Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
My partner, Sam, has been instrumental in helping me let go and let loose when it comes to parenting through play — which is a good thing, because kids love it when you ham it up.
I should have known Sam was going to teach me how to emote expressively from one of our first dates — to see a second-run showing of the movie Multiplicity, which he had seen before and I had not. I had never before been to a movie with someone who laughed out loud in such an enthusiastic way. His uninhibited laughter rang through the theater, probably startling some of the other moviegoers as well. After some initial astonishment, I found the laugh infectious and now I amaze all my friends and family by guffawing heartily through movies myself. (Although I did it at a play once and got some looks…)
It's such a gender stereotype — and, in so many ways, unfair — to suggest that what fathers are good at is playing, and what mothers are good at is nurturing. Putting aside right now the myriad ways Sam has taught me nurturing as well, I've been fascinated and led by his ability to let go of dignity and grown-up self-consciousness and play.
So when it comes to helping a (now) four-year-old through a tough day, I find myself turning again and again to those lessons Sam has taught me: to be silly, to challenge decorum, and to turn frowns into smiles. The most used tool in my box is exaggeration: When you're connecting with a preschooler, it's go big or go home. Here are some of the ways it works:
The gimmes have set in? Offer more, more more.A common scenario: Mikko is sitting down with twelve toys in his lap. He tallies them up and realizes that the one he really wants is missing and we have to find it for him. Or he's gotten a treat or a gift, and all he can think about is the one he didn't get.
You can turn grabby moments like this into physical or verbal opportunities to play at abundance. You could pile more, more, more toys into your child's lap, asking with wide eyes at each one, "Is this the one you're looking for? No? Is this it?" Who knows — maybe you'll even actually find the toy while you're playing!
Or you could just imagine out loud what it would be like to have ALL the treats in all the world! Maybe your kids chose a hot pretzel but now wish they'd gotten a hot dog. You could pretend to order a hot dog with fantastical toppings ("You like slug slime on hot dogs, right? What about hedgehog barf?"), or ask their tummy if it could possibly eat forty hot dogs and start counting them as you pretend to stuff them into the bellybutton.
Pbbt to maturity.Speaking of which: As a 35-year-old mother of two, I fully endorse toilet humor. Kids find bodily functions and body parts fascinating anyway, so I like to point them out whenever I can. Yeah, it's scientific, that's it.
Maybe I'm just reacting against an upbringing where I wasn't allowed to say "fart" or "butt," but I now try to insert forbidden words and poop jokes into our lives every day.
When a three-year-old's feeling hesitant about eating noodle soup, pointing out that they're actually worms in snot juice can be just the ticket.
Scraped knee? That leg's gonna have to come off.Of course you want to comfort and care for a child who's injured or sick, but sometimes extended moans and groans can be safely and playfully met with exaggerated, false-panicky exclamations of woe. My mother's favorite was to offer to call the tow truck if we stubbed a toe. (Get it? Har.)
I want to be careful with jokes like these not to gloss over a child's pain, but to use them gently to encourage a smile and some perspective, which in turn can help distract from some of the aches. When they say laughter's the best medicine, they're serious.
Dial up the consequences.Threatening horrific punishments for small infractions can make both of you laugh, which helps diminish frustrations all around. When Mikko spills a drink, if I can, I like to keep my cool and say something like, "Uh-oh, you're going to have to go to drink jail now." Mikko will then proceed to tell me there is no such place, and I'll playact that I hear the sirens coming for him. I listen to his insistence that "It's just a drink, Mama. You just clean it up!" I respond with exaggerated and slow-dawning comprehension, and then we do just that.
Blame somebody else.It's awesome to have a baby brother around, if only for the comic possibilities. When we're all feeling fried from hearing Alrik cry in the car on the way home, I can defuse his big brother's resentment by mock-scolding Alrik for once more dropping his pacifier, the better to scream. Mikko rushes to Alrik's defense and explains that babies sometimes cry, saving me the trouble of giving the same lesson to him.
