THE VALUE OF BEING A PLAYFUL PARENT
Play is the essence of life.
Think about the loving gaze of an infant, the no-holds-barred embrace of a toddler, the intimacy of a shared bedtime story, or a silent hand-in-hand walk. These moments of heartfelt connection with our children are part of the great payoff for the hard work of parenting. Yet this connection all too often eludes us. We find ourselves locked in battle instead of joined in partnership. We all know the rest: the inconsolable baby, the toddler in the throes of a tantrum, the third-grader in a huff over bedtimes, the twelve-year-old sulking in her room.
Childrens natural exuberance and exploration often gives way to what I call fighting and biting. Or they hide themselves behind a Gameboy or a locked door. Meanwhile, our profound feeling of parental love is replaced by resentment and aggravation, even rage. We nag or punish, or we say, Fine, stay in your room. We yell when we reach the end of our rope, or just out of habit. All because we feel helpless, rejected, and cut off. We want to reconnect, as much as our children do, but we dont know how. We still love them, but we barely remember those melting eye gazes of babyhood. If we do remember, it is a bittersweet memory, as if that closeness were lost forever.
Play--together with what I call Playful Parenting--can be the long-sought bridge back to that deep emotional bond between parent and child. Play, with all its exuberance and delighted togetherness, can ease the stress of parenting. Playful Parenting is a way to enter a childs world, on the childs terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection. When all is well in their world, play is an expansive vista where children are joyful, engaged, cooperative, and creative. Play is also the way that children make the world their own, exploring, making sense of all their new experiences, and recovering from lifes upsets. But play is not always easy for adults, because we have forgotten so much. Indeed, children and adults often seem to reside in radically different worlds, even within the same household. We find each others favorite activities boring or strange: How can she spend all afternoon dressing up Barbies? How can they sit around all evening just talking?
Parenting and playfulness can seem like contradictions, but sometimes we just need a little push to find one another and have fun together. I was at an outdoor concert, dancing off on the side with my nine-year-old daughter, when a mother and son came over to the dance area. She started dancing a little, but he just stood with his arms folded, a little too shy to dance now that he was there. He was about six or seven. His mother said, starting to get angry, You dragged me up here, and now youre not going to dance? He folded his arms tighter and literally dug his heels in. I thought, We can all see where this is going. I said, Oh no, hes doing a new dance, and I folded my arms just like his and gave him a big smile. He smiled back and moved his hands to a different position, which I copied. His mom caught on right away and started copying him, too. We all laughed. He started moving his shoulders up and down to the music, and his mother said, Youre dancing! Then he started to dance, and he had a great time. We all did (including my daughter, who waited patiently while I did the Playful Parenting thing, and then wanted my complete attention again). A little playfulness turned the tide.
This small episode demonstrates that Playful Parenting can happen anywhere and anytime, not just during designated playtimes. Playful Parenting begins with play, but it includes much more--from comforting a crying baby to hanging out at the mall; from waging pillow fights to taking the training wheels off the bicycle; from negotiating rules to dealing with the emotional fallout of a playground injury; from getting ready for school to listening to a childs fears and dreams before bed. Sadly, these simple interactions can seem out of reach sometimes, or full of complications and hard feelings.
Excerpted from Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. Copyright 2001 by Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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