I’ve read many books on parenting, but this one is the best. It’s genius. My top recommendation for everyone with a kid age 1-13. Its point is that children communicate through play. So, to reach them: play! Anything can be done through play: teaching, emotional connection, processing difficult situations, and even discipline can be made playful. Read the whole book instead of just my notes, since my little take-away ideas are just reminders of the spirit of the book. I re-read these notes almost every week to remind me how to be a great parent. My kid is always thankful (communicated through giddy laughter) when I remember and use this approach.
Playful Parenting is a way to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection.
Play is also the way that children make the world their own.
Play is also children’s main way of communicating, of experimenting, and of learning.
Playtime contains multiple levels of meaning.
It’s a way to release a pile of hurt feelings.
Take out the garbage? Next time try singing the request in a fake-opera voice instead of using the usual nagging tones.
Children define play as doing whatever you choose.
When you can choose what to do, you are more likely to throw yourself into it.
When children are discouraged or punished for attempting to recover emotionally in this playful way, they retreat into themselves.
The child who had been spanked immediately picked up a stick and went after her little brother. Just in time, Lori grabbed her gently, pulled her aside, took the stick away, and said, in a playful voice, “Ohhhhh no you don’t!” The girl laughed and laughed and wanted to play that game over and over. All thoughts of really whacking her brother were forgotten (for the time being, at least). The mother just stayed close to the child, made sure nobody got whacked, and used a relaxed and playful tone of voice. The little girl did the rest, deciding to play “try to hit the baby” instead of actually hitting him.
Let’s pretend we speak a different language.
Practicing being empathic.
Deal with something brand new in the only way she knew how: by playing.
If they are unable to recover by using play, children may be flooded with emotions, or burst into tears at the slightest upset.
I had to train myself to be as goofy as I am today. I had to get over my shyness and embarrassment about playing on the climbing structure with her when she asked me to, instead of sitting on the bench.
Join children where they live, on their terms. Children don’t say, “I had a hard day at school today; can I talk to you about it?” They say, “Will you play with me?”
Loosening up - literally and figuratively - also helps, as most of us adults are rather stiff when we try to get down on the floor and play.
When we get disconnected from children - and we do, again and again - play is our best bridge back to deep connection with them.
Play is children’s main way of communicating.
Some children need specific lessons in rules, skills, or sportsmanship.
Children who want to play but don’t know the rules, have never practiced the skills, and can’t bear to lose.
That makes it hard for children to play freely and spontaneously. It usually takes a little adult intervention.
When we constantly tell children what they should or shouldn’t do, they have no room to think for themselves and are forced to choose between resentful obedience or defiant rebellion. Playfulness helps them think for themselves, even about serious topics.
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.”
Children rarely say, “Hey, that was great, let’s do something else.” They almost always say, “Let’s do that again.”
Kissing means “I could be biting you, but I am not.”
Caressing means “I could be hitting you, but I am not.”
All the children’s games that are about connection: Chase, tag, follow the leader, and hide-and-seek are obvious examples.
“It takes a village idiot to raise a child.” When preteens act cool, pretend I am called a poopyhead, I say, “Shhh, don’t tell everybody my secret name!” Like clockwork, they shout out, to whoever may be listening.
The poopyhead game lets children experiment with power - the power of words and the power to break rules. Instead of having them experiment on other children, which always causes hurt feelings, let them try out that name-calling and bathroom humor on you. This helps us step out of the power struggle and into play.
Asked if they’d rather play with playmates or parents. Most of them chose their parents. Are you surprised? With their parents, they said, they could win, they could be in charge. Other children don’t usually give in to make the playing field more level. By bossing their mom or dad around, or beating them at basketball, they get a refill of their attachment needs, and then they can go out and manage the more-or-less level playing fields with peers.
He’d say “Nanny-nanny-boo-boo” when I had the ball and “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” when he scored a goal. Children do this to each other all the time, trying to spread out their feelings of humiliation and incompetence.