Other safe possibilities for goofy blame include absent family members, pets, and inanimate objects. "Oh, no! Did Bunny Bob spill the beads all over the floor? I keep telling him to be careful with that box. Bunny Bob is going to have to go to bed without any supper." Instead of both of you getting upset about the spill, you can let out your own tension by giving in to your ingrained desire to blame someone, and your child can feel a release by laughing at you and defending the hapless scapegoat.
Make a safe game of being in trouble.This goes along with some of the other ideas, but I've noticed that Mikko really enjoys playacting the idea of being in trouble at a time when he's clearly not. When he can be sure that no one's actually upset, he can get the giggles over the release of tension that a game like this brings.
For instance, one of our current favorites is the swing game. I stand in front of the swing to push Mikko and tell him sternly, "Now, stay back there where I put you." Of course, he inevitably swings forward. I scowl and squawk: "No! What did I just tell you! You're not listening to me. Now stay back" — as I push him harder, which just makes him swing forward all the more energetically, physics being what they are.
Mikko also loves to "surprise" us by taking his shoes off in the car and then displaying his naked feet with a flourish when we open the door — our cue is to gasp and tell him how much trouble he's in. And he loves to have both of us run away in supposed fear from his father the Monster when we're on the beach. Sam roars and lumbers after us, and tickles or tackles his helpless prey.
Besides giving Mikko some power in knowing he's not really in trouble, which lets him safely explore those feelings of danger and testing limits, it serves another purpose in giving us as parents an outlet for our own built-up desires to lash out. I know for me, gentle discipline doesn't come as naturally, since I wasn't raised with it — it can be a challenge to turn my perspective on punishment on its head (reading Unconditional Parenting helped a lot with that) and then keep that new point of view firmly in place in every moment. Hearing myself scold Mikko for the silliest of things helps me hear those strident voices and knee-jerk reactions for what they are: inappropriate in any situation.
And proof Mikko has inherited the goofiness gene:
A lot of ideas like these and more can be found in the excellent book Playful Parenting, which — much like Sam's good influence — was a good kick in the pants for me to remember to let loose and meet children in the way they communicate: through play.
I have to make a couple things perfectly clear. First of all, I do not do the above suggestions all the time. For one thing, that would be obnoxious and eventually become boring. For another thing, sometimes Mama or Daddy is just too dang worn out, physically or emotionally, to respond playfully, and that's how it goes.
Second of all, Mikko does not always respond to the playfulness, and that's OK, too. I mean, it doesn't necessarily seem OK in the moment, but of course it's his choice to continue being grumpy or upset, and I'm trying to learn to respect that without needing to cajole him out of every foul mood.
I mostly like these techniques to try to head off momentary pique from turning into all-day doldrums. Sometimes just seeing things from a different perspective, as exaggeration can do, is enough to make any of us decide it feels better to laugh it off.
So give it a try to see if you can stretch your exaggeration muscles and if, when you do, it brings more smiles all around!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
- On being a more playful parent — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares how the Playful Parenting book impacted her.
- Parenting a toddler through play — Alicia at I Found My Feet lists some examples of how she uses play to parent through everyday tasks and challenges.
- Splashing in Puddles — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares how she learned to get dirty and have fun with her little boy.
- Say Please — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life explains how they taught their son manners by "play," showing that actions speak louder than words.
- No Nanny Needed — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life wishes parenting through play was her only responsibility during the day.
- I'll Run Away With Gypsies — Nikalee at Spotted Pandemonium maneuvers physical and emotional obstacles while spinning playful tales, jumping through hoops, and inspiring the kids to clean the living room.
- A Promise To My Daughter — Lindsey at An Unschooling Adventure writes a poem for her daughter promising to use play instead of anger when facing difficult situations.
- Parenting Through Play — Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding — Amy at Peace4Parents discusses how play hasn't always come easily to her, the power of appreciative observation, and how her family learns together through play.
- Imagination Plays a Role in Our Parenting — Tree at Mom Grooves shares how parents can use play to set the foundation for communication and understanding.
- A Box of Crayons — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction talks about how a simple box of crayons has become a wonderful parenting and teaching tool.
