Help me love my baby LARPer
August 11, 2018 7:26 AM   Subscribe

My five-year-old is VERY good at self-entertaining, but I am inevitably asked several times a day to do some sort of role-playing with him and his toys, and I hate it. It's so boring! Please help me find the fun in being the Bumblebee to his Optimus Prime, or at least help me forget how little fun it is.

That's mostly it. He's an only child, five years old, precocious, very good at self-entertaining. But he looooves role-playing games. They come in a lot of different varieties- Transformers, knights vs ogres, animals in danger, dolls at a restaurant, etc- but I find them all to be universally, mind-numbingly, sleep-inducingly boring.

Part of it is the thought that I always have something more important to do (laundry is mildewing in the washer), part of it is the repetitious nature of 5-year-old roleplaying, part of it is I just don't like roleplaying in general (I've always hated acting, for example). I already redirect him to things we both enjoy doing, like art, when he comes to me with an open-ended "I'm booooored!" But boy, does he love to pretend.

Advice I am looking for:
1. How make role-playing fun for me, the adult.
2. How to forget that I am doing excruciatingly boring role-playing and actually get into it.
3. Any other advice on how to cope with the extremely boring parts of parenthood.

Advice I am not looking for:
1. "Spend more time out of the house." We already do! We leave the house to do something every day, usually for at least an hour, often more. Spending all day outside is not an option, it is August and approx. 100°F.
2. "Spend time with other kids." Again, because it is August, literally every small friend we have is on vacation in another part of the country, I am not exaggerating.
3. "Enjoy this precious time with your son, they grow up so fast, you'll miss it when it's gone." I will nuke these comments from orbit.

Of course, Kid McCatburglar's father does the heavy-lifting in the play department when he gets home from work, and school is starting again in a month. But this is going to be a problem for a few more years, at least, so I want to work on it now. Thanks!
posted by lollymccatburglar to Human Relations (20 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I feel this question so hard. My kid is fifteen now, but when they were smaller, they sounded just like your kid--and I sounded (and sound, honestly) just like you. I hate it. It's never fun for me, it's always stressful, and it made me miserable.

One of the things that made it easier for me was that I could convince my kid to pretend for me. I'd prompt them, and then let them tell me about what the imaginary people were doing, and when they started to run dry, I'd ask another leading question. I can't say that this was ever fun for me, but it was fun for them, and was often something I could do other things while we were doing.

Another thing to try is asking if you can do pretend while you do something else--so, ok, maybe I have to pretend to be a princess, but the princess is pretending to be a peasant and has to do washing, or dishes, or whatever. This was only sometimes effective, and, again, still kinda sucked for me, but at least meant that I got things done.

I wish that I had a magic bullet that would let you enjoy it, but I never managed it. I managed to make it less of a time suck for me, and sometimes doing other things while we were pretending made me more able to just chill out and pretend, but I'll be honest and admit that I never managed to like it, and to this day am relieved that I don't have to do it anymore. The good news is that it won't last forever, and eventually, you, too, can be grateful that it's over.
posted by mishafletch at 7:50 AM on August 11, 2018 [12 favorites]

Oh, also, don't feel bad just saying no. I eventually limited it to one thrilling pretend session a day--when they got bored and wandered off, I was done for the day, no backsies. I would do other things--play games, go on walks, write words on the comics they drew of their favorite let's-pretend characters--but no more roleplaying. This doesn't seem to have hurt my kid any, and it did a lot for my sanity.
posted by mishafletch at 7:54 AM on August 11, 2018 [18 favorites]

The leading questions thing definitely works and they never catch on that you're making them do all the imagining. You can try to incorporate their play with your chores. "Oh no," you say, "Stinkbots have infiltrated the washing machine! I need Optimus Prime to fight them while I get the clothes into the dryer as fast as I can!" They sometimes catch on to this one, but it can take a while...
posted by lovecrafty at 8:04 AM on August 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

I don't have kids, but I am frequently dragged into these games by my friends' kids, probably because their parents are bored af with them and refusing to play. I mostly don't love these games either. But I have found two great solutions that usually work for a while:

1. pretend a storyline where your character is dead/sleeping/ill/mysteriously difficult to wake up, and lie down for a nice nap while the kid makes believe whatever responses his/her character have to this situation. Sometimes you can get like 30 minutes of lying down with your eyes half closed on the sofa this way.

