Playful Parenting chapter 5

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)

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.