36 Inventive Ways to Play with Your Kids When You’re Tired and in Pain

  • By Jennifer Mulder
  • 8 May 2023
  • 8 minute read
36 Inventive Ways to Play with Your Kids When You're Tired and in Pain | The Health Sessions

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This is probably not how you’d pictured it. On TV and in magazines, playing with your kids looks so joyful and cozy. And it can be – but not necessarily when you’re exhausted and in pain. Struggling with symptoms like chronic fatigue, constant aching and brain fog can make it hard to do the simplest things, including spending quality time with your child(ren).

Of course kids can play independently, with a little supervision depending on their age. And when you’re feeling terribly sick, you’re not a bad parent for giving your kids more screen time than you’d like to get through the day.

But some days, your children just want to spend time with you, no matter how old and self sufficient they are. And you’d love to have happy moments together despite your illness too! Especially if you being sick isn’t a one-off event, but sadly a recurring theme in your family.

The problem is that, as fun as it is to kick some balls, play Monopoly or get crafty together, you just don’t always have the energy, focus or mobility for it. And activities like baking cookies and painting often make a mess, which you may not be able to clean up when you’re ill.

So let’s take a look at inventive ways you can still play with your kids when you’re tired and in pain!

What you can and cannot do obviously depends on your specific health problems and home situation, so not all tips will be doable for everyone, but here are 36 fun family activities for different ages, energy levels and abilities.

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Can you barely lift your head off the pillow? Depending on your symptoms, there are still inventive ways you can connect with your child as you’re laying down, even if it’s just for a moment.

  • 1. Curl up in bed together for some read aloud time or listen to captivating audiobooks like Peter Rabbit, The Gruffalo, or Matilda.
  • 2. Let your kids build a cozy blanket fort they can play in – and maybe you can even rest in. Arrange some snacks and a stack of graphic novels or ‘Search and Find’ books for younger kids for a cozy afternoon.
  • 3. Fill an empty jar with LEGO challenge cards like ‘build a castle/bridge/pyramid’, ‘make a marble maze’ and ‘create your name with LEGO blocks’. Your child can draw a challenge card and start building, while you give tips and praise from the couch.
  • 4. Have a tea party with dressed-up dolls, stuffed animals or action hero figures. Real treats like raisins, tiny biscuits, pretzels and baked apple chips will make the fun last even longer. Crafty kids can also make invitations, place cards or festive bunting to keep them entertained.
  • 5. Encourage your child(ren) to learn a magic trick, study a dance routine or come up with a short play. Once they’ve mastered their lines and moves, they can perform it for you by your bed.
  • 6. Play ‘Animal Walks’. As you’re resting on the couch, call out an animal and your kid has to walk around the room pretending to be a bear, dolphin, crab, frog or eagle.
  • 7. Turn your bed room or living room into a home movie theatre. Grab some popcorn or healthy movie night snacks, choose a fun family movie and make yourself comfortable with (body) pillows and warm blankets.
  • 8. Does your little one love fantasy play? Go with the flow and pretend you are Sleeping Beauty, or the patient who needs to be (gently!) examined by the doctor.
  • 9. Get a huge piece of paper and lie down on top of it. Let your child trace around your body and color in the outline they’ve made to create a life-size portrait.
  • 10. Play a game of charades for kids. If you’re too sick to sit up, you can be the one who guesses everyone’s gestures, or the referee.
  • 11. Do a lie-down version of a Dutch children’s game. Pick a starting line furthest across the room from you and close your eyes. While you count to 5, your kid(s) can sneak up on you, but when you open your eyes, they have to stay still like a statue. If you see them move, they have to go back to the starting line. The first person to reach you and tap your arm wins.
  • 12. Invest in a Yoto Player and simply pop in the audio card of your liking to enjoy musical adventures, best selling novels or kids-proof podcasts together.
36 Inventive Ways to Play with Your Kids When You're Tired and in Pain | The Health Sessions
Photo by cottonbro studio via pexels.com

Seated Activities

Do you feel well enough to sit up, but too exhausted and in pain to move around? These fun seated exercises will still allow you to play with your kid(s) when you’re sick, without much prep work or clean up needed.

