I finished a great book recently: Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, PH.D. (www.playfulparenting.com)
I often found myself frustrated, annoyed, and stressed, which meant during the little time I was home with them, my children got an irritable, angry, bossy mom. Everything we tried to do together was difficult and escalated easily leaving everyone feeling empty, exhausted, and hurting.
Dr. Cohen’s premise is this – Being a Playful Parent fosters closeness, connection, and confidence, which results in happy, healthy, helpful children, fewer behavior problems, and stronger relationships. He describes Playful Parenting “as a way of filling children’s needs for attachment, affection, love, security, confidence, and closeness.” (p274)
Even though I don’t agree with some of his thinking, I do like his overall approach, and he has brilliant play ideas. He gives countless examples of how to actually do what he says, which is incredibly helpful.
His basic principles are:
Join Children in Their World
Establish a Connection
Follow the Giggles
Follow Their Lead
Accept Strong Feelings
To Join Children in Their World means to basically pay attention to them, to participate in their play, to be in tune with their joys and struggles by taking the time to get to know them. Choose to play even if you don’t feel like it.
Game – “Fill Up” – individually fill each child up with Mommy love, from toes to head.
Game – “Love Egg” – crack imaginary egg over child’s head to spread on love.
Game – “Lava Game” – wrestle on the bed and pretend the floor covered with molten lava.
Game – Do it Again (and again and again and again…)
Game – If child is aggressive or fearful or competitive, play a game with them that incorporates these ideas so they can try out ways of dealing with them.
“When we constantly tell children what they should or shouldn’t do, they have no room to think for themselves and are forced to choose between resentful obedience or defiant rebellion. Playfulness helps them think for themselves, even about serious topics.” (p26)
“Take any troubling or annoying or infuriating message from your child, whether it is in words or behavior, and translate it in your head into something that you can deal with more effectively. For Playful Parenting purposes, it is especially useful to translate whatever you hear or see into the language of closeness ad isolation, confidence and powerlessness.” (p37)
The thing he said about Establishing a Connection that stuck with me most was that disconnection is painful.
One visual he uses to help parents understand kids is the idea of Filling Cups. “The child’s need for attachment with them is like a cup that is emptied by being hungry, tired, lonely, or hurt. The cup is refilled by being loved, fed, comforted, and nurtured.” (p43)
Game – “Peek-a-boo”
Game – “Hide and Seek” & “Chase” & “Tag”
Game – “Mirror” – mirror the child’s motions in a ‘follow the leader’ way (not mockingly).
Game – “The Love Gun” – when you get shot with it, you get crazy love for the person who shot you.
Game – Respond to insult with “I had a great time playing with you. I really like you. It’s hard to say goodbye.”
Game – Be the village idiot
Game – Be overly dramatic
Game – Pillow fight
Game – Arm wrestle
Game – Nighttime ritual of putting toys to bed.
In the chapter on Encouraging Confidence, he discusses society’s confusion about power, how children experience power, independence and powerlessness, and how adults can help them navigate as they grow. His basic advice is to let children experiment with power (power of words, power to break rules) on you, the adult, instead of on other children.
Game – Respond to insult with “Shhh, don’t tell anyone my secret name!”
“Just kidding, my secret name is Rice Krispies Cake! Please don’t tell anyone!”
Game – Respond to insult with “Well you can call me that, but definitely don’t call me Googlehead.”
Game – Make something they don’t like into a game they have power over, instead of using force.
He has an excellent philosophy about preparing children for how hard the world is:
“If life is really that difficult, then we don’t need more beatings and humiliations and losses than we will get anyway. What children really need is to be secure and self-confident, and that comes from being loved and well cared for. Not protected from every little bump and bruise, but not toughened up either… We prepare children best by both nurturing them and challenging them.” (p66)
Game – Start out letting them win, and then slowly play harder and harder
Game – Follow their lead, sometimes they want you to let them win, sometimes they want to be challenged.
Play with the theme of competition to help them release intense feelings about winning and losing by:
Game – Set up a game where they always win and be a sore loser. (Make them laugh!)
Game – Brag about how great you are at a game, and then do a horrible job. (Make them laugh!)
Game – Let the child make up the rules to an already existing game
Game – Flip a coin. If you lose, ham up the loss. If you win, brag obnoxiously about how great you are.
Game – Ask the child for a game idea.
Dr. Cohen touches on the topic of criticism with this accurate observation: “Adults are famous for taking all the fun and playfulness out of learning.” (p71) Children learn criticism from us, and the voice can stay in their head for the rest of their lives. We must be cognizant of this internal struggle and encourage them to ignore the voice telling them they can’t do it – first subtly, then verbally. If they have a strong emotional reaction, “all we have to do is listen and maintain our confidence in them while they release these feelings.” (p72)
He finishes the chapter by showing us how we can use play to help children work through something painful or difficult that they are struggling with, and suggesting we try finding a way to laugh about a morally-charged topic instead of giving a lecture that they won’t learn much from anyway.
The next chapter is probably the best in the whole book… “Follow the Giggles.” We’ll check that out next time.