Playful Parenting – Highlights from Chapter 2: Join Children in Their World

What was Useful?

Tsunami Swing

I learned a great game from Jimmy, my eight-year-old neighbor. Jimmy's little cousin would come visit, and he would take her to the swings across the street. He would stand in front of her and give her a push. When she came back toward him, he would stand so that her feet just barely touched him on the chest. Then he would make a big show of falling over and pretending to be mad at her. He would get up and say, “You better not do that again!” She would laugh with delight and he would patiently play this game with her again and again.
I've been playing this exact game with FeeFieFoeFord at the playground ever since he was big enough to swing. I can attest that kids do, indeed, love this game.

The Love Egg

…the love egg. Do you know that trick where you pretend to crack an egg over someone's head by gently tapping them on the head and then spreading your fingers down their hair? She would call this the love egg and crack it over them, spreading more love.
I am learning that it is hard to overstate the importance of physicality in determining the quality of the relationships with my kids: they love to be touched, held, tickled, tossed around...and so do I.


…a game that they called fill-up. She would take each child on her lap and say that she was going to fill them up with Mommy love. She would start at their toes, work her way up, and end with a kiss on top of their heads.
I wish we had tried something like this when we moved to Salina. Our oldest went through a spell where he would call for us, to find out where we were, as soon as he noticed that we were not in his immediate field of vision.

Put Up Your Dukes!

One of my favorites is when two children are pounding on each other, and I say, “Pick on someone your own size!” and put up my hands to fight, with a goofy expression on my face. They both turn on me and I run away in mock fright, a little twist that changes the whole nature of the game.
Playful pivots seem to be the most effective way to short-circuit tantrums. It is the triumph of distraction over discipline.


The original version: “I hate you!” 

The translation: “I haven't figured out yet how to be mad at somebody I love; it's confusing.”

The thoughtful response: “I love you, and I get confused, too, when I'm mad at somebody I love.”
Reading sub-text is not my strong suit. I've always preferred that people just say what they mean/tell me what they want, directly.

However, given that even the adults in my life struggle with it (including, probably, me), I think I need to recall the mantra that "It's not about me," and redouble my efforts at active listening to hear what it is that people are trying to say when they don't have the words that I would prefer.

What was Important?

When we get disconnected from children—and we do, again and again—play is our best bridge back to deep connection with them. We have to be ready.
This sounds a lot like the advice on following the breath and dealing with the wandering mind in meditation. Just notice and return.
...meaningful play may need more effort and more awareness on the part of adults.
The "effort" is the intimidating part. I "know" that my resources are limited, so I guard them jealously. Then, perceiving that I have shied away from trying for fear of failure, I am driven by shame to flee awareness of my cowardice. A mind that avoids consciousness is a broken and unhappy mind.
Sitting alone in one's room is not the best way to develop better ways to play with friends.
I confess that the occasions in which I resort to "time-out" are motivated by my own need for space and not a belief that it will teach my children anything.
I am amazed at how often I see children who want to play but don't know the rules, have never practiced the skills, and can't bear to lose.
That was me. That is me. That is what I don't want for my children. To avoid something because you don't like it makes sense. To avoid something that you think you might like is self-inflicted torture.
Children need our approval and enthusiasm first, before they can get out of a rut.
Roughly slapping the needle on a skipping record will break the loop. It will also gouge the material and make smooth play in the future impossible.
It's important to find the approach your child will most respond to—and you can find this only if you're trying to interact with your child on their level.
It's like trying to find the door to a house while looking down on it from a passing airplane.
Transitions are hard for adults, too. We have even less time and attention for children when we are preoccupied with big changes in our lives.
- Residency
- Fellowship
- Moving
- Homeschooing
- Moving Again
- Unschooling
We momentarily forget how fragile our little ones are, just as they forget about cooperation or sharing or calming down or following the rules.
It is weird, and I haven't totally worked it out, but I think it is true that children are simultaneously both fragile and resilient.
Untrained in nurturing, men feel helpless. And most men hate to feel helpless.
I don't know about most men, but it certainly resonates with me.
Feminist authors have decried “the second shift,” the way working mothers come home to do the housework and child care, even in most two-parent, two-income homes. They are right: this is an unfair burden on women, but it is also a disaster for men, to be left out of the loop of day-to-day parenting.
This has been one of the great revelations of my experience as a parent. I know that my own father claims to have only ever changed one diaper per kid, and he wears it like a badge of honor. Having become intimately acquainted with all of my children's basic needs, I regard it as a tragedy for a parent to miss out on the joy that accompanies being a primary caregiver, of being a literal life-line.
For Playful Parenting purposes, it is especially useful to translate whatever you hear or see into the language of closeness and isolation, confidence and powerlessness.
I don't have much practice in translating actions and words into emotions. It is going to take me awhile to develop this skill.
Children rarely say, “Hey, that was great, let's do something else.” They almost always say, “Let's do that again."
Do they ever. In fact, if I could only nominate a single word to capture life with a toddler it would be "Again!"

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