Is there anything as incredible – and frustrating – than playing games with your toddler? Don’t bother answering. It’s a rhetorical question. I already know that there isn’t.
Let me break it down a bit. It’s incredible because you’re spending time with them, you’re seeing their imagination flourish, they’re learning through play and it’s a marked change from the baby days. Seeing how their little mind works as they explore social constructs and their own creative ideas through toys and games is fantastic to not only witness, but also be involved in.
But – and it’s a big but – it can also be the most frustrating thing ever. They don’t understand the rules, you’re (in their view) not playing properly, they’re (in your view) not playing properly, they won’t listen to reason, they won’t share and they want what you have are just some of the frustrations you’ll encounter. It’s enough to make you wonder why you even bother trying to ‘play’ – well, if you ignore the obvious answer of kid’s toys these days being way cooler than when we were young.
Unsurprisingly, play time is something that has happened in our household ever since L was born. Obviously though, the type of stuff we play and how we play has changed over the years. Stuff like rattles, stacking blocks and peekaboo have been replaced with DUPLO, Playmobil and pretending we’re characters from Frozen as we chase each other around the living room.
As alluded to at the start, this is fab – the older she gets, the more fun playing becomes. However, it seems that frustration levels increase at the same time. Here’s just a few examples of things I’ve tweeted when these frustrations have boiled over and led me to vent my rage on social media like any good 21st Century parent does:
Just spent 15 minutes setting up the train track for 5 minutes of playing time before Toddler L says she’s done. FFS.
— The DADventurer (Dave) (@The_dadventurer) July 24, 2017
We’re playing with DUPLO. Toddler L has just taken my tower apart. I’m smiling and pretending I’m ok with it, but inside I’m fuming.
— The DADventurer (@The_dadventurer) September 7, 2017
Toddler L got a police officer play kit for her birthday, which means everything I’ve tried to do today has been in handcuffs.
— The DADventurer (Dave) (@The_dadventurer) August 12, 2017
My kid much prefers to tidy up all her Playmobil pieces rather than actually play with them. I think she’s broken.
— The DADventurer (Dave) (@The_dadventurer) August 6, 2017
See what I mean? In hindsight, they’re not too bad, particularly when compared to playing actual games. This is something that Toddler L and I have started doing more and more recently. Rather than it being just imagination-based, we’re playing things that have rules as another way to aid her development. To date, play has been pretty laissez-faire, so I’ve been interested in seeing how she’d get on with rules. Would she follow them? Would she want to win? Would she be uber-competitive?
This has been really fun and demonstrates just how far she’s come. Some of the things she understands and is able to do in this setting has massively surprised me. But, some of those frustrations still remain. It’s hardly surprising, and yes I’m being a twat by focusing on it, but it’s just something I have to get out of my system. Let me share a few examples:
As the name suggests, matching games require you to find a pair of matching cards in among a load of other matching cards. The ‘proper’ way of playing is to put them all face down in a grid, then take it in turns to find a pair by turning two cards over. If they match, hurrah. If they don’t, the next person gets a turn.
Unfortunately, Toddler L’s version doesn’t quite obey the rules – often to my frustration. For starters, her grid system is somewhat skewed. There’s no nice, neat 5 x 5 grid here – it’s more of a 3, 2, 4, 1, 1, 5, 3, 4, 2. Sometimes, there’s even a combination of cards facing down and up. What kind of monster does that?
Then there’s her picking method. Without fail – and despite my continued advice – she always turns over the last card that’s just been turned over as her first choice. We already bloody know that card as we’ve just seen it! You’re reducing your chances of finding a match dramatically! AAAAAH! Still, she’s pretty good at it.
For anyone who’s not had the pleasure, jigsaws require you to make a picture by assembling a number of oddly shaped interlocking pieces. It’s generally considered logical to find all of the pieces with a flat edge to build the frame, then from there, you can start putting together the middle. Note that I said “logical”, which isn’t really a word that goes with “toddler” unless prefixed with “il”.
Despite my advice to separate the pile into “wiggly pieces” or “line pieces”, to turn them picture side up and to use the box as guidance, Toddler L chooses to do her own thing. She won’t bother making the border first and she doesn’t look at the picture on the box – hell, sometimes she even leaves pieces in the box. I must say though, despite her illogical approach, she’s still really good at putting them together – it’s just massively frustrating watching her!
Trying to make a jigsaw with a toddler has got to be up there with one of the most infuriating things to do. I can feel myself going grey.
— The DADventurer (@The_dadventurer) October 22, 2017
Snakes & Ladders
I recently introduced Toddler L to the classic board game where you have to make your way up the grid with the help or hindrance of ladders and snakes respectively. Although it feels like a pretty simple game with very few rules – it’s no Monopoly after all – it actually turns out to be frustrating with a toddler.
Most of the game revolves around numbers. Considering that counting is something that toddlers are still working on, this makes it challenging – it’s basically rolling a dice, moving your piece a set number of squares and following the ascending grid numbers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to correctly re-position her playing piece. Maybe she’s just good at cheating?
Then there’s the constant questions – “why’s there a snake, daddy?”, “why does that ladder do that?”, “what’s the snakes name?”. I mean, to be fair to her, they are valid questions – I’ve never slid down a snake, let alone found them in the ‘ladders and steps’ section of B&Q. Despite these issues, this is the first proper board game we’ve played, which makes it special.
Many years ago when we moved into our house, the missus and I bought a kid’s games table. The idea being to give us something to do other than just watching TV. I’ll be blunt – it never got used and TV won. Despite this, I didn’t want to get rid as I knew it was something that I’d love to play with my future kids.
Well, that future is now and Toddler L and I have been pitting our wits against each other with table football, table tennis, glide hockey, skittles, shuffle board, draughts and chess. Unsurprisingly, we don’t often play the ‘proper’ rules, but instead the toddler version.
This includes things like moving her scoreboard backwards when she scores a goal, double – and triple – hitting the ping pong ball, starting in front of the line when rolling the ball at the skittles, pushing the three weighted disks all at once during shuffleboard and putting draught pieces on white AND black squares. It’s utter madness I tell thee. Also, as per the tweet below, chess takes on a more carnivorous form…
Playing the toddler version of chess. I don’t really understand her rules, but the horses have been eating the other pieces. pic.twitter.com/b0sw3by3Qr
— The DADventurer (@The_dadventurer) November 4, 2017
So those are just some of the frustrations I experience when playing games with my preschooler? Does this sound familiar, or am I just a big grump? Let me know below!