My step dad was a master of playful parenting. He’d arm wrestle me, often letting me win. Or if he won repetitively, I’d hit him, and he’d cry out a playful, “Wah!” Or he’d flex his biceps and cry, “Why you!”
My step-dad did a lot of play, but mostly with his biological kids. He’d wrestle them. He’d joke with them. He played macho with them. And he treated his biological son like his closest buddy. My step dad coached my step-brother’s hockey team and named his boy Most Valuable Player. As adults, my step-dad and step-brother went bar-hopping, getting into brawls. They’d laugh for hours, savoring the nights of slugging it out with bouncers. A strange way to bond, but bonding time nonetheless. And his two biological kids adore him today.
As for me, I adore my quiet biological father. He took me to Disneyland, to movies, to fancy restaurants, to museums, you name it. He stocked his cupboards with cakes, cookies, and cinnamon rolls. And he never spanked me. When I was a tot, Papa would tell me froggy stories before bed. His stories often involved the frogs defecating, which got me howling. But after several bed-wettings from the hysterics, the stories stopped.
As for a friend of mine, she adored her baby daughter. So, my friend crumbled when her daughter got rushed into emergency with an erupted brain tumor. Even worse, the doctor told my friend her daughter was a vegetable. I told my friend to not listen to the doctor. There are no such things as human vegetables, I said.
When I stayed with her daughter on the ward, I played. I’d jump around, act, and sing. I’d take on goofy voices. And her daughter would start laughing. When I told my friend that her daughter laughed, my friend dismissed it, too afraid to accept anything but the doctor’s label: ‘vegetable.’
Later, I encouraged my friend to put her daughter in regular school. The last I heard, her daughter was in grade 2. A budding academic.
So, play with your kids. Build them up with wrestling matches where they win. Cry out a playful “Wah!” when your children say they hate you. And here’s why, according to Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting:
- Play helps children work through both trauma and life itself: “Play is … the way that children make the world their own, explore, make sense of all their new experiences, and recover from life’s upsets” (location 124, 3%).
- When children misbehave, chances are they need to play out their hurts: “Sometimes children … feel so isolated that they retreat into a corner, or come out aggressively with both arms swinging… These situations call for creating more playtime, not doling out punishment or leaving the lonely child all alone” (location 237, 4%).
- So, let your child play out the role of scary monster, doctor, teacher, superhero, villain, or parent: “Let the child be in the more powerful position. It is a simple game of role reversal” (location 324, 6%).
- And don’t be afraid to act like a big goof: “Let’s have more fun: sing goofy songs, fall over, exaggerate, have pillow fights, tell jokes” (location 209, 4%).
- When your child howls, keep up the good work: “If something makes the child giggle, then you do it again. And again, and again, and again” (location 1353, 26%).
- But when your hurting child calls you names, don’t take it personally: “Children say, for example, ‘I hate you,’ or ‘You’re stupid.’ The parent feels outraged or rejected. But the children are not going to curl into your lap and cry, ‘No one likes me,’ even though that’s what they really mean” (location 2168, 42%).
- When your child lashes out at you, turn it into play: “Instead of yelling at them… and sending them to their room, we might say, ‘Waaah, Joey called me stupid. Waaah, no one likes me.’ Or, ‘You can call me stupid, but you’d better not call me Wiener Schnitzel’” (location 2178, 42%).
- If a child calls you a ‘stinker,’ say, “Hey, you gave away my secret name, waaah” (location 9679, 19%). Translate the child’s “insult into a request for some connection” (location 989, 19%). Get the child howling, not bawling.
- Turn your child’s aggressive behavior into laughter: “When a child pretends to shoot you and says, ‘You’re dead,’ try falling over dead, in a dramatic death scene, right on top of him …. If your daughter calls you a stupid idiot, try being so stupid you can’t tell her from a pillow, and try to take a nap on top of her” (location 1018, 20%).
- And use play to help your child overcome fear: “To help children with fears … it often helps to play as if you are the one who is scared, and really exaggerate it. Make sure they don’t feel mocked or humiliated. It helps if you don’t imitate them exactly, but just take the general idea and exaggerate it” (location 1448, 28%).
I read an article that encouraged parents to nag their children into doing chores. But doing so through playing not nagging makes better sense, doesn’t it?
So, sing your love for cleaning in the voice of a Muppet.