What is it? Why is it awesome-sauce? Why do I want you to incorporate it into your parenting repertoire TODAY?
You may already know that we’re super passionate about play around here. I have a membership site dedicated to it, and want to address one part of it in BIG way – but with a twist. This is not about our children’s play or how to encourage independent play, but about playful parenting.
The trouble with parenting today
The trouble that I think we all get into with parenting is that we take it too seriously! Our children trigger us. We get frustrated and angry, and that’s inevitable. Your kids don’t put their shoes on until your already late. They leave smears on the bathroom window. They forget to flush the toilet, and they won’t eat their veggies. They don’t go to bed when they’re supposed to go to bed, and you’re EXHAUSTED. They make holes in your carpet. They just do all the things that kids do, that get us riled up and annoyed.
So we end up repeating ourselves, and saying things louder and louder in order to try and get their attention and for them to do what we want!
While all of that is inevitable, and I’ve experienced it all – I want to offer you an alternative path. Have you seen an adult who can just connect with kids? Who can get down on their level and communicate with ease? Who can make them burst out laughing and do what needs to be done? These people are kind of magnetic and children are attracted to them. Luckily my brother is like this, and it’s incredible to watch! He has 5 kids of his own, so perhaps that’s how he’s honed this skills. He speaks to my kids in a way that is respectful, at their level, and at their height. They don’t feel patronized, it’s not in baby talk, and they don’t feel shamed. On the other hand he gains their respect and trust, connects with them, gets them laughing and gets them excited about what he’s about to say. I literally copy him sometimes, making a mental note of those games or the way he said something to emulate later.
Playfulness is a superpower when it comes to interacting with children
For a millennia it seems, we’ve developed this image of parenting to be “do as I say,” a “guidance system,” and “be an authority figure.” All of that is ALSO true I believe. Our kids need us to be leaders, and authority figures which I’ve addressed in recent podcasts. But we can do so with a lightness, a fun factor, and play. Playfulness is sometimes seen as the opposite of seriousness – as if we’re not taking our role seriously being too chummy and silly, so our children in turn won’t take us seriously. The mindset shift I’ve acquired though is that the difficult, draining, drudgery parts of parenting – setting limits, handling negative behaviors and big ‘bad’ emotions – all of those can be handled much better with playfulness. Yes we can use peaceful parenting, and set limits with empathy as I teach in my Empathic Limits Course. In this course however, there’s also a bonus all about Playful Parenting. I think handling tough situations with playfulness where a limit needs to be set, is in fact good parenting.
First of all, when we can say something in a funny voice, or turn or chore into a game, then it calms us down! Suddenly we realize that it’s not an emergency that they aren’t listening to us, or that they’re refusing to clear the table. We send a message to our own nervous system to calm down, and get creative! Whilst calming ourselves down is a huge benefit, it also calms our children down. It actually diffuses power struggles! The nervous system goes from fight, flight, or freeze mode, to creative mode. Our pre-frontal cortexes are back online.
Lawrence Cohen, psychologist and author of “Playful Parenting” points out that play is children’s way of exploring the world, communicating deep feelings, getting close to those they care about, working through stressful situations and simply blowing off steam. That’s why it’s so successful in building strong, close bonds with your kids. Through play we join children in their world. We help them to express and understand complex emotions, to break through shyness anger and fear, to empower themselves and respect diversity, to play their way through sibling rivalry, and to cooperate without power struggles.
Some examples from my Playful Parenting bonus in Empathic Limits:
- Put complex emotions into a silly character – like in the movie “Inside Out.”
Get into character when our child is afraid of the dark. For example, in a whimpering voice we could say, “Hello I’m fear. Can you help me? I’m also afraid of the dark. Actually I’m afraid of my own shadow. I’m afraid of toothpaste and shoes, there’s a pair of shoes over there. Help me calm down!! Please! “ By being silly and being afraid of ridiculous things, we’re putting our kids in a position of power to calm US down, so they’re learning how to talk to fear. This is a transferable skill when talking to their own fear. How can we help them talk to shyness? Or Anger? Maybe suddenly we’re so shy we can’t even look them in the eye. We could be actors in a movie and work through being shy together. If they’re afraid to separate from us we could play a game where we are so afraid to separate from them. “No please don’t climb into your bed, no, no, no, I need you!” Or pretend you are terrified to be separated from your water bottle. Make it into a game. Play out the themes.
- Play a game around respecting diversity – Maybe you are suddenly so different because you wear a certain kind of hat. Play a game around that. Talk about how we treat and talk to people who are different from us. We can get super offended when they laugh at our hat. Then we can talk about how some people do where different hats, or have a different skin color, a different sexuality, or different preferences, and they get genuinely sad when we laugh at them. We can talk about it through the game.
- Empower them to overcome a difficult situation by acting it out – For example, if your child is afraid to go the doctor have them be the doctor checking your ears, measuring your height and weight, looking into your mouth etc. “Now check that my fingernails aren’t too blue, and my cheeks aren’t too round!” Making it into a game helps them to process the real fears surrounding that. As adults, if we are upset about a fight we had with a partner, or an upcoming speaking gig, we process it somehow. We go for a run, we talk it through, we rehearse and plan it out. We process and come to terms with what we’re feeling. Well kids don’t do that, but they play. They act things out. They might “act out” through bad behavior, or through play. It empowers them to actually handle those things in real life.
- Play through sibling rivalry – At a calm moment, pretend you and your partner are having a hard time sharing. “Can you help us? We’re so angry! I wanna hit him because he has my spoon! What should I do?” (it’s always helpful to let them know it’s a game so they can feel free to get into character, and know you can always stop if it’s not fun). They become the peacemaker, with suggestions to work it out.
Other Playful Ideas to Get Cooperation
- Get into Character. You are a Special Agent on a mission to get into the car. Sneak around and pretend you can’t be detected by the other spies. Once everyone is seated, exclaim “Mission complete.” Sometimes I’m Mrs. Hodge Podge, an extremely strict British Nanny. I insult their mother for raising such unruly kids, and they must do everything I say.
- Become Contrary. For example, “You may never wash your hands with soap. Eww!!! No way!! Please don’t wash your hands with soap. I think I’m going to gag. OK fine a little bit of soap but don’t scrub it…ewwwww!! You’re scrubbing it all around your fingers!” or “You could NEVER get yourself dressed quickly, you? Really? Prove it to me.”
- Full Agreement Game. Instead of saying “You need to leave the park now, I’m counting!” -it can be really funny to go with whatever they’re asking for. “You want to stay in the park? Sure! Let’s stay in the park forever. Let’s sleep here. I better order a moving truck. Where should we put your bed? You know what? We should have dinner here. Can we eat the wood chips for dinner? Can you make yummy pasta out of the leaves? Let’s stay in the park always, I never want to leave”
- Switch roles. For example, “I want you to make ME ice cream for breakfast!”
- Become completely incompetent. As Dr. Laura Markham puts it, be a bumbling, fumbling fool. “What’s this? A toothbrush? What’s this good for?” “Oh no! I don’t remember what our car looks like, can you help me find it?”
- Use puppets to narrate yourself. For example, “Mummy is so tired of waiting for you to put your shoes on. Oh look at her! Mummy wants to help you now!”
- Burst into giggles. Laugh at any opportunity. The louder and crazier the better. Laughter is best medicine.
LEAVE A COMMENT!
What is your BIGGEST TAKEAWAY about “playful parenting?” What’s one playful parenting idea you want to try today?