  • 13. Get creative together with mess-free crafting, like sticker books, iron-fusible beads, washi tape art and knotting friendship bracelets.
  • 14. Have a race with remote controlled cars. You can even play a version of ‘tag’ by letting the kid(s) run around the room and making your car do the chasing for you.
  • 15. Make cool structures with Playdough and toothpicks. Fun and educational!
  • 16. Play a quick and easy board game that’s not too taxing on your brain, like Let’s Go Fishin‘, Candy Land and Bananagrams.
  • 17. Simple but always a hit: print a coloring page of their favorite Disney character, Marvel superhero or Pokemon, and bring the crayons out.
  • 18. Sing songs together, play musical instrument bingo, enjoy musical picture books or see who’s the first to guess popular tunes.
  • 19. Make yourself comfortable on the floor (if you can) and help set up a wooden train track or marble run for your kids to play with.
  • 20. Curl up on the couch with hot chocolate and ask your kid(s) fun, open-ended questions to deep your connection. You can also try with these ‘Would You Rather…” questions for a good time.
  • 21. Let your kid(s) dress up in their best costume – with all the accessories – and have a mini photoshoot.
  • 22. Build anything you can imagine with magnetic tiles or Kapla blocks. Often just getting your kids started is enough for a fun bonding moment.
36 Inventive Ways to Plan with Your Kids When You're Tired and In Pain | The Health Sessions
Photo by cottonbro studio via pexels.com

Quiet Time

Are you struggling with headaches, sensory overload or mental fatigue? See if you can add some (more) quite time to your day while still staying in touch with your kids.

  • 23. Make quiet time special for your kids, by bringing out busy bags, sensory bins or special toys for those moments when you need rest. Older kids could also do special projects during that time, like (nature) journaling, scrap booking or working on their chess strategy.
  • 24. Recreate a relaxing spa at home with face masks, a soothing foot soak and painting each others nails.
  • 25. Get your jig saw puzzles out and see how much you can complete in 20, 30 or 45 minutes. You could even piece together a 3D globe or Harry Potter’s Hogwarth!
  • 26. Easily set up a ‘breakfast invitation’ – works any time of day – for some hands-on learning for your little ones. They can sort shapes and sizes, practice counting and letters, or work other fine motor skills in fun ways while you relax for a moment.
  • 27. Enjoy yourselves with a magnetic book that allows you to dress up princesses or mix and match dinosaurs.
  • 28. If you’re able to move but just need some quietude, search YouTube for child-friendly yoga videos you can do together.
  • 29. Does your kid love animal figurines? Get inspired by all the ways you can calmly play with them.
36 Inventive Ways to Play with Your Kids When You're Tired and in Pain | The Health Sessions
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova via pexels.com

Outdoor Area

Do you have an outdoor area where your kids can safely play without you having to run after them? Then install yourself outside on a lounger while your kids can blow off some steam.

  • 30. Set up a comfortable daybed in the garden or on the patio so you can supervise your kids while they bounce on the trampoline, skip rope or shoot some hoops.
  • 31. Blow bubbles for your toddler or preschooler to pop.
  • 32. Get out the sidewalk chalk for some colorful art on the driveway. You could also draw a hopscotch or track to follow to release some energy and practice their balance.
  • 33. Play ball games seated down. You can play fetch with your kids instead of your dog. Throw and catch the ball back and forth, or dribble and bounce to each other. The only rule is you are not allowed to get up from your chair, so your child has to aim well (or do the running for you)!
  • 34. Go on a backyard safari. Your child could gently catch and release bugs for you to study up close together, watch birds, learn about different butterflies or look for natural treasures like feathers, pinecones and rocks.
  • 35. Build castles or make pretend cupcakes with kinetic sand. Less mess than a sandbox and can be done on the smallest balcony.
  • 36. Who says you can only go hunting for Easter eggs in the spring? On a dry day, hide durable toys (medium-sized trucks, animal figurines, sandbox toys) on your porch or in the garden for your kids to seek. Based on experience, just remember where you put them to avoid drama.
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No matter how hard you try, there will always be days when you’re just too sick to play with your kids the way you’d all like to. But hopefully these 36 family activities have given you a little inspiration how you could still connect with your child(ren) and create happy memories together, even when you’re tired and in pain.

For more tried-and-tested tips, check out the ‘Parenting with Chronic Illness’ series and how to deal with guilt when you can’t always be there for your kids because of your health. 

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