(About chapter 4 in the book Playful Parenting of Lawrence Cohen)
Chapter 4 is about encouraging self-confidence. Children will always have issues around mastery – it is frustrating to learn to tie shoelaces and the other thousands of things that children have to learn. By playing with them around these things, we make these frustrations easier to bear and the challenges easier to overcome.
Of course most of us like to see our children learn things, especially when you see the pride in their eyes after accomplishing something new. Often we can help them by giving them appropriate resistance; physical/intellectual/etc.
But even more importantly, it seems to me, children get all sorts of problems around the issues of learning, accomplishing and performing. Some get to obsessed with winning or following the norm, whereas other seem to give up too easily. Cohen suggests that play is a very gentle and effective way of coaching children out of these impasses.
When reading this chapter, I have been thinking about the concept of blocking that I mentioned a few postings ago. It is a term often used within impro (a form of stage-improvisation) when a participant says no to a suggestion or invitation. I then wanted to stress the importance of saying yes! (with an enthusiastic energy) to the suggestions of our children.
I think the concept of blocking can be extended to parenting in other ways. For instance if the child spits on the floor, it is a huge difference to say ”no, you musn’t spit on the floor” or to say ”you can spit in the toilet” – the latter not blocking the energy of the child. And in the thinking of playful parenting, I think another way of blocking the child is to try to correct it, for instance saying, ”no, firemen don’t have yellow caps, do they?”. The spirit of Cohen’s book is very much that the play in itself should be encouraged, to correct facts often just disturbs the flow of play. But at the same time we want the child to learn new facts, don’t we?
This can sometimes seem like a difficult dilemma, how much should we let the child win (in checkers or football) and how should we balance the two goals of encouraging learning and encouraging self-esteem? I appreciate that Cohen stresses listening as the primary way of solving this. If the child signals that today I want to win, then just let him/her win. If the child seems to be absorbed by the play, try not to interrupt.
To me it is extremely important that I give my son the self-esteem that he can try new things and not have to ”win” or achieve instantly, and I want him to have the courage to ask for information or clarification when he needs that. It is so much more important to make sure that he will ask people for help and information when needed than correcting him about facts in his playing. Reading Cohen again helps me to focus on the long-term goal hidden in my everyday play with him.
(see also: Jennifer at InspireMama, I think she will soon post about this chapter)