2. use your character to tell an actually fun story, not whatever boring story a 5yo can come up with. Make it as crazy and ridiculous and grown-up as you like. Cinderella is actually fighting the patriarchy and dressing to go to a protest. Or Decepticon is making himself a nice gin and tonic after a hard day fighting baddies. Whatever. Usually the kid will eventually protest that this isn't the way they behave, but if you don't give in, either that means the kid will tell you what the character SHOULD be doing, in which case it relieves you of the burden of making something up yourself, or the kid will not want to play make believe with you any more because you don't do it right. In either case, WIN.
posted by lollusc at 8:14 AM on August 11, 2018 [33 favorites]

My nieces and nephew love pretending. One thing that makes it more fun for me is that I use different celebrity voices and personalities depending on who they want me to be. When I'm told to play the "store clerk", I'm Jimmy Stewart, when I'm the "traffic police", I'm William Shatner, (Sir. You need. To slow down. Your vehicle.) the "babysitter" becomes Fran Dresher's The Nanny. Who are your favorite characters to imitate? Christopher Walken as a doctor? Robert DiNiro as the teacher - "You talkin' to me?" They enjoy my repeat characters and it does make it more fun for me.

Sometimes they want to force me to be a certain character they want and to do it their certain way. I can't tell you how many times my niece and I have re-enacted Frozen's "Do You Want to Build a Snowman". I prefer to be Elsa who only has to sit on the other side of the door and say, "Go away Anna" while my niece dances around the house as Anna. Now the reason I get to be Elsa is that I sucked (on purpose) and kept doing Anna's part wrong. My niece kept getting mad I wasn't doing it the right way, so now she's the one dancing and I'm sitting behind the door. Sometimes I will play the way they want, sometimes I won't, I look at it as lessons in compromise.

Love the ideas of working chores in as "quests" for the super heroes, because even Superman's gotta clean his undies. Finally, I would encourage him to make his own books and picture stories of his adventures and have him "read" them to you or other family members - grandparents love that shit. Good luck!
posted by NoraCharles at 8:28 AM on August 11, 2018 [25 favorites]

This is a little out of left field, but the delightfully insane Axe Cop was essentially written by a five year old. His 29 year old comic artist brother would say "And what happens then? What powers does magic banana man have? Why does he want the rock of awesome?" until something resembling a plot emerged.

Perhaps you can make the role playing more fun by making your son do all the work.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:47 AM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would usually act out stuff I like. The stuffed animals in my house have acted out the battle at Bosworth field (OH NO! The king thought Lord Stanley was on his side but he forgot about his wife! Here comes the charge!!!!); the Walrus & the Carpenter; Chopped episodes where they're making random stuff into frittatas; whatever. My kids didn't what specific thing the dolls were doing, they just want simultaneous engagement from me and the dolls.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:50 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Hey, this is my kid, too, and the irony is that I love pretending (I'm a writer!) and loved pretending as a kid but it's still too much for me. Here's what I do:
  • Pick set chunks of time where I'm willing to play, set a timer and play for only that amount of time. 20 minutes, beep beep, time's up, done for the day.
  • Enlist her help in household chores or other tasks like cooking to make it clear that I'm physically unavailable and keep her otherwise occupied with non-pretend play.
  • Structured activities out of the house. I know you're already doing this but it makes a real difference for us! My kid goes to camp through her daycare all summer and I still take her out to weekly library storytime, to the county pool, and the local lake. I often feel overscheduled but she'd so freaking extroverted that she'll sap all my energy like a little vampire if I try to just keep us home.
  • Technological solutions. This is a big one. We have the TV going in our living room during the day. Her only child best friend refused to spend time in his expansive playroom until his mom put a TV in there. Best of all, I bought her this overpriced dollhouse last Christmas. Not sure what else you could get that's similar now that it's been discontinued, but she talks to the dollhouse for hours and asks it to make up stories with her and it really, really works for lightening the load for me.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:00 AM on August 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Here's a video of the dreamhouse thing to give you an idea. You can actually tell it to help you play a story or game and it will ask your kid questions and set up tasks and I know I am essentially having a $300 robot babysit my child (and inviting mattel to listen in to her bedroom at all times) but boy does it really make my life easier and better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:07 AM on August 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I hated roleplaying, too, but then it got interesting when I found out that you can gain a lot of insight into your kid's psyche through role playing. Kids generally aren't great about articulating their feelings when it comes to more complicated sociology, like how the interpret others' behaviors and comments. For example, my daughter went through a period in third grade where she hated school. She didn't seem to know why, or couldn't verbalize it and it increased her anxiety when we asked her about it. A therapist recommended role playing as a time to closely observe and listen to what she did and said. Like how does the unicorn like school? He doesn't, he hates school because he has to sit next to a very mean octopus who says mean things and laughs at him! You can gently encourage dialogs that can be very enlightening.
posted by waving at 9:48 AM on August 11, 2018 [35 favorites]

I think five is old enough to explain that you don't like to play this game and then just...not play it. If he wants to spend playtime with you, you can do things that you both enjoy.

