Parenting Guru: The joy of the 5-minute clubhouse

5 minutes to a happier child

Last weekend, after making my daughter Sunday breakfast and watching a cartoon together, I left her to play on her own while I spent time on the computer. I only intended to work for a while, but more than an hour passed.

My daughter grew restless. She wanted to play. I wanted to finish my project. I kept putting her off for "five more minutes." Even I knew it rang hollow after the third request.

Eventually she came and leaned against me, quietly asking the words that are still ringing in my ears:

"Mommy? Is that computer more important than me?"

Ouch. I shut the laptop down, drew her to my side, and gave her hugs and assurances. It helped, but I felt I owed her more.

"Tell you what, I have a great idea," I suggested. "Let's make my famous five-minute, girls-only clubhouse!"

Maya's eyes flew open wide and she screamed: "Yes! YES! You are the best mommy in the whole world!"

I began constructing the five-minute clubhouse of my youth, using blankets and sheets to create a cave like structure over the dining table, chairs and nearby couch. A few books tossed on top to weight it all down, and we quickly had a fun, dark, secret place to call our own, no boys allowed.

Maya had done her part to make the inside "cozy," laying out several blankets and pillows.. She also invited her favorite dolls to join the girls-only space. There was a pile of books for our clubhouse library, and some water in case we got thirsty. We were clearly good to go.

"But wait!" I added in a stage whisper, lest Daddy hear, "Don't we need flashlights?"

"Yes, flashlights!" she whispered loudly, and took off for the kitchen utility drawer. She was also thrilled when we came up with a secret clubhouse password.

After about an hour of reading, ghost stories, and flashlight play, I suggested we call it a day. Now she looked crestfallen.

"Do we have to take it down mommy?"

I looked at my hijacked dining room and fought my knee-jerk, "let's-clean-it-now" response.

"Nah, we should leave it up for at least a few days, right?"

"Yes!" she shouted with a fist pump for emphasis. I got another hug, then she returned to her clubhouse to play some more. It made me realize: I'll take her happy smile over an orderly dining room any day.

What simple games or activities bring an instant smile to your child's face?

When she is not hanging out in the clubhouse, Diana Dull Akers is a Parenting Guru for Yahoo! Shine, a mother, sociologist, and freelance writer in the San Francisco Bay Area.