Play is an important part of a child’s life, which children use to explore and make sense of the world around them. When parents join their children in the world of play, they foster a strong emotional connection with their child.
What is Playful Parenting?
According to Lawrence J. Cohen, author of Playful Parenting [Ballantine Books, 2002], play comes naturally to healthy children. However, when an adult gets down on the floor to play with a child, he many feel stiff and uncomfortable physically and emotionally. Cohen wants to help parents loosen up and learn how to play with their kids again, because when adults become involved in a child’s play without directing or controlling it, they become part of the child’s world on the child’s level. This can lead to a deeper understanding of the problems and challenges a child faces and can lead to creative solutions to conflicts between parent and child.
Meeting Children’s Emotional Needs in Play
Early on in Playful Parenting, Cohen outlines his theory of how children get their emotional needs filled. According to Cohen, everyone has a “cup” that holds a reserve of positive emotional feelings. This cup acts as a child’s reservoir of emotional security and attachment, and positive interaction with caregivers, siblings and playmates helps to fill up the cup.
Over time, negative experiences or a long span of time since the last “fill-up” gradually empty the cup and the child seeks out more positive interaction. Play can provide positive emotional feelings that help to keep a child’s cup full for longer, as well as help children “defuse” negative feelings that might otherwise have emerged as aggressive or violent behavior.
Play Helps Give Children a Sense of Control
One of the biggest challenges and needs for children in every stage of development is the gradual growth of personal control. Whether an infant is learning that a smile will cause mom to smile back or a school age child is learning how to make friends and master fractions, all children want to feel a sense of control over some part of their life. When parents and adult caregivers meet children on their level by getting down on the floor to wrestle or play house, they are fostering that sense of control that children crave. In particular, when parents can playfully act dumb and put their child in the position of power, this helps to balance out the usual state of powerlessness a child feels.
Playful Parenting gives parents the tools they need, such as ideas for games and strategies for during play, in order to use play to help children cope with their emotional ups and downs and promote a strong feeling of loving attachment between parent and child. Cohen’s background as a psychologist provides expert knowledge in play therapy which he passes on in both anecdotal stories and concrete ideas for playtime.
Whether you want to maintain a currently happy relationship with your child or build up more positive feelings of attachment, Playful Parenting can help you loosen up and make the most out of playing with your kids.
Originally published on Suite101.com on August 27, 2008
Disclaimer: I borrowed a copy of Playful Parenting from my public library to review.