Playful Parenting: My Thoughts
You can put me down as one more voice enthusiastically recommending the book, Playful Parenting!
It was truly fantastic, forever going in my Top Five parenting books, directly behind Alfie Kohn and Naomi Aldort. The author, Lawrence Cohen, speaks from the same radical view – that children are individuals deserving of respect and patience as they learn to navigate a very frustrating and overwhelming world. But while Kohn leaves a person lacking in much practical advice and Aldort takes a more compassionate route, Cohen’s approach is well…playful!
Cohen states that most parent/child problems stem from disconnection, in which kids feel locked within towers of isolation or powerlessness. And he describes quite well the value of play in helping our children process their experiences, giving them a sense of power and autonomy and fostering trust and connection between us. He advocates tuning into a child’s needs; that it takes a parent less time to meet the need than to fight for our own way and that meeting those needs (for attention, time, quiet, listening, food, sleep, affection, play) does not in any circumstance mean you’re “rewarding negative behavior”.
I’m always amazed when adults say that children “just did that to get attention”. Naturally children who need attention will do all kinds of things to get it. Why not just give it to them?
I couldn’t help but find myself smiling throughout the first several chapters as he related stories of the silliness he subjects his ego to for the sake of connecting with a child. It was also exciting to read so much practical wisdom without so much of a hint of holier-than-thou condescension (he often relates his own parenting blunders), or top-down authority over children. Cohen’s emphasis stays true to respectful and compassionate parenting.
Perhaps the best chapters where the last ones all about how to gently take the lead in play when we see our children need help, learning to love the games we hate to play, handling the strong emotions that arise from both our children and ourselves, taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of our children, and of course, the obligatory chapter on discipline.
That chapter, Rethinking The Way We Discipline, was fantastic, I might add. Cohen spoke strongly against punishments and behavior modification and echoed what most of we all already feel: it doesn’t work and rarely comes up when we are connected with our children.
I think it’s obvious by now that I see most “behavior” as really just a matter of disconnection. Children who feel connected also feel inclined to be cooperative and thoughtful. So instead of punishment, which tends to create an even bigger disconnection between parent and child, try thinking about how to reestablish a connection….Most punishments involve exerting power over a child, which just increases his or her sense of isolation and powerlessness.
I think the only thing that really challenged me about this book were his repeated techniques for dealing with fears, in which he describes pretending to have the same fear and acting it out himself in an exaggerated way. Although he does state to watch for signs the child feels teased, I find it hard to believe, based on our own personal experiences and sensitivities, that such things could come off any other way but teasing. Therefore the technique seemed a little cold-hearted to me, whereas validation and time have always worked best for us. Again, that’s just been my own experience.
I borrowed this book from the library, but it definitely needs to go on my shelf. There are a few chapters I would like to reread, such as Accept Strong Feelings (Theirs and Ours) and Learn To Love The Games You Hate. Both of those are things I struggle with and both are demanding my attention right now.