Seven Talents of Playful Parenting
By Lawrence J. Cohen. PhD
Reflecting on parenthood – stepping back to think, write or talk about what life is really like for us –helps us become better parents. But who has the time for this? Well, it’s a bit like chopping down a mighty tree with a dull axe—it’s worth the time it takes to pause and sharpen the blade. Here are a few qualities to reflect on.
The reason I call my approach “Playful Parenting” is not because play is the only way to connect with our children, but because play usually goes out the window when we are stressed, tired, or aggravated. Set a timer for ten minutes (you can do anything for ten minutes), get on the floor, and play enthusiastically. Next time you are tempted to nag or threaten a child, try being silly and outrageous instead, like singing the words, “Clean your room,” in a loud fake-Italian-opera voice.
The key to providing security for children is to recognize and meet their needs. Babies’ needs are pretty obvious: feed them when they’re hungry, change them when they’re wet, hold them when they want to be close, show them the world when they are curious. But as children grow up, their needs become more complex. If we tune in to children on their wavelength, and remember what it was like to be a child, we can master the art of responsive parenting.
Finding emotional balance is hard when we are flooded with anger, frustration, or resentment. How do you restore emotional balance? Yoga, meditation, deep conversations with friends? Often we look to our smartphones, entertainment, or alcohol to find that balance, but these are more likely to provide only temporary distractions.
If we look under the surface of our children’s behavior, seeing the hidden feelings, it’s easier to get things back on track. Can you take a deep breath and seek understanding of where a child’s behavior is coming from, instead of yelling or punishing?
Do you have a non-stop soundtrack of criticism in your head, especially about your parenting? I think parents who care the most suffer from these negative inner voices the most. Listening to that same lousy radio station doesn’t help us or our children. Change the station to one that celebrates your successes and accomplishments, and treats you with tender sympathy – not harsh put-downs – when you mess up.
Focus on your relationship with your children in everything you do, even discipline, and you will see fewer power struggles and more cooperation, less anger and more warmth. Put connection first through play, affection, and empathy.
Very few parents get enough support – either practical or emotional – for the everyday challenges and overwhelming moments of parenthood. Who listens and pays attention to you – after you spend all day paying attention to your kids? Are you worth it, or do you always have to take care of everyone else?
Lawrence J. Cohen, PhD, is a psychologist in Boston, Massachusetts, USA. He is the author of Playful Parenting, The Opposite of Worry, and co-author of several other books. He will be leading workshops in Australia in November, 2016.
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