One of our therapy directives is child-led play, where Maddie picks the activity and one of us or both of us play along and give her all of our attention.
I'm sure there are plenty of parents for whom this comes naturally. Maybe we are monsters for not finding time consistently to do this. But between two full time jobs and two full time kids and two separate school schedules and sets of activities and an 8pm bedtime and constant exhaustion and not enough sleep and anxiety dreams and tantrums and trauma, "child-led play" falls through the cracks.
I was home solo with the girls after work for a bit. While I made their dinner, I let them play with their (cheap, crappy Android) tablets, which is usually a no-no on school nights. But Maddie was weepy because Gina wasn't there and there were no Twizzlers, and I just needed her to remain occupied while I improvised some dinner.
I draw the line at tablets during dinner, so they both put them away while they ate. Both girls were behaving and once dinner was over, I decided to make my move.
"Maddie, I'd like to play with you. Whatever you want to do."
She screwed up her face. "Why?"
Isabella was already sitting on the couch with her tablet.
"Because we never get to play and I'd like to play with you."
"Whatever you want."
"Do you want to play mancala?"
"Sure, or we can play babies or we can do a puzzle, or whatever."
"I think I want to play babies!"
She asked Isabella to join us ("You can be the big sister!"), but Isabella declined, and kept her nose buried in the tablet.
We headed into her bedroom and Maddie motioned to her babies and told me I could pick any baby I wanted. I chose Joy from Inside Out. We sat there cuddling our babies, and I said, "Our babies look happy!"
She smiled. I could tell she was tired. She cuddled her baby more.
"Maybe our babies want to play together," I said, holding up Joy to her baby. "What does your baby like to do?"
She was quiet for a minute and then said, "My baby likes to watch the tablet." Her face broke into a wide grin.
I said, "Babies don't like tablets!"
"No, seriously! She does!"
The last thing I want to do is force her to play with me. She wasn't weepy anymore, despite no Gina and no Twizzlers, so I wanted her to do whatever would keep her in that mood.
I let her play with her tablet and I busied myself with my adult coloring book. We'll try again tomorrow.