- The Essential Art of Play — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her favorite lessons available for young ones through play.
- The Art of Distraction — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro shares a list of distracting alternatives to harsh punishments in tough parenting situations.
- Grace and Courtesy Games at Home or School — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has ideas for grace and courtesy games that help you encourage courteous behavior without reprimanding your child.
- I am woman, hear me roar! — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares how one simple sound can diffuse an argument in an instant.
- Getting Cooperation Through Play — Amyables at Toddler In Tow talks about respecting the worldview of a preschooler by using play to encourage connection and cooperation.
- Playful Parenting = Extra Energy?? — Momma Jorje didn't think she had the energy for playful parenting. See what she was surprised to learn…
- Dance Party Parenting — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen learned how to be the parent her children need through play.
- Wrestling Saved My Life — Wrestling is as vital to her son's well-being as babywearing once was, finds Hannah at Wild Parenting.
- Parenting through play — By playing with her children, Tara from MUMmedia is given amazing opportunites to teach, train and equip her children for life.
- Parenting Through Play Starts in Infancy — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Issa from LoveLiveGrow shares that though she only has a 3-month-old, playful parenting has already started.
- Play Before Sleep — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how playing and singing with her son before he falls asleep helps calm her frustrations that tend to arise at night.
- Playful Parenting — Or 5 Lessons My Son Has Taught Me About Parenting Through Play — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama has learned to be a better parent by following her toddler's lead in play.
- Hurry up! Hurry up! I mean it! Quack, quack, quack! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life leads a trail of ducklings
- On the Road: Learning to Play — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers her inner adult through a summer of playing with her children.
- Preventing Tantrums Through Play — Gaby at Tmuffin explains how she keeps her household happy by not taking things too seriously.
- Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play — Lily, aka Witch Mom, redirects unwanted behavior in a toddler using games and play.
- Exaggerating for effect — Lauren at Hobo Mama has learned how to ham it up.
- Handling Big Emotions with Role Playing — Zoie at TouchstoneZ plays at tempering her parental frustrations while helping her children handle some big emotions
- How To Herd Toddlers by Talking Pictorially — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama demonstrates how talking in pictures is a playful way to engage your young child in transitioning from one activity to the next.
- Getting a Toddler to Go Where You Want…Playfully — Sylvia at MaMammalia describes how a game of hide-and-seek can be used to steer a wandering toddler in the direction of her choosing.
- Playful Parenting: Chores That Do Themselves — Remember chores when you were a kid? If chores were this fun for Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey, she wouldn't have needed any reminders!
- Clown School Express: Playing away Fears — MudpieMama describes how she helped her boys confront their fears about starting kindergarten by playing with trains.
- Practicing Playful Parenting — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle realizes that playfulness is the best way through the day and seeks more ways to practice it.
- Today, Tomorrow and Every Day — Starr at Taking Time addresses her children in a letter sharing with them how improtant it is that they spend their childhood playing.
- Learning Through Immersion — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares how she helps her daughter develop naturally without focusing on teaching, but rather by immersing her in their family's way of life and making her an active part of her environment.
- Play Here Now — Jessica at Instead of Institutions learns and relearns and tries to remember the value of play.
- Play: A Wonderful Parenting Tool — Mamapoekie from Authentic Parenting offers a list of examples on how to use play in real-life parenting situations.
- Playful Parenting — a Book Review — Erica at ChildOrganics shares simple yet sage advice from Dr. Cohen on how play can change your child's life.
- Mock Threats: Turning Real Frustration into Playful Parenting — Threatening is not an effective discipline strategy, but Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains how parents can turn their frustration into playful moments by making "mock threats."
- I'm Sick of Yelling — I Want to Play — Alicia at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts realizes she needs to change the way she's parenting and is forming a new plan.
- Sing-along, Brush-along Songs — Shana at Tales of Minor Interest shares a few songs to make brushing her three-year-old's teeth more fun.
- Monster Voice — Ever have those frustrating moments with your kid(s) when you just want to scream? Amy at Anktangle shares a silly strategy for getting through those difficult times.