Child's play

Some parents are good at playing with their children, while others have to learn how to play

When it comes to playtime, it is not always fun and games.

Parents sometimes find it challenging to engage in play with their young children.

Mr Roy Lee, 40, values building "closer emotional ties" with his two preschool sons through accompanied play, such as working on puzzles in activity books.

But what he terms its "educational" aspect can occasionally be frustrating and boring to him.

"One challenge is frustration. We're not sure what they will learn. I don't know whether our expectations are a bit high," says the investment consultant at a bank.

He cites examples such as when he and his wife introduce Adam, four, and Axel, two, to words that they cannot write properly and when they run away while listening to instructions when playing cards.

Moreover, he gets bored after more than half an hour of "monotous, textbook-type exercises" such as colouring and figuring out mazes during playtime.

Another parent, Mr Chinnu Palanivelu, 39, says it is challenging to think up new activities for his son Srikanth, eight, and daughter Srija, five.

"The children get bored doing the same things and want to try new activities," says the director of an audit firm who is also a council member for Families for Life, an organisation that promotes resilient families.

He and his wife Vijayea, a 28-year-old housewife, enjoy bonding with their children by swimming and playing soccer with them.

The couple, who are permanent residents, have tried to add variety to their usual family walks in the park by signing up for mass walks and stair-climbing events.

Mr Palanivelu, who sometimes clocks 15-hour work days, says it can also be tiring keeping up with his energetic son and that there is "some element of stress" in carving out time to be with his children.

It is not uncommon for parents to face such challenges.

In a 12-country survey on play and family life conducted by global furniture retailer Ikea, a quarter of the parents polled acknowledged sometimes feeling bored when playing games with their children.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of the parents felt they did not have enough time to play with their children.

In another finding, the same proportion (49 per cent) felt guilty about not spending enough time with their children.

Nearly 30,000 parents and children participated in Internetbased interviews for the survey, the Play Report 2015, which was released in Singapore last month. Singapore was not represented in the survey, which was conducted in places such as the United States, Britain, Italy, Russia, Sweden, China, South Korea and India.

But increasingly, parents know the importance of play to a child's development and are doing more to ensure their children get enough of it.

Despite taking evening classes for professional qualifications for a year, Ms Celeste Rodrigues, 39, and Mr Jude De Cunha, 50, made sure they engaged in playtime with their only child, 22-month-old Christie Gabrielle.

"It takes a lot. You need to make time to play with her. We would pretty much meet at 10.30pm," says Ms Rodrigues, a marketing and sales manager in an events company.

Playtime with Christie took place from about 10.30pm to midnight, when the toddler sleeps.

The Singaporean couple, who recently completed their courses, also take turns taking her outdoors to play.

In the mornings, Mr De Cunha, a project manager with a transport company, takes her to the playground at 7.30am before he goes to work. Ms Rodrigues, who has a flexible work schedule, usually takes Christie outdoors at other times of the day.

They prioritise spending time playing with her to ensure she has a carefree childhood like they both did.

"I want her to know she can have fun with her family," adds

Ms Rodrigues. "If you don't play with your children, you won't understand them."

Dr Hanin Hussain, a lecturer at the National Institute of Education who specialises in early childhood education, says: "All types of play are valuable in contributing to children's development and learning.

"They are also opportunities for parents to model the kind of values they would like their children to have. For example, they could model empathy and showing concern for others by showing concern for their children."

She kept such benefits in mind when she grappled with playtime with her son, now 19, when he was a preschooler.

She adds: "One strategy was to acknowledge feeling bored, then move on to think how I could play with my child so it would be fun for us."

She and her husband played with toy trains with their only child, but she felt that "watching trains move round and round the tracks was not fun".

She suggested alternatives such as telling stories where the trains were characters, which her son embraced with alacrity.

Ms Shereen Ng, 39, a college admissions counsellor, sometimes comes up with ideas for playtime from parenting articles on websites such as The Atlantic and The Huffington Post. She has three children - twins Jordan and Evan, eight, and five-year-old Dylan.

The former teacher and her husband Daniel Tan, 39, who teaches at School of the Arts, once lugged a large cardboard box from a recycling bin. After windows were cut out, it became a toy house big enough for their children to have tea in.

Ms Ng says that because of their teaching background, they "see the necessity of creativity, imagination and just being curious".

"It's fun to be able to play with them. It's also important for them to entertain themselves. That's when they figure things out and solve their own disputes."

Ultimately, playtime can be simple.

Dr Sirene Lim, a senior lecturer at SIM University, who specialises in early childhood education, says parents can provide ordinary and inexpensive "open-ended" materials such as containers, boxes, paper, string, paint and fabric to encourage their children to use their imagination during playtime.

"The payoff for bonding with your young children is a trusting relationship that could last a lifetime," she says.

"All that parents need to do is have fun watching and joining in their children's play when possible."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Child's play'. Print Edition | Subscribe