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Build family bonds and raise confident children

Jennifer Chidester

In Playful Parenting, author and psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen shows parents how connecting with kids in their world helps build bonds, boost confidence and fulfill children’s needs for attachment, affection, love, security and closeness.

Playful mom with child

Did you know that children laugh upwards of 300 times a day? Author Lawrence J. Cohen asks parents what life would be like if we injected more play into our parenting and laughed even half as much as our kids do. It’s not all funny business, though.

Playful Parenting is an insightful look at the benefits of play and how to use play versus power trips to get desired actions. He offers tips and techniques for parents to let go and play more, all while underscoring the value of play in family bonding.

Why kids need play

Cohen explains, “For adults, play means leisure. But for children, play is more like their job.” According to the author, play is profoundly more meaningful than parents usually think. Play is:

  • How children discover the world and develop confidence as they try on adult roles and skills.
  • How we serve our needs for attachment, affection and closeness. Cohen uses examples in the animal kingdom to illustrate how, like with humans, play is a universal way to not only connect, but also to reconnect after closeness has been severed.
  • How children recover from emotional distress. After a rough day at school, or a trip to the doctor’s office for a shot, kids use play to feel better about things that might otherwise make them feel powerless.

Play versus power trips

Playful Parenting

Playful Parenting offers so many great examples of how parents can use play to get desired behaviors or outcomes, instead of resorting to punishment and power trips. It requires a rethinking of some traditional parenting methods, but it aims to foster more closeness, mutual respect and meaningful connections with our children. Some examples include:

  • Cooling off before reacting, making a connection between the behavior and their needs, choosing a meeting on the couch versus a time out.
  • Instead of digging your heels in with a “Because I said so” mentality, find ways to use play to break tension and get what you want. Cohen uses an example of being silly with his daughter’s toys to motivate her to get dressed faster in the morning. Not only did they both win — she got dressed in time for school and he spent less time toe-tapping and frustrated — they bonded and connected through play.

How to let go and be more playful

Cohen points to how much children need parents to literally play in their world. Because it’s often hard for parents to let go of their daily stresses and see play as not only meaningful but necessary, Cohen offers these tips and more:

  • Adults often feel like outsiders in a play world they used to know so well. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you’ll need to choose to play. Let go and actually get down on the floor, on your child’s level.
  • Learn to roughhouse. Cohen explains the value of physical play and how, if executed with some thoughtfulness, parents can actually work through aggression, hurt and trust issues through wrestling and roughhousing.
  • Follow your child’s lead. While there are times you need to actively intervene to guide them, by letting children be in charge of the play, you can nurture their creativity while boosting their confidence.

Cohen says, “Every once in a while… children need us to be hugely enthusiastic, to say yes in a booming voice instead of the constant parade of no.”

More about kids and play

What role does discipline play in parenting
Creative ways to play with your child
4 Ways to foster imaginative play

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