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Synopsis of Playful Parenting

By Lawrence J. Cohen

Join Children in Their World

The original version: "I hate you!"
The translation: "I haven't figured out yet how to be mad at somebody I love; it's confusing."
The thoughtful response: "I love you, and I get confused, too, when I'm mad at somebody I love."

Establish a Connection

When kids are kicking, punching, biting, or spitting: "You got me with a love kick, now I have to hug you." Sometimes they'll say, "No, this is a hate gun." I just say, "Oh, it must be broken because it's making me love you."

Lighten up the Scene

  • The sock game: each person tries to take off everyone else's socks while keeping his or her own on.
  • If there are two adults available, pretend to fight over the child for fun.
  • Play "chase" and let the child have one narrow escape after another while making outrageous claims that you will catch the child. The outrageous claims makde the adult into a fool, which is funny but also helps kids feel more powerful.
  • Make a mock threat against yourself, such as "If you do that one more time, I'm going to pour water on my head."
  • When a sibling is being mean, say to the other one, in a "gee-whiz" voice, "Gee, that looks like it hurt. How do you get back at her when she does that?" Or, say to the mean one, "Boy, that was awfully mean. What's going to happen next?"

Suspend Reality: Reverse the Roles

  • When a kid is getting frustrated with something, reverse the roles and become the one who is the incompetent one in order to give them a burst of confidence.
  • As children grow older, we can shift from telling them stories to listening to their stories. Ask them to tell you their life story. Resist the temptation to butt in with your own perspective on the story, or with extra details that you remember, unless they ask you.
  • Try joint storytelling as a way for children to find the right distance for talking about fears and worries they can not talk about directly. Every once in a while ask the child for ideas on how a story could go.

Dependence and Independence

For the kid that wants you to stay with them as they fall asleep: start leaving sooner, before the child is all the way asleep. You could say that you are going to put on your pajamas or brush your teeth and that you'll come back and check on her. The child will learn to fall asleep because instead of bracing themselves for the separation, now they know that the next thing that will happen was that you will come back, so they can relax and drift off to sleep.

Instill Good Judgment

Instead of trying to get children to be obedient, strive for them to have good judgment. Obedience last only as long as we are in the room with them. It does not help a child know what to do in a brand-new situation. The goal of most punishment is obedience. Good judgment, on the other hand, comes from talking with children, brainstorming about how they might handle different situations, and discussing moral dilemmas. Connecting with children after they've done something wrong, listening to how they feel about it, and telling them calmly how we feel, all do much more to instill good judgment than punishment does.