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Holiday toy guide: Here's how to play with your kid — and enjoy it

We've all been there. It feels like the one millionth round of Candy Land or the tea party that won't end, and you simply want to be. Somewhere. Else.

The truth is, you're not a bad parent. Just a tired one (especially this time of year). So here are five tips that will help you focus on the here and now, which will make playing with your kiddos more enjoyable, no matter the game or activity.

Today
Put your work and to-do list out of your head. Playing is more fun (and rewarding) if you are totally present.

1. Try to put all work out of your mind. Forget those to-do lists and be present in the moment. Easy to say of course, but there's probably nothing on your to-do list that can't wait 20 minutes.

2. Listen to your child. It's through pretend play that kids often express themselves. How your child talks to the other attendees of a tea party may give you a glimpse into what's worrying her. You may hear some of your own language coming back as your child parents her dolls and teddy bears.

3. Discover what they don't know. Playing a game with your child will quickly let you know how they're doing with basic skills. Don't turn it into school, but can your child help read the instructions, can they easily keep score? Through this kind of play, you'll quickly know their strengths and weaknesses.

4. Remember that it's short-lived. Know that in just a few years the child who makes you the center of their play world will soon be blowing you off for friends (which is appropriate and natural, of course).

5. Explore new common interests. Engaging your kids in activities they enjoy is part of parenting but it's also great to find activities you both can enjoy. Find activities both at home (puzzles, baking, crafting) and out of the house (sports, scavenger hunt in a local museum) which can become your special things to do together. It doesn't have to be with the whole family, either. 

Having one on one parent-child time when your kids are little goes a long way to building open communication that will make transitioning to tween and teen years that much easier.

Child development experts Joanne and Stephanie Oppenheim are the co-founders of the independent consumer website www.toyportfolio.com. For a complete list of age-appropriate toys, visit ToyPortfolio.com http://toyportfolio.com/> .

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