On chapter 9 in Playful parenting

This chapter is about ”Following Your Child’s Lead”. Cohen here discusses the importance of letting your child be the leader when you play. He think that we should do this as much as possible when we play with children (with the exception for moments when play seems to get into a dead-in or get destructive)

There are very good reasons for letting your child decide a lot in playing. For instance:

  • It enhances self-esteem. Since children naturally feel powerless a lot, letting them lead and direct play with their parents, will give them a sense of importance and agency.
  • It helps the parent to really receive and enter the universe of the child, with all the imagination, delights and anxieties there. Which in turn will strengthen the relationship between the child and the parent.
  • Stepping back and putting your own ideas to the side will also help the child to start expressing him/herself more freely.
  • It will also help developing fantasy play and other creative forms of play.

Important strategies are:

  • Just say yes – like I mentioned in an earlier post.
  • Setting aside a regular playtime. I have to admit that I don’t do this. It seems like a good idea to really make clear that this time is entirely the time of the child, that you are not going to cook, rest, watch TV or answer the phone now, and the the child is encouraged to decide for him/herself what to do.

I feel that this principle of following the child is terribly important, and often more difficult than it might seem. You might encounter boredom, or feel that you don’t want to do this or that, but here Cohen sides entirely with the child – he encourages us to just put aside about our misgivings and fears and just follow our children in play.

When reading Cohen, I have been thinking about Webster-Strattons concept Parent Training. It has become quite widespread here in Sweden, and it also served as blueprint for the even more popular Swedish adaption Komet.

Webster-Stratton is in agreement with Cohen in putting play as the base or centerpiece for raising emotionally healthy kids. But the approach to play of Webster-Stratton is radically different. She recommends parents to just sit beside the child and describe neutrally what the child does. She makes the same observation as Cohen does in this chapter, that it seem to be terribly difficult for most adults not to interfere and take over the play of their children. But her solution does not give room for very much interaction or fun between the child and the adult. The child might feel to a certain extent that the adult is present and interested, but in the light of Cohens book, Webster-Stratton really miss out most of the possibilities of play.

This is a posting in a collaborative project together with Jennifer at InspireMama. She is reading the chapters concurrently and posting about her thoughts. (The book Playful Parenting at AdLibris, Bokus)

Thoughts on Chapter 8 in Playful Parenting

Empower Girls and Connect with Boys

I once asked two six-year olds, a boy and a girl, what the key was to popularity in first grade. The boy said, ”Shoot missiles.” The girl said ”Be nice.” In other words, the fact that boys are given a heavy dose of  ”boys don’t cry” does not mean that girls have full freedom to express all their feelings either. […]No wonder so many girls become experts at subtle cruelty. [from chapter 8 of Playful Parenting of Lawrence Cohen]

Cohen here mentions the large body of research about how we gender children. We adults tend to treat both younger and older children very differently depending on their sex. And this really locks the children into rigid roles. Like the ones mentioned in the caption above.

I read this chapter with mixed feelings. I am in a way happy to live in Sweden where there is always an ongoing discussion about these issues, both in media and among ordinary people. It is actually quite common that parents talk about gender stereotypes, and it is sort of assumed that everybody try to make at least some things to break up this tradition. We also have many organisations, companies and agencies that work actively with promoting more gender-aware methods in families, schools and kindergartens.

At the same time I also feel how very true it is that these gender patterns are in many ways unconscious, like Cohen also mentions several times. They are very difficult to change, and we tend to act these out the gender stereotypes with our children even if we make a deliberate effort not to do that. So in spite of belonging to some sort of global elite on gender equality, I feel that we very much face the same problems that Cohen mentions from his American vantage point. Unconsciously we Swedes give our children very much the same gendered roles as in the rest of the world.

Play can have a very important role in working with gender stereotypes:

  • Play introduces a sort of a ”free-trade-zone” where normal rules are suspended and children can try new ways of acting. Boys can be encouraged to be sensitive and caring and girls can be encouraged to lead and express anger and individualism.
  • In play adults can also model expression of new behaviours and feelings, in the guise of joking and playing.
  • Girls and boys playing together can also present a very creative challenge, when the dinosaurs and transformers meet the barbies and bratz, and new combinations can emerge.

Cohen here stresses the importance of meeting the child where (s)he is, typically playing boy-things with boys and girl-stuff with girls. And then from that point of departure, as an adult you can try to toss in new things and see what happens if the superhero hurt his leg and cries for comfort, for instance.

Also it might be extra important that fathers make an effort to play with dolls and that mothers play physical games and roughhouse (etc.).

The goal here of  course is not to make men of women, and women of men, but to promote more healthy and flexible identities for both sexes.

Note: This posting is part of a series where I read each chapter of the book Playful Parenting (of Lawrence Cohen) together with Jennifer at Inspire Mama. Jennifer has been busy being pregnant recentle so this series have been dormant, but I plan to take it up again soon (added june 2011).

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.