Sometimes, instead of playing soccer or basketball or whatever sport, that they play “the winning and losing game.”
For example, flip a coin, heads or tails; if you lose, go into a Shakespearean death scene because you lost.
If you win, announce that you are the greatest coin-flipper in the history of the universe; do a little victory dance.
Any game where the idea is to have fun with me losing or you losing or pretending it’s real important who wins and who loses. They’ll eventually come up with some great ideas.
I resisted the strong temptation to give a lecture about secrets and betrayal.
Soon we were all shouting out the window, “Wanna know a secret? Don’t tell anybody!”
A shared laugh is a big improvement over a moralistic lecture that falls on deaf ears.
If something makes the child giggle, then you do it again. And again, and again, and again. All kinds of laughs are wonderful, but there is something that we often forget: the importance of laughter.
With an eleven-year-old boy who is fearful, I pretend that I am scared of everything.
We can help children release all this emotion in ways that aren’t hurtful to others.
To help children with fears, for example, it often helps to play as if you are the one who is scared.
This lets children get some distance from their fear, and release through giggles.
To act incompetent helps them feel more powerful.
One child tries to feel powerful at another child’s expense. This is another reason adults need to participate in this kind of play - so that children won’t do it to one another.
Playing at the edge of the child’s development: get things just right, where the task is neither too hard nor too easy for the child, then he or she is really amused.
When frustrated, make a mock threat that lightens up the situation and turns it into play.
Real threats communicate: I’m mad at you, it’s your fault, and you had better shape up. The predictable result is defensiveness and conflict.
Mock threats mixed with humor can communicate: I’m not happy with how things are going between us and I want us to fix it.
The result this time is a relaxing of the tension and a willingness to meet each other halfway.
For most difficulties between parents and children, the real problem is lack of connection, so the solution is more connection.
Emotions can instantly shift during play, because the child has a pile of backed-up feelings.
Children learn best when they are happy.
A good school is one where you hear giggling and laughter in the halls and in the classrooms.
Children wrestle and roughhouse as a way of testing out their physical strength, as a way to have fun, and as a way to control their aggression.
Do it first with someone who can give them undivided attention, help them deal with their impulses, anger, etc.
Increase their confidence and sense of power.
Using their physical strength provides them with much more of a sense of their physical and inner power than does winning by tricking you.
Play through old hurts: if a child faced a difficult challenge earlier in the day and was not pleased with the outcome, she can replay it with you, through wrestling, with you representing the obstacle
Let the child win.
The best end to an episode of wrestling is victory for the child.
“Sucking it up,” does not build character; it builds armor.
Then we wonder why boys and men have a hard time with intimacy and feelings!
Aim more for giggles from the child than for superhuman physical prowess.
You say, “You try to pin me down using all your strength - you try to get me on my back with both my shoulders on the floor (or, you try to get past me onto the couch, but you can’t sneak around; you have to use all your strength to go right past me).”
Pretend to be an ox, and each child has to drag you over a line in the grass.
I took her giggles and intense concentration as a sign that she wanted the challenge of thinking up new tricks.
Bones heal faster than timidity and fearful-ness.
It’s much better psychologically to give children piles of sand, sticks, hammers, nails, and wood, instead of games and store-bought toys.
Children learn by using their bodies.
Young children do not learn to self-soothe by being left on their own to “cry it out,” or by being sent to time-out. They learn it from being soothed by someone who cares about them, then over time they take that comfort inside and are able to soothe themselves.
Teach children to take a deep breath in through the nose, then let it out slowly. Let the exhale take twice as long as the inhale. Three deep breaths to relax.
Self-soothing and paying attention are closely related.
Take a real situation that is hard for them, label it as play, and let children practice gaining control over their impulses in ways that won’t get them punished.
“Let’s play that you want this toy real bad, and I won’t share it with you.”
Reverse the roles to make up for the frustrations of being smaller and weaker and less competent than the bigger folks.
The point of having the child tell the story is to allow her to discharge the feelings connected to the memories and experiences. Without this venting, the feelings leave a residue in the child’s mind that will haunt her later.”
