for granted. Put down your phone and be present with you’re present!

Make Saturdays Dadurdays

My personal favorite is having Dadurdays. This is essentially the culmination of all of the previous tips. My thesis on being a better dad. I mean, we’ve changed the name of a day. If you’re like me, I get one day a week where I can find time to play with my kids, more than any other. For me it’s Saturdays, but it can be any day. It doesn’t matter. This is the day where we can make the most magic happen. This is the day we can routinely have Daddy Dates, or go outside, or stay up late. My kids can count on it, and so can I. I can’t rest on my laurels too hard, my kids are counting on me! It doesn’t take the whole day to find time to play with my kids, either.

My wife and I brainstorm what we’ll do next Dadurday and how many errands we can fit in while we do it. I schedule a family nap, mostly so I can get one beautiful nap a week. Each Dadurday is really different, but the thing that remains the same; that it happens.

So Why Should I Find Time to Play With My Kids?

“But LagDads, why is it so important that I find time to play with my kids?”
Hopefully not many of you are asking this question, but LagDads is nothing if not thorough. As of a couple years ago, almost a quarter of children reported growing up in a father absent environment. This isn’t just a lack of a role model, it affects children’s behavior, education, and can increase aggression and delinquency. Now how is a dad who shows up but cannot (or does not) engage with their children any different?

Research shows that reading to our kids before bed is one of the most meaningful forms of ‘bonding’ between fathers and children. In fact, ALL of the time we spend with our sons and daughters has a direct impact on their emotional and mental health, literacy, ability to learn, and so many other important factors. Our lives are short and the more of that fleeting time we spend with those we love, the better that time is spent. Showing that we love and are proud of our children is one of the manliest things we have been afforded. We should utilize those tools often and without hesitation. So what are you waiting for? Go hug your kids already.