Playful Parenting: My Thoughts

playful parentingYou can put me down as one more voice enthusiastically recommending the book, Playful Parenting!
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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.

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18 Comments. Leave new

While I’m nowhere near the mindset of wanting to even peer at parenting books, I sometimes find them to be all too cheesy.

My mother tried to use one on me once. Bad timing, too. I was thirteen and enduring a major dose of PMS that day. Needless to say the quack that tried to get her to do whatever techniques she pulled from that book, only infuriated me more and fueled the need to scream at her for repeatedly walking into my room to as me questions about my friends.

I’m not angst-y anymore–thank God, for my parents’ sake and my own–but those sort of experiences, of finding those books sitting on the end tables of our home, have made me forever cringe at the idea of reading a book on parenting.

I kinda like some of the ideas you mentioned, though.
I remember, one time, my younger brother was having a nightmare. I woke up to him screaming, and it was one of those deep dreams where the kid will open his eyes, but he’s still stuck in the nightmare itself, so I woke up my parents and they came in the room and my dad got on the bed and started talking to him… My brother was dreaming he was a soldier in a war and the enemy was attacking him from all sides and he was crying because he was so scared. He didn’t want to die, you know? So my dad told him to look behind a bush and he did and he saw my dad there with a machine gun and my dad described himself taking out all the guys and then I just hear my brother go, “Thanks, Daddy…” And smiled and laid his head back on the pillow okay. It was the coolest and cutest thing I ever saw. I think my brother was about 8 then.

Things like that are really cool, I think.

Thanks for sharing this review – sounds like something I NEED to read right now! Luckily for us I was able to request it from our library so I’ll be able to read it real soon :)

Our library doesn’t have this book, so I have yet to read it though I keep hearing great reviews. Maybe when me move the California, the library out there will have it…

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January 4, 2010 12:03 pm

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tara Wagner, Heidi Daniels. Heidi Daniels said: RT @OrganicSister New blog post: Playful Parenting: My Thoughts: http://bit.ly/7asKnI /// I really want to read this book! […]

Loved that book and find myself returning to it again and again….it did wonders in the sibling bickering department in our house— and also, was a gift to us in terms of reminders about what’s important, and what our goals are as parents.

Scott Dietrich
January 4, 2010 1:36 pm

Sounds very interesting! Ill be looking for this at our library. Both those chapters sound like exactly what I need to read. Thank you!

I’m not sure that that be a good approach around here for a different reason, but something I’ll always remember from childhood re: parenting is a Mama using the humor of melting into a Nothingness when her child wouldn’t come in to eat (she was very hungry herself). I was like 16 at the time, and thought it was brilliant.
So I’m mucho willing and excited to check out this book tonight when we go the Big City Library tonight.
:)
Thanks, Tara.

This is one of my favorite books, definitely a smile maker.

This one has been on my “to-read” list for a while now…I’m definitely going to bump it up to the top!

I’ve started reading this book. I like what I’ve read so far, but I haven’t gotten very far because I’m distracted by other things right now. However, just keeping the “playful” idea in my head has helped a lot. When things turn stressful or frustrating (for either of us), I know that I have the option of turning anything into a game. When I choose the playful role, things always go better.

“He describes pretending to have the same fear and acting it out himself in an exaggerated way….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.”

You have a sensitive child. I was a highly sensitive child and extremely vulnerable to teasing. But I can see many children laughing at this approach. I think it depends on just how you do it and how sensitive your child is.

One of your readers commented that she doesn’t like the idea of parenting books. I just generally want to say to anyone who feels that way, that parenting books can be very mind-opening–but you also can’t take them too seriously. I find reading several works best for getting different points of view and getting our own thoughts flowing.

I blogged about this book this week, too. It’s my favorite! Can’t recommend it highly enough. I love your review. Here is the post I wrote in case anyone is interested in reading a bit more: http://wp.me/pBcFQ-f3

Lenz on Learning
January 6, 2010 1:28 pm

Thanks for the nice review. (And thanks again to Bethany for introducing me to the book.) :-) For others who want to read about how I’ve started to put some of the book’s ideas into action, check out “Trying out PlayTime” and “First PlayTime report”.

Thanks Tara. I’ve had this book in my wishlist since, forever almost. I’ve resisted simply because I already AM a playful parent. Not that I do it always of course. Just that it’s part of my style. So I kept thinking it might be redundant. However, as you mention things like “Learn To Love The Games You Hate”, it seems it still might have something for me. And it sounds like a great book to pass on to other parents I know. Will re-read your review and decide….

I agree, I don’t think that is the best way to handle fears. Pray and love usually works for us. I am going to grab this out the library next time I am there. Thanks for the review!

just found this – sounds a great book, am definitely putting it on my wishlist. I would agree with your point that “acting it out” would definitely seem to stray very close to the teasing, not taking the issue seriously; but in a similar, but possibly more sensitive vein, one thing we’ve done before which helped is tell a story in which the main character, which could be a boy, or an animal, undergoes a similar experience, possibly more exaggerated, for the sake of making the message clearer. Within the story (which we do in the day, not as a bedtime story, unless it is asked for again), the issue is resolved, either as it played out in real life, or if that did not go well, as it should be resolved, and thereby, becomes something that is dealt with and processed. Sometimes we just tell the story once, sometimes over and over again until he’s finished processing it. Sometimes the story has different endings, sometimes not, and sometimes of course, he doesn’t want the story at all, but it’s a variation on the theme, and might be useful.

Hi and thanks for such a lovely and thoughtful (and positive!) review of my book. I am delighted. I’d like to also let your readers know that the audio version of Playful Parenting will be available soon through audible.com, or on Cd through my website. OK, enough promotion, I just wanted to say hi and that I love reading and hearing about how people use the ideas, what they think of them, what happens when they try it out. I’d love to have videos because I know that words can’t really capture the power of play–maybe someday. I always include stories from parents in my newsletter, so please send me stories!

I just found your blog through a gaggle of random references in other blogs and enjoyed reading your post about one of my favorite books! I used to completely agree with you about the teasing and the fear thing, although now I’m realizing that there are instances where it works for us. For example, we were camping last week and our eldest (8) acts deathly afraid of spiders. I’ve often put on a brave face, but must admit that I don’t really like the creepy things either. So when I encountered one while camping, I did some exaggerated “eww, oh no it’s coming my way,” while swiftly removing it from the tent. After that, the favorite game of the weekend became for the kids to turn their hands into creepy spiders and me acting all freaked out, shivering, getting goosebumps, etc. They LOVED it. I think it helped that the play-acting was based on a reaction that I do, deep down, have. Just wanted to throw that perspective out there!

Heather Schuck
October 19, 2011 8:33 am

Playtime with my kids has always been a highlight of motherhood. I will always cherish those moments and appreciate how special they are. I believe strongly in “playful parenting” for bonding with your children. For example, “Sneaky Snakes” is a fun game we like to play at my house. You can read about it here: here: http://glamalife.com/2010/online-mom-community/playful-parenting-how-to-raise-stark-raving-mad-kids/ All the Best- Heather