Building a strong parent-child bond through Playful Parenting

father-1633655_1280One of the most important and challenging undertakings of parenting is to build strong, close bonds between children and their parents. A strong parent-child connection enables children to become confident, independent, develop healthy relationships, and become a peaceful adult.

In his book Playful Parenting, Dr. Lawrence Cohen points out that through play, children explore the world, work through challenging situations and get connected with the people they are close with.

I have found that approaching common parenting struggles with Playful Parenting techniques to be very effective, and it helps to make things easier and more fun for everyone in our family.

Through play, we get to join our children’s world — promoting mutual respect, exploration, and cooperation while enjoying each other’s company.

Using Play to Manage Parenting Struggles

Parents of young children experience many situations where the child resists when they’re asked to do something: They don’t want to pick up their toys or get dressed to go out; they don’t want their hair washed or their nails cut. The list goes on. Making a game out of these tasks can help. It instantly makes the activity more fun and enjoyable for the child and makes it something they’re much less likely to resist.

When my toddler son was into recycling and trash trucks, we made a game of cleaning up his blocks by saying, “Let’s put all the trash in the trash truck.” The blocks were the trash, and the container was the trash truck. When he was 3 and very much into firefighters, we made a game of getting dressed to leave the house by saying, “There’s a fire! It’s time to get in the fire truck. Let’s get on our fire coats and boots!” He’d then be quick to get on his shoes and coat to get in the car.

Many times, parents think they don’t have time for such games. You’re in a hurry to get out the door, so why add in a game and waste more time? But I find that when we play our way through it like this, it actually takes less time for my children to get ready.

Some critics say that parents shouldn’t have to do this and that a child shouldn’t need a game to make them listen. While it’s true that they don’t need it, and there are many other ways to help children cooperate, it does make it more enjoyable. Just like, as an adult, I find it’s more enjoyable to clean while listening to music, or to fold laundry while watching TV. It’s the same concept.

Playing Your Way Through Fears

Play can help release tension and can make what seems scary into something silly. In this way, it can be used to help children work through their fears.

When my son was 4, he was scared during thunderstorms. The sudden sound of thunder was too startling for him, and it kept him tense at bedtime. One night during a storm, I said to him, “What do you think that thunder sounds like? I think it sounds like a train rumbling down the track.” He loved Thomas the Train, so I suggested, “Maybe it’s Thomas!” He started to laugh, and I kept going: “That was really loud. It must’ve been Gordon, because he’s so big!” This turned it into a fun game and made the experience less scary.

Play can also help with minor stresses. A child may come home upset after a hard day at school but then may get to work out some of those emotions by playing school where he is the teacher and in charge.

Dr. Cohen talks more about the idea of using play to handle childhood anxiety in his book The Opposite of Worry.

Connecting with Children Through Play

One part of Playful Parenting is about strengthening connection between parent and child. Children who feel connected and attached to their parents feel closer to them and thus want to cooperate with them. One simple and effective way to connect with our children is to sit and play with them.

Playing can be hard for adults: We’re out of practice, or have low patience, we may have forgotten how to play, or simply feel like we don’t have the time for it. Some people may feel awkward or embarrassed about being silly and goofy if they participate in children’s imaginative play, like a dad who may not want to sit and play with dolls with his young daughter.

However, when we make the effort to be involved in our children’s interests and carve out even as little as 10 minutes a day for one-on-one child-led playtime, our children notice it and respond positively. Deepening our connection with our children makes them more likely to respect us and to want to do what we ask of them. It helps them feel secure and loved, and makes us all happier.

Am I practicing Attachment Parenting?

This is a question that I have struggled with a lot in the four-and-a-half years, since I had my first son, Ryan, and discovered there was a parenting approach that lined up with my parenting views.  I questioned that if I didn’t practice all elements of Attachment Parenting (AP), could I really call myself an “attached parent?”

The long range vision in place for Attachment Parenting is:

To raise children who will become adults with a highly developed capacity for empathy and connection.  It eliminates violence as a means for raising children, and ultimately helps to prevent violence in society as a whole.

Some of my fellow AP parents used to joke that AP stands for “always perfect.” It seemed like I was not the only one who struggled with incorporating all Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting all the time.

But as I have continued down this journey of Attachment Parenting, I have realized that AP certainly does not mean always perfect.  It does mean trying the best you can, with the circumstances you have, at any given moment.

No one is a perfect parent, and if that is the standard that we inadvertently hold ourselves and others to, we will feel like we have failed, sooner or later. I believe API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are wonderful guides, but in no way are a set of rules and regulations that parents must incorporate at all times, less they be considered non-AP parents.

One example is discipline and whether or not time-out is a “proper” discipline technique for AP parents.

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates the use of “time-in” versus punitive “time-out.” A time-in modifies the traditional time-out in that it gives tantrumming children a break to calm down and self-regulate before other positive discipline techniques are used, rather than using isolation as a form of punishment as in the traditional time-out.

Every parent is entitled to their thoughts on the matter, and no two parents will agree on every topic. I respect that parents have a right to not use time-outs for their family. But I find it troubling and worrisome as an AP parent that some of the thoughts seem to suggest that parents who do use time-out, are being judged.

According to API:

Positive discipline helps a child develop a conscience guided by his own internal discipline and compassion for others. Discipline that is empathetic, loving, and respectful strengthens the connection between parent and child. Rather that reacting to behavior, discover the needs leading to the behavior. Communicate and craft solutions together while keeping everyone’s dignity intact.

I object to that time-out is like spanking. Time-out is a nonviolent method, unlike spanking. I also disagree with the idea that a parent who uses time-out is teaching their children to fear them. Most AP parents use time-out as a loving and respectful discipline method, in line with API’s discipline principle. How can another parent know for sure what is happening in a household, and how certain children respond to different methods of discipline?

Ultimately, though, who are we to judge another parent?

Not every technique works for every child, and even what works today, may not work tomorrow. As parents, especially AP parents, we are always trying to fine-tune our discipline and striving to do what works best for our child while incorporating respect and gentleness in our parenting.

Our goal of practicing AP is to raise children in a nonviolent atmosphere and to ensure they will have capacity for empathy and connection. If a parent feels a nonviolent discipline method, like time-out, is the best way to achieve that goal for their child, who are we to question and judge that decision? Surely we can and should trust that parents know their children and what they may or may not respond to the best.

I feel we are treading in dangerous water when we make general statements and hold dogmatic ideas that AP parents always do, or don’t do X. When this happens, it can unintentionally cause parents to question and doubt their methods, and wonder if they really are practicing AP. If they question and doubt this enough, they can be come discouraged and give up altogether, feeling like they just can’t measure up to the “ideal.”

I think a much more productive approach would be to find out why the parent has chosen to impart a certain method, and instead of judging, listen. Perhaps the child responds best to that method, or is a high-needs, or special needs child. Perhaps we can share what we have found to work in a similar situation. That could open up ideas for the parent that maybe they had not thought of before.

By doing this, we are supporting our fellow AP parents, and really, as AP parents we all face discouragement from others in our circles who are not AP parents. The reason we joined AP was for support, not for judgment. By supporting each other, even if we don’t always agree with another parent’s decision, we strengthen our foundation, and help each other in our goals of raising empathetic and connected children- even if we take different paths to get there.

Heather blogs about life with her two boys, pregnancy and birth issues, natural living, current events, and of course attachment parenting at A Mama’s Blog.

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.

© 2008-2022 Attachment Parenting International All Rights Reserved -- Copyright notice by Blog Copyright