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.

A mother’s reflections on her decision to honor her child’s spirit

girl dandelion wishI dropped off my 10-year-old daughter at the art museum for another fun, creative day of summer camp. I hovered by the Admissions Desk, watching the kids get settled in.  As part of their morning warm-up, the kids hang out in the museum’s atrium, and while they wait for their peers to arrive, they engage in free-play and stretching exercises.  Afterwards, they head upstairs to start their day creating beautiful works of art — expressing their artistic, distinctive, creative selves.

My daughter stood out from the rest of the crowd with her signature ears headband she has been sporting since she was 7 years old and bright, mismatching clothes: shorts, knee-high socks and a big, bright green beach bag she had decided was the perfect accessory even though they don’t go to the pool — who am I to argue?

She was sitting on the third step of a four-step staircase. With much enthusiasm and confidence, she pulled out a thick book from her bag and started to read. I felt a sense of profound delight in watching her: She seemed so peaceful and content. Unlike many girls her age, she doesn’t look to her right or her left for directions — she looks within herself and marches to the beat of her own drum…oh, how I love that about her! Countless adults spend their entire lives struggling to reach that place of inner tranquility. I marvel that she is already there.

I looked around and noticed that all the other kids were nearby on the platform at the top of the staircase. They were interacting with one another, playing or chatting. Not my girl — she was reading intently, oblivious to everything around her.

I thought to myself how it is apparent that she didn’t blend in with the crowd, and I felt a little tug in my stomach. Like most other parents, I wish for my kids to fit in and be socially adept. I was thinking that, during our drive back home, I should gently suggest that she socialize during the morning warm-up instead of reading a book.

I then looked to my right where my social butterfly — my 7-year-old son — was standing, and I chuckled. Here was my other child who thrives on being around his peers and playing with them…all day long! As for reading books? You may have guessed it: He is not a fan!

I had recognized that my daughter’s social barometer is different than her brother’s and perhaps most of her peers — to reach her inner balance, she needs a different ratio between “me-time” and “friends-time.” In that moment, I understood that I ought to just let her be, knowing she is a healthy, well-rounded, well-adjusted child.

I needed this reminder, because I wholeheartedly believe that as parents, we ought to honor and respect who our kids are and support the needs of their individual spirits — allowing them to be their authentic selves.

Our children are not blocks designed to fit perfectly into a designated box. They are each unique, with their own shape and characteristics. The most creative, successful people are the ones who exist and think outside of the box — heck, they may not even be aware there is a box! Conforming for the sake of “blending in” or “fitting in” is diminishing their ability to blossom and dimming the light of their soul. 

I am pleased that my daughter chooses not to blend in at times. It fills my heart with bliss to watch her shine as her beautiful soul blossoms.

Was Attachment Parenting worth it?

intimate-808012-mFor the last few days, my son has been hunched over an application for a summer program at NASA. I’ve been helping him, shoulder to shoulder, when he needs it, and I find myself staring at him when he’s not looking. It’s his junior year, and he’ll soon be filling out college applications.

How did we get here?

My son was “that” kid. The one who shrieked in anguish when another child got the green cup. The one who hid under the table screaming with his hands over his ears when party-goers sang “Happy Birthday.” The one who completely disrobed when a drop of water touched his clothes. The one who yanked the dump truck out of the hands of an unfamiliar toddler at the park sandbox.

He was also the one who had hour-long meltdowns several times a day…every day…for months, sometimes until he’d lose his voice. He was the one who would wake with night terrors about being abandoned in the woods, even though I was sleeping next to him. He could have been the poster child for “The Spirited Child.”

He had a difficult childhood. It started when we was born 14 weeks premature — a micro-preemie who should have had all sorts of health issues, a 2-pounder who couldn’t even be stroked or held until he was a week old. But he was a fighter, and he never even had to be on oxygen. The NICU staff called him the Miracle Baby. (They also called me the Dairy Queen, but that’s another story!)

So how did we get here?

All I can think of is the hours upon hours of holding, rocking, singing, carrying, cosleeping and loving that my husband and I did — thousands of hours. I gave him Kangaroo Care for 4 hours at a time in the NICU, until they made me put him back in his warmer. I carried him in a baby backpack as soon as he could hold his head up while I did housework and made dinner. My husband and I cuddled him through his screams and walked him long into the night.

So here we are.

…looking at the beginning of the end: The beginning of his adulthood, as a strong, confident, self-assured man. And the end of the difficulties of a childhood with a rough start, a complicated middle and a promising finish.

Were all those hours of holding, cuddling and crying together worth it? You bet. I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Will I be sad to see him go off to NASA (if he gets in) and then to college? Sure. But that’s what we work toward, right?

I stare at the back of his head, with his ginger hair, and he speaks to me in his dad’s voice. “Mom, do you think this is good enough?” Oh yeah, I do. And then some, kid. And then some.

Unconditional Love

When we were moving a few months ago, I stumbled upon an on old journal from my childhood. I sat down, amidst a pile of boxes, and ignored the surrounding mess to go back to a place that I hadn’t visited in a long time. The pages were laden with my 12 year old scribbles. There were entries about my loves , my friends, and trivial problems, but in between those pages were some hauntingly poignant entries about the abuse that filled my childhood. As I read, it wasn’t the entries describing the latest attack, it was a simple statement, ended with a question, that I think I sent out to the universe:

“I feel like I will never be good enough. Like I will never measure up. I feel like unless I do what they want, and only what they want, they will never love me fully. They call me names, they insult me, they punish me when I stray from their beliefs. Is this how a parent is supposed to treat their child? Is this normal?”

As I grew up, I spent a lot of time asking that question over and over again. It wasn’t until I had my own child and pulled out this journal that I recognized the answer to that question was supposed to be a resounding “NO!” I’d like to say this discovery has ended any self-doubts, but daily, I still ask “Is this enough? Am I enough?” The impact of this emotional abuse as a child has left a permanent mark, even so many years later.

Continue reading “Unconditional Love”

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