Make up pretend games to deal with fears.
Otherwise, they will just avoid the thing they fear.
Follow at least until you have a pretty good reason to jump in and lead.
The key to taking charge is to have a light touch, to introduce a theme or an idea or some contact and then see what children do with it.
Ask a simple question, or make a comment.
To get over fear:
You can usually tell when you are at the exact edge, because the child may tremble or shake with fear, or cry, or laugh. Stay right there. When that wave of emotion subsides, take a step closer.
He notices two things at the same time: I am with a dog, and I am safe. That’s why the edge is so important, because it is the exact spot where both of these are true.
We can’t simply lecture him.
He has to figure this out by doing the emotional work at the edge of the fear, with us nearby.
We can’t just order children to be nice and then walk away. We have to stick around and help children figure out the actual nuts and bolts.
If you want your child to be friends with someone, the parents should invite their whole family over.
The Playful Parenting approach applies just as well to thorny problems like racism.
Say to a frog Beanie Baby, “You’re green. I don’t want to play with you.”
I took what he wanted to do and instead of making that against the rules, I made it the thing he was supposed to do. This is a little twist that helps many children develop skills in being more cooperative.
The problem is a different version of disconnection. They can’t connect with anyone but mom, or with anyone new, or with their peers.
Invite the behavior you hate: give the difficult situation a playful twist.
The invitation is a way of following children, since you are responding to their usual behavior, but it is also a way of leading, because you are turning the whole family dynamic upside down.
Prevent instead of punish.
Most “misbehavior” as really just a matter of disconnection.
Children who feel connected also feel inclined to be cooperative and thoughtful.
Most punishments involve exerting power over a child, which just increases his or her sense of isolation and powerlessness.
Whenever there is any problem, either a parent or a child can call a meeting on the couch.
The goal is to get reconnected.
Whatever the problem is, disconnection either caused it or made it worse or made it harder to solve.
Once you are both at the couch, anything may happen. You might talk seriously about what has been going on, or you may not even talk about it, just take the chance to reconnect.
You might end up just goofing around and being silly together.
Try to stay on the couch until both of you are ready to go back and do things differently from before.
Meetings on the couch are not just for misbehavior.
You can call a meeting if you notice your child is sad.
If someone is looking for attention that bad, I figure they must need some attention! If we give them enough of the good kind, they won’t be so desperate that they’ll settle for the bad kind.
Are you having battles with your children over bedtime? Play bedtime.
Having battles over dessert? Play dinnertime.
Whatever makes them laugh.
A huge number of so-called behavior problems would be solved overnight if all children had a safe, fun place in which to run around until they were tired.
Instead of trying to get children to be obedient, strive for them to have good judgment.
Brainstorming about how they might handle different situations, and discussing moral dilemmas.
Be on the same wavelength before these types of conversations, so connect first.
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.
Children develop into thoughtful, considerate, honest, and kind adults because of love and affection, because of high moral standards, and because of a close relationship with someone who models those values.
Promises, threats, rewards, and punishments don’t work.
Use loving and talking as the basis for our discipline.
Children need help in organizing themselves.
It means having the ability to process incoming information and organize an effective response.
Disorganized behavior is partly the result of not getting enough comforts or rhythms in their life when they were infants and toddlers.
A structured schedule, art projects, and safe roughhousing can be additional tools in fostering this type of cognitive organization.
Children’s behavior is a coded message.
To break the code, translate what they are doing into a sentence that starts with “I need_____” or “I feel_____”
Fill in the blank, and then respond to that need or that feeling, not to their behavior.
Children need comfort rather than punishment.
Giving children what they need is always the best way to change their behavior.
To really have an impact on behavior, we have to prevent it, or interrupt it, not react.
We punish children just for being different from us.
We sit quietly; they fidget.
We like it quiet; they like it loud.
But punishment can’t change a child’s temperament any more than it can speed up development.
When children have a need, fill it.