Playful Parenting chapter 4

(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)

Playful Parenting chapter 3

I’m reading Playful Parenting of Lawrence Cohen together with Jennifer at InspireMama. Since she already posted about chapter 3, I will somewhat refer to her posting here.

As she mentions, the chapter is all about connection. My favourite passage from this chapter is: ”[children] need to feel connected and confident before they can make any positive changes. So once again, get down on floor and play what they want to play. With older children, tuning in may mean sitting with them and listen to the music they like and watching the movies they rent. Yuck. But do it.”

When reading this I have been thinking about the importance to spend time with your child. Giving somebody of your time is sort of a precious gift, since it is almost the only thing that you will never be able to get back (I am grateful to Laci Green for pointing this out).

Jennifer talks about the ”love gun”. We play that game quite often in my home. The child attacks the adult with something, like a gun or a spear, but the twist is that this is a ”love gun” or a ”love spear”, so when you get shot by it, you have to love the person that shot you. And the more they shoot the more you love them, so you end up chasing the child screaming stupid declarations of endless love…

The more I read in this book, the more I want to recommend it to all parents. The book is really full of very creative examples of how you can turn difficult situations into play and connection. The love gun is one of these beautiful suggestions of Cohen. It is probably normal for parents not to feel comfortable with their children running around playing with weapons. But this way, by playing ”love gun”, we can meet the child and engage in a play that they like, and at the same time we don’t endorse any excessive aggressiveness.

I forgot one of Cohen’s main rules today. I was laying jigsaw puzzles with my son, and there were two puzzles, so since he prefered not to have my help, I started with the other one, and at first, he wanted to compete, but then I was faster, and I got carried away and lay the puzzle faster than him, which he didn’t like, and I could see that this made the experience less rewarding for him. Probably a common mistake especially for men. What Cohen points out all the time, is that the play has to be totally according to the wishes and perspective of the child. We have to learn to put aside all our distractions and worries and stress and just tune in to the child and his/her needs. That is probably the most important reason why I am reading this book again, to remind myself of the importance of this.

Playful parenting – chapter 2

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 yees!-response

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.

Presentation in English

I am a psychologist in Stockholm, Sweden. In this blog I write mainly about parenting, self-esteem and psychotherapy. I work with therapy according to the works of Jean Jenson and Ingeborg Bosch. This is a new and effective approach which combines behavioral and emotional work. Many of my clients have issues with self-esteem and also have questions about the impact of their personal history on their present day life.

Apart from writing about this therapy, I am also very fond of the ideas of Aletha Solter and Lawrence Cohen, and I translate and write about their work.

I welcome English-speaking clients to my practice, I speak fluent English. If you would be interested in this, I offer a free one-hour trial consultation, so that you can get a feel for how I work. My e-mail is

For more information about the therapy, please have refer to Ingeborg Boschs page. The therapy is also inspired by the work of Alice Miller.

Almost all of the blog is written in Swedish. If you don’t understand Swedish, you can get a rough translation through an online translator such as Google translate.

Please feel welcome to contact me if you have any questions or so.