What to do when you don’t feel like playing

In my last post, I explored the phenomenon where kids become more active and silly, usually around an hour or so before bedtime!

I talked about how, at this time of day, our children most likely have needs for connection with us, to offload stress/tension from the day, for physical activity and reassurance that we are there for them.

And I explained how active, laughter-inducing, play with us can be a brilliantly effective and efficient way to meet all of these needs.

You can read the full post here: How play can help kids to feel calm, connected, reassured and ready for sleep!

But what if we just don’t have the energy to join in?

✋ We could resist our children’s natural urges and requests for physically active play

✋ We could try to encourage them to calm down, do some gentle yoga, breathing or meditation

✋ We could distance ourselves from our kids, and quite possibly watch their intensity escalate

👉 Or we could trust that they know what they are needing in this moment, and find a way to meet those needs, while also honouring our own.

So how can we do that?

Below are some strategies that might help to meet everyone’s needs at this time of day.



👉 It can be really helpful if we can anticipate the time that our children are going to be needing more from us, and find some time to attend to our own needs *before* that happens.

Even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes, we can tune into ourselves to see what we are really needing to fill our cup, in order to be available to our children.

🌼 Some ideas are:

– Get some rest: allow ourselves a pause, or even a brief lie down.

– Find a way to relax: sit down for a cup of tea, do some breathing, or a short meditation.

– Address any stress or tension: tune into our bodily sensations, do some intentional movement, possibly some gentle yoga, or some self-massage.

– Offload any uncomfortable emotions: bring our awareness to anything that is bothering us, do some quick journalling, or a 5 minute listening swap with a partner or friend.

– Conserve our remaining energy: multitasking can be a big energy drain, so try to pay mindful attention to whatever we’re doing, and put the phone away.

– Do things that bring us alive: turn on some energising music, dance, or read a page or two of something inspirational.


👉 Instead of saying to ourselves “I’m too tired to play” or “I don’t have time to play”, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that:

– It probably won’t take long to fill our children’s cups. (Power reversal and vigorous play can be particularly efficient, so sometimes just 5-10 minutes can be enough for kids to feel more connected and calm.)

– The more we resist our children’s high energy or invitations to play, the more they tend to persist (or escalate).

– If we don’t spend the time playing, we will likely spend it in other less enjoyable ways (like trying to get the kids to calm down and cooperate).

– Playing might help to get the kids into bed earlier, so we can turn our attention to other things (like ourselves, our partner or other jobs that need doing).

– *We* might even benefit from playing; laughter and physical activity can help us to release stress and improve our mood as much as it can for our kids.

– Play has the power to turn our evening around, to bring connection and peace, and have a positive impact on the whole family.


👉 There are lots of ways to play that don’t involve us having to be so active.

🌼 Some games that don’t take so much emotional or physical effort are:

– Encourage the kids run around us as we stand still (try to catch them with your hands or throw a blanket over them)

– Suggest a game we can do sitting down (declare a “sock war” where you try to hit each other with balled up socks)

– Hide and seek (also a great game for working on feelings around separation)

– Cooperative games (work together to keep a balloon in the air)

– Make obstacle courses for the kids (perhaps involving stepping stones or mazes)

We don’t need to be strong or perform well.

In fact, these games can be even more effective if we are slower, weaker and more clumsy – using power reversal to help kids feel like the more powerful ones can get lots of extra laughs.

Another option is to put some good music on and have a family dance party in the living room, dancing in whatever way feels comfortable for us (this can help us to release tension, lift our mood, so that we might sleep better too!).

👉 And maybe there are some days where we really aren’t willing or able to play at all.

In those cases, there are lots of other ways to offer connection that will help to meet our kids’ needs.

🌼 A few ideas are:

– Lie down on the floor in the family room – but be prepared to be climbed on!

– Offer presence by sitting close to your kids, without distraction, and just “be with” them as they do what they need to do.

– Get another family member, relative or friend who has a bit more energy to stand in for you, and take the evening off (or at least take a break)!

❓ I wonder if any of these ideas resonate with you? Are there others you can think of that would suit you better?

❓ Would it help to make a little plan for topping up your own cup late in the afternoon, before the kids’ needs come to the forefront?

❓ Or to make a short list of options for play that doesn’t feel too effortful for you?

❓ Maybe pop it somewhere where you will be likely to see it at that time of day?

I’d love to hear what works for you! ❤️

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