I also find this type of play very boring, so I just don't do it. I explained it by comparing it to things that my five year old doesn't like to do and asked her to think about how it feels when she is asked to play those games. She still asks and I remind her that I don't like to play make believe. I then ask her if she wants to play make believe with someone else or if she wants to play something with me that we both enjoy. Good lessons on compromise, empathy, thoughtfulness, learning how to identify what she really wants, and bonus, I don't have to do any voices.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:34 AM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I used to watch Sesame Street with my kid, and there were often jokes there for the grownups. Nothing major, maybe some snark that would fly over kids' heads. It made watching way less boring for me. So, maybe build in some stuff that will entertain you. Now the Orange Cheeto Monster is sneaking up on Optimus Prime, using his special flaming pants to attack him.

Create a story line that you can build on and give toys characters And the sneaky T Rex creeps out of the closet again. Han Solo jumps out of the tree and rides T Rex to rescue Optimus Prime. Han is such a showoff, isn't he?
Build in learning, still boring, but makes you feel your time is useful. Now another T Rex joins the attack, that's 1, 2 T Rexes fighting 4 knights on 1, 2, 3, 4 horses.
You can use this to get some stuff done. I will come to play Monsters vs. Zombies as soon as you pick up all the Legos.
Kids want to be with you Why don't you bring the Transformers into the kitchen. I'm going to make dinner, but I can do a little bit of playing while I cook.
Mix it up. I'm working on my computer, come join me at the kitchen table where you have put out paper and paint and water.
Do stuff that interests you. I'm going to play some of my favorite music while we build Legos.
Read out loud, the Narnia books are great for this, while he plays; it gives him new fuel for scenes to enact.
I can play; we're going to put on music and dance. At least you get a workout.

You can work on your kid's ability to deal with boredom. Put away a lot of the toys. Get out a different bucket of toys each day; they're more interesting when they've been absent. We kept things in buckets so they were easily picked up, but not all piled in to 1 big toy bin. An unsorted mass of toys is no fun and will seldom be used for play. My kid learned that I'd play for 5 - 10 minutes, often while doing another task like folding laundry, and he figured out how to amuse himself. We were fairly broke, and he had a quarter of the toys most kids had, and it was still a ton of toys, which is actually overwhelming and doesn't necessarily inspire imagination.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

In addition to the wonderful suggestions above, here are some more things to consider:

1. He could make his own podcasts where he creates different voices, adds sound effects, etc. You can be in the room with him as he works, doing stuff you need or like to do and helping as needed. He then can share the podcasts with you when done; he can listen to them whenever he likes or even edit them. They are also great to share with grandparents and the like!

2. Speaking of family, could he do a roleplay with a family member via videochat? As an aunt living far away who loves roleplaying with kids (but loathes certain other activities), I'd love to be to connect with my nephew this way for an hour or so every week. Perhaps you have a sibling or parent or other niece or nephew who'd also enjoy this?

3. You could use a prepared game like ChatPack to ask your son when he's in character. It'd help with critical thinking, storytelling, and his imagination. Questions are like: "What is the best trip you've ever gone on?" "Who is someone you can always call for to help?" "What is your favorite food?"

4. Since you love creating art, you two could spend lots of time creating costumes and developing sets he can use. Granted, you'd probably have to join in on using them sometimes but you could enjoy drawing, cutting, and gluing on sequins and he can enjoy the anticipation of playing with them. He could also use the sets for little videos he records!

5. He soon will be able to read and write more himself so he can write down his stories. You two can pair up to do exquisite corpse-style tales or you could illustrate his stories. Or you could write down his stories and he illustrates them! I know his probably won't be for another year or so but it's coming!

I totally hear you on this: I love kids and enjoy roleplaying games but there are so many others kid activities that I intensively hate. Your son sounds sounds so smart and lovely and you sound like an awesome and cool mom!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:37 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

For me, with my 5 year old. I prefer being the bad guy to his superheroes or rescue bots and also, he doesn't get to dictate how I'm playing if he wants me to participate... so, I get to make my own choices (as silly as possible and not reenacting a specific premade story) and things don't always go the same way. This approach makes it more fun for me and also makes him ask me to participate a little less because he usually has a very specific story he wants to play.
posted by Swisstine at 10:47 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lurgi's link to Axe Cop is the funniest thing I've read in a long time. Read him Axe Cop!
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:38 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Consider a game of Nighttime Animals Save the World. You play it on an evening walk together, which will provide you a little more stimulation and get you a little bit of exercise while you're doing it; it's got a very basic strategy element that is easily grasped by young kids and good for developing brains; and you might end up enjoying a more structured GM/storyteller-type role more than being just one participant in a messy freeform roleplay.
posted by waffleriot at 2:33 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

You know, I didn't require very much LARPING as a 5 year old, but the times I did, I generally just loved it when I had the attention of my favorite adult encouraging me. Are there baby theater and improv camps for your kid? Otherwise you might take a note from improv and go "yes AND?"

