10 Ways to Get Silly with Little Kids

Get your Dose of "Silly" here!

Children learn about the world around them through play. Well before they celebrate their first birthday, they learn basic concepts of how manipulating something causes a secondary response, such as a banging sound or rattle shake. Little ones continue to learn about concepts like object permanence, where they understand that something exists even when they can't see it. Or that there are words to define each object's features. 

Many of us parents today are operating in go, go, go mode, trying to get to work, school, a play activity, or you name it. And I don't know if I'm the only one, but I swear there are events where I am preparing to leave even hours before we have to. There are meltdowns. It doesn't matter what kind of background you have, parenting is challenging. Sometimes we lose our patience, skip giving choices, and give in to bad behaviors. It happens. It has definitely happened to me.

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Adding a dose of silly play can go a long way for a young child. It's remembering to get on their level. They really don't care that you're rushed and they're not really intending to make you irritated. They are learning how the world and their relationships work. Okay, sometimes it really feels like they are intentionally being cruel when they didn't that precious, oh so precious, nap. In this case, they don't seem to be themselves and are very hard to redirect or pacify. I have a 3-year old, so solidarity! 

But in general, the following list of silly play ideas for young children can help out tremendously in situations like delayed appointments, non kid-friendly public spaces or on a packed day of running errands.  I've noticed that my 3-year old is much more compliant with directions that follow, as these little moments of play serve as distraction and help make waits and transitions easier. We are all happier - everybody wins!

Here are 10 silly play ideas that don't require any toys. Just you and your child. 

  1. Don’t smile, don’t you dare!” Works great when your serious expression slowly changes to a sly grin.

  2. “Raise your hand, if you like ice cream!” Follow immediately with an underarm tickle! Substitute your kid’s favorite food or toy if unwell & unable to eat that item.

  3. Here...comes... the...tickle...S P I D E R!” Progress gradually in loudness and expression like a slow clap. Pair with spider hand crawling up arm or leg. Credit: pulmonologist Dr. Noe

  4. Hey, what’s your doll’s name? Did you say crayon? Kid repeats herself. You name another ridiculous object that is definitely not her name. Keep going. Works well with unfamiliar kids for their name, age, or activity they like.

  5. I have one tickle/poke/windy day/secret Is it for Olivia or Rob? Only one kid needs to be old enough to answer :) Credit: Garrett Gee of The Bucket List Family. I like how he holds rubs his finger tips together in front of them to build up anticipation for the tickle =)

  6. Modified version of Simon Says. Give them two simple commands, like to touch their head or stick out their tongue. Follow with “Now FREEZE!” Dramatically hold up your jazz hands and model freezing your face and body. Finish the round with "Now wiggle, wiggle" and dance around. Credit: Garrett Gee

  7. What does a Turkey say? Respond with "Gobble, Gobble!" and give pretend nibbles to their neck or limb. Best executor: My cousin, Jody Friedenberger

  8. Hey, what’s over there? Look!” Another classic tickle trick. Signature move of my sister Tracy Hall.

  9. Magical thinking games. My favorite daughter’s is to “catch butterflies.” We excitedly talk about different colored and designed ones (pink with glitter!) we spot in the air and proceed to catch 'em with our pretend nets. 

  10. Peek-a-boo. As your little one gets older, step it up with identifying/labeling different emotions on your reveal. Then have your toddler practice them and surprise you!

What are your favorite go to doses of silly? I could always use more material!