Play With Me, Mommy: What Your Child is Really Saying

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Last Updated on October 23, 2019 by

I’m staring at a messy kitchen; dirty dishes that need to be washed, clean dishes that need to be put away, counters that need to wiped down, etc. And while I’m calculating how I’m going to tackle each task, my toddler comes to me and asks me to play with him.

Even though my toddler cannot form full sentences yet, I get the jest of when he is saying, “Play with him, Mommy.” At this stage in his development, he communicates his needs with his body language, the use of baby sign language, and the sounds he can make with his little (and loud) voice.

What he is really trying to tell me is much more than “play with me.” He wants my attention for a reason.

"Play with me, Mommy!" what your child is really saying |

I will admit, I am guilty of being engaged with my phone too much some days or I’m preoccupied with work or house duties. I notice how this changes his behavior. When my son is busy entertaining himself, I tell myself I don’t see the harm in checking my phone or completing other tasks. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

However, when he does want me to play with him, the meaning behind that simple request is much more valuable to him. Recently, I’ve taken a notice to his cues and I’m trying really hard to understand what he’s asking deep down. I’m not perfect, but I try to do the right thing.

“Mommy, Play With Me.”

As children grow and learn about their world, you are their first teacher. Naturally, your child looks to you for guidance and for you to be their best friend. After all, you are their protector and the one they typically spend most of their time with.

Hearing your toddler’s requests to play with them can be exhausting. It’s not always easy to shake off the long day you had to get up and keep going while playing with your child. However, consider what is really behind their words. There is more than you may think.

What Does it Really Mean?

No matter what age your child is, it is important to stay engaged with them letting them know they are safe with you and that you have time for them. This helps them to trust you and open up to you in those challenging teenage years. If you aren’t there for them now, it is difficult for your child to think you’ll be there for them later on.

Life gets busy and sometimes after a long day, you just want to put your feet up and zone out. I get it! I am totally there, too. Self-care is just as important as engaging with your child.

In the toddler stage however, your child doesn’t understand that Mommy may need a few minutes to herself. Toddlers have a different way of thinking and that is because of their innocence. What do you mean you’re tired? Just take a nap! How can you not want to play all the time? It’s so much fun!

Honestly, I envy the simpleness of a toddler’s thought process sometimes. Not a care in the world except for being fed and playing! So what does it mean when they want you to play with them?

Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on Unsplash
Photo by Thiago Cerqueira on

I need to connect with you.

In our world, it is common to have both parents working full-time while your child attends daycare or some kind of group care. Their request to play means your child is looking to connect with you when you are with them. They need to know that you missed them during the day just as much as they missed you.

In the stay-at-home-mom life, your child is with you every minute of the day. Therefore, they shouldn’t need to connect with you, right? You’re always there! But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just because you stay home with your child(ren) each day doesn’t mean you are just sitting there with them all day long. Contrary to popular belief, staying home and raising your child(ren) is a full-time job on its own.

You are most likely engaged in some sort of house duty each day: laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc. Additionally, if you are a work-from-home mom like me, some of your working hours overlap with the hours when your child is awake.

When your child asks you to play with them, it’s not always because they can’t entertain themselves. What they might be looking for is that reassurance that you are still thinking of them and they want to connect with you.

Hold off on folding the laundry or doing those dishes for a few minutes. Additionally, put down the cellphone and give them your attention. Don’t worry about taking that picture for Instagram or Facebook; your child(ren) could careless about how many ‘likes’ that picture gets. They just want you.

Look what I learned!

Toddlers, preschoolers, and even school-aged children get excited about things they learn everyday. I have a neighbor who has three children and the youngest is a seven year old boy. He often comes over to tell me something new he learned in school or show me a “magic” trick he just learned. It’s exciting to him!

The same goes for younger children as well. When they learn something, they don’t want to stop exploring with it. They want to know more about it and how it came to be this way.

Because it is exciting to your child, they want to show it to you, too. They want you to see what they learned and hope you are just as fascinated by it as they are.

Help me understand.

Toddlers are a difficult stage because they cannot express themselves verbally at some points, which causes frustrations. When your child wants you to play with them, consider that the reason may be because they need your help to understand how something works.

My son has a couple sets of train tracks. When mixed together, the train tracks don’t fit well with one another. This frustrates him and he can’t seem to understand that the two separate sets weren’t meant to fit with one another.

When this happens, oftentimes he comes to me with the tracks asking me for help because he wants to understand why this isn’t working for him. Through guidance, I show him how to put the right pieces together before he gets too frustrated.

The reason behind this example is to show that toddlers understand when something is about to really upset them. Therefore, if they are coming to you to play with them, this might be more important now to help deter a serious misunderstanding.

Engage with your child and find out deep down what’s going on when they are frustrated. Simple play time can help ease their discomfort and lets you know when they need your help.

I need you.

A simple “play with me” could mean the difference between a sad day and a happy one. Sometimes all it means to your child is that they just need you to be there with them in that moment.

There are times when being buried in your phone or your computer sends mixed signals to your child. Am I not as fun to play with? Why am I being ignored?

From the parent’s perspective, this isn’t at all what we are trying to make our child(ren) feel. However, being cautious of how your child interprets your actions can make a huge difference. They need you.

Photo by Xavier Mouton on

I’m excited!

My favorite request to play with my son is when he is just overly excited about something he saw or heard. He wants to know more about it! To him, this moment is special because he wants to share his excitement with me.

Imagine your favorite childhood vacation or memory. Now that you have children, you want to share those kind of memories with them. From your perspective, you can’t wait for you child to see all this exciting stuff and watch their eyes sparkle with magic!

This is the same feeling for your child when they want to show you something exciting. Maybe to you, that truck driving through your neighborhood is just an everyday site. However, if your toddler notices a truck for the first time, it is so exciting! They want you to be as excited about it and engage in this moment with them.

Why Should I Play with My Child?

The benefits of playing with your child(ren) not only help them, they help you too. After a day of adulting, sometimes escaping into the imaginary world with your toddler or preschooler can be just the thing you need to reset and remember the fun things in life.

As for children, the benefits of playing with their parents are eye-opening. From the time children are babies, they are learning from you. According to Psychology Today, parent-child play has been shown to contribute more to a child’s ability to give structure to early social interactions. This interaction shows your child proper ways of give and take in conversations and sharing.

Additionally, your experience in the world broadens your child’s imagination when you are playing together. Your toddler may have just learned about airplanes, but you know about airplanes AND helicopters. Now, you are giving them even more tools for their imaginative play time.

How Can I Play with My Child?

There is no magic recipe to playing with children. Honestly, just follow their lead and they will show you what interests them. Simple activities like going to the park, reading books, and finger painting with your toddler can make for a truly special moment between both of you.

If you want to plan some fun activities to do with them beforehand, consider incorporating some milestone developmental activities. This way, you will be engaged plus helping your toddler exceed their milestones.

"Play with me, Mommy!" What your child is really saying |
Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

How Do You Respond to “Mommy, Play With Me.”

In what way do you engage with your child when they want you to play with them? Have you found you’re too tired to play or really just want that down time? What have you done to boost your connection with your child?

Playing with you child(ren) will always be something they remember. What activities do you engage in when playing with them? I’d love to learn more tricks from others! Share with me your experiences in the comments below!

Samantha <3

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"Play with me, Mommy!" What your child is really saying |

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