I am presently re-reading the book Playful Parenting of Lawrence Cohen. Some points I have been thinking about when reading this chapter are:
The importance of how we respond to our kids when they want to play. I took classes in theatre improvisation (impro) for a few years, and something that we practiced was to shout ”yees!” to every suggestion that we got. Within impro this is considered very important, since it opens up the flow of imagination and without this response the improvisation dies.
This is something I want to practise with my son as well.
I think of what I learned when studying cognitive behavioral therapy. Most of us want our kids to believe that they have something important and unique to contribute to this world. We want them to have the confidence to communicate their inner world with people around them. We want them to be able to enjoy everything good in life without too much hesitation.
Then we can make use of the laws of positive reinforcement. Reinforcement means that we do more of the behaviors that we get positive response from – like getting a happy smile from an important person. And children have short time-horizons, so it is really vital that this positive response comes quickly, then it will be much more effective. When children come to us and suggest ”shall we play….” we should then respond as quickly as possible and as positively as possible. This will increase the child’s connection-seeking behaviours, which will in turn build self-esteem and healthy social relationships.
In sum, I feel that is that it is only if we can shout ”yees!!” often enough to our children’s suggestions that we can give them this feeling of being of an extreme worth to the world. (of course we might not have to literally shout, but we must respond with a heartfelt enthusiasm)
The other day I was preparing some food, and my son wanted to play pillow-war. And I am really a fan of eating the food when it’s warm, so I was not happy at all about this suggestion. But I felt that it really mattered to him, and I tried, and we had fun, and in the end I enjoyed it, and I feel that this is the sort of parent that I would like to be. (not that I am anywhere close to a perfect parent most of the time, of course)
(Maybe we should also consider using the ”yees”-response more in our roles as spouses, co-workers, managers, helpers, commuters etc, as well.)
Play as connection
Cohen very much stresses the value of play for making a connection with children when they are going through difficult times. I participated in a discussion on an Internet-forum a week ago concerning children that are in a bad mood in the morning. Here one can see a very obvious biological explanation, since it is known that humans have different circadian rhythms, making them more or less tired in the mornings.
But I think that when the morning mood becomes a problem, as it was in the forum that I visited, chances are that the child is also in some way too separated and lonely from the people around her. I got the feeling of not only a tired and grumpy child, but of a child in some sort of conflict and separation towards her mother.
I feel both professional people and lay-people need to talk much more concretely about strategies for helping children who are lonely or isolated. Talking about play as the language of children, makes it obvious that in order to help children become less lonely, we have to learn their language; play.
I also recommend the posting by InspireMama on this chapter.