This last week I have had the occasion of witnessing some of the positive consequences of playing with your children, that Cohens mentions. (this is a posting in a series where a I write about each chapter in the book Playful Parenting of Lawrence Cohen).
When reading this book I have made an extra effort to play regularly with my son. We have done a lot of wrestling and pillow-war. After one of these occasions he started talking about death, and I could really feel that this was an extremely important issue for him right now. And on one other occasion our wrestling turned into him wanting to play me giving birth to him. I can understand that he is curious about how it feels to be born, and trying to figure out how he could get born out of his mothers belly.
So, in the vein of Cohen, my conclusion is that playing gave us a closeness that made it possible for him to bring up very important issues and questions about birth and death. This felt enormously rewarding for me, it is sort of the thing you want as a parent, that your child feel the trust to talk about such things with you.
Another thing I have been thinking about recently is that nowadays when there is a potential of a conflict between me and my son, my kneejerk reaction is to think for myself that he is obstructing or obnoxious or something – but now I try to erease these thoughts and think ”playful parenting!” instead. And this actually works. Like if he puts his underpants on his head, the best is to play and laugh about that for a while; to try and force him to put them on normally is just going to increase his resistance and cause a conflict. This will take time and make the morning less enjoyable for us.
Chapter 5 is about following the giggles. Quote from this chapter:
If you want them to get the giggles, don’t talk in a regular voice if you can talk in a funny voice; don’t talk at all if you can sing; don’t stand up when you can fall over.
I think Cohens incitement to goofiness makes a lot of sense. Cohen also has a very sound discussion about the difficulties that many of us adults have with loosening up and being goofy. The main idea is that children are so powerless and face so enormous obstacles every day having inferior abilities, experiences etc. So we give them a tremendous gift if we play goofy and fall and ”make fools” of ourselves. We offer them the chance to laugh and release some of all that tension, and they can feel that the adult can share their feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness. Playing sort of creates a space where those feelings can be shared and made less threatening.
Talking about this, dealing with feelings. I would also like to mention that I see playful parenting as one tool and validation (see for instance the book How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk) is one other tool that I think we should use. Yesterday evening my son was really extremely angry about not getting to play computer game as much as he wanted, and then we first talked about his anger in a (hopefully) validating way – to only focus on our understanding that he was angry and sad. And then it shifted a bit so that we could also play with his wanting to revenge – he talked about throwing grease on me and I pretended to be sad and hurt.
(see also InspireMama for more posts about the chapters of this book)