Chapter title: Learn to Roughhouse
When Emma was little, I would stand right underneath her when she climbed on a playstructure, my face contorted by worry and anxiety. Her mother would let her climb as high as she wanted, a confident smile on her face, trusting Emma’s judgment. At the time I thought this was horrible, but she was right. No broken bones. And I know, as a therapist, that even if she had broken a bone, bones heal faster than timidity and fearfulness
When reading this chapter I have been thinking about how playing with children can boost their self-esteem. Social interaction among children is almost 100 % about play. So while we cognitive behavioral therapists train adults with social phobia in social small-talk or to stand in front of a crowd and talk, the most important skill for a child in order to get along with his/her peers is playing. And since most of us adults have forgotten much of childhood and playing, we underestimate how complex a skill playing is.
Think of how people who want to do acting spend years learning and rehearsing every aspect of it. Children also spend a lot of energy learning to play. And think of the advantage of a child who has one or two dedicated coaches in this process in his parents. (This paragraph may have sounded competetive – like as if you should make your child a ”winner” – of course parenting and play must also be a way of helping your child in finding their uniqueness and their own way through life)
Things that are important for children to learn in this area are for instance:
- How to be a leader or follower in play – this will make it easer for them to adapt to new playmates and new constellations.
- Initiating play with people they know and with strangers.
- How to be light-hearted with their own mistakes. Here I think Cohens advice to act goofily is extremely important. I think that if a child sees an adult make mistakes and laugh about it, it will make the childs own mistakes much easier to bear. You know – I spend my days seeing people with all sorts of social inhibitions, and for these people making a social mistake can often feel like being sent to purgatory or something. So being able to laugh at your own mistakes can be a tremendously important skill to teach your child. (or your grand-child or some other child…)
This chapter is about roughhousing. I must admit this is not at all something that I consider myself good at. My parents never did much of that with me. [for my Swedish readers: I didn’t know this term either – ”roughhousing” seem to indicate physical play like ”kuddkrig”, ”brottning” and similar stuff]
I remember, though, that as I child I sometimes saw other parents wrestle and do that sort of physical play with their kids and I can remember that, as a child, seeing this looked so very warm to me. It felt like those parents and kids built a warm bubble of love together.
Again, Cohen argues brilliantly why it is so important to engage in this kind of play. He mentions that there are findings that indicate that children who wrestle with their fathers have better social contacts with their peers (he also makes a strong argument that mothers should also wrestle…). And for those of us who are ambivalent about wrestling, he points out that wrestling is not that much about winning or being strong. It is just as much about learning about using your body, and learning to control your aggressiveness. And learning about other peoples control over their aggressiveness.
Cohen provides ten very useful rules, especially useful for us who feel inadequate in this sort of play. Please note rule number 9 – no tickling allowed. Our parents often had no clue about how to play physically with their children, and they often didn’t have very much clue about physical integrity either. So many of us were tickled too much, without any any respect with regard to when we wanted to stop, and as parents we might have a tendency to repeat this mistake. So please pay attention to this!
Rule number 7: (usually) let the child win, made me think of a coaching with the Danish parenting-guru Jesper Juul, that I read in a magazine a while ago. Juul recommended that the father wrestled with his son, but Juul stressed that the father should always win.
We Scandinavians proud ourselves of being anti-authoritarian, but when comparing Juul and Cohen I feel that it is Juul that is authoritarian. My vote is definitely for Cohen, and I keep wondering why Juul had this idea, he who has been the big name in Scandinavia for democratic parenting.
For Cohen, a very important function of play is to reverse roles, and this he deals with in the next chapter.
Note: This posting is part of a collaboration with InspireMama, who also writes her about reflections on each chapter of the book.
Added sept 2015: InspireMama seem to have gone off grid, I cannot find her blog any more.