Does your kid get access to other media that he is allowed to really embrace? I think I stopped my role playing when I watched The Lion King and then rewatched it 10 times in a row in order to understand plot and Mufasa's death.
posted by yueliang at 7:10 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nthing trying to gently guide them on an actual storyline. My brother (who is 10 years older than me) used to play with me a lot as a kid-- and I think he got sick of my inane RPs. So he'd think of one, and gently guide me along it (I wasn't even aware at the time he was doing it) but it was like living my own movie or something. Each idea had a beginning middle and end, and it was less of the inanity of a 5 year old, doing and saying the same repetitive and mostly nonsensical stuff over and over.

He did incorporate my ideas in the games on the fly, but in hindsight, he gently guided me to fulfill a story line. I think he did this for his own sanity, because just playing in the cubby house making tea and stuff was mind numbing to him.

So for example, even when I made him play Barbies with me, to make it more fun, he'd make Ken a stuntman and that he'd have to train for a big Evil Knievel style event, etc. We'd break out Barbie's corvette and stuff and get him to practice stunts. Once, the car got stolen before the big event, and we had to 'track down' the culprit. And when we'd play 'cars' (like as if matchbox were Pixar style cars) he'd modify the story lines he saw in stuff like CHiPs and Dukes of Hazzard. When we'd play the western Playmobil, he'd adapt a Western story line. It works for RP, too. We had a few LARPy style stories, including a Sci-Fi Star Trek type storyline-- the bathroom was the transporter room (the shower cubicle was the transporter, of course) and each room in the House was either part of the ship, or a different planet. (If it was day time, we'd make the garden the alien planet, if it was night, we'd make another room the alien planet). He'd pretend to be my first officer, as well as alien creatures we came across, etc. When we got into the 'ship' which I'd pilot (I was the Captain) he'd hold a tiny Enterprise model, and move it around depending on how I was steering and navigating. I remember it was insanely fun, much more fun than when I played around alone. I have great fond memories of it. There was other RP too, Super Heroes, etc, but the main theme is that we were working to an event or such, and when the story line was done it was the end of play time.

This may not work: We have tried to make games like this with our nephews, but they aren't able to concentrate in the same manner to be gently guided along a storyline-- they always kinda break it to just do kung fu kicks or something, then get bored and want to go do something else, so this doesn't work for every kid, so keep that in mind. It may work for yours, since he seems to enjoy RP so much.

Disclaimer: It was almost TOO fun for me -- I know, because he was so good at doing a full fleshed story line, I bugged him to play a lot, so I mean, your kid may still ask to RP a lot. That said, I know that it was much more enjoyable for my brother when he had a bit more control. And it was great, as evidenced, I have extremely fond memories of it, even now today.
posted by Dimes at 8:26 PM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I get all into the developmental aspect of RP and the adult anaylsis of what this is doing for kids.

When you understand that part then you can start to introduce interesting variables and watch your kids figure things out in safe ways.

This type of play is incredibly insightful in how your child views the world, it's rules, peoples roles, conflict . When you challenge those assumptions (superman does laundry too!) They learn. When you insist on the unexpected they learn flexibility. You can even get some practical life stuff in there sometimes ( Cinderella would fold laundry like this for example).

It is repetitivebut these things are new realizations for your child.They are learning jobs and rules and roles.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:21 PM on August 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

One of the more challenging aspects of being a parent of an only child is that you are called upon to be a playmate to your child when there isn't one at hand. My partner and I work opposite shifts so it was pretty common for us to be single parenting. So it could be a bit of a drag doing it on your own when you have a pile of other things that need to be done. But our attitude changed when we stepped back and noticed something about the requests. We've realised, at times, the heart breaking loneliness that an only child can have especially when there's few friends available close by. My partner and I, having grown up with siblings with whom we've had challenging relationships, figured that he'd be better off. When my child referred to himself as the "lonely child" rather than an "only child" when he was little, we sort of clued in.

Here's some suggestions -

* Summer day camps if you can afford them. It takes some advanced planning but as far we are concerned they are worth their weight in cash money.

* you can say no. Yep, it is an option but recognise no has consequences.

* Misdirection - role-play a job or embellish a task you need to get done with a back story. Laundry becomes ghost busting, washing dishes becomes Cinderella, napping becomes the Princess and the Pea, cleaning up toys becomes grocery shopping.

* Do yourself and your kid a favour and ban the use of the word "boring" or the phrase "I'm bored" in your house even if something is boring. Any time we hear the phrase "I'm bored" it is an invitation to a list of age appropriate chores that need to be done and it is amazing how quickly you stop hearing it and they find something else to do.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:26 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

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