Great Dad Tip: Playful Parenting—Notes on the Seminar

There has been some good feedback to my last two posts about Playful Parenting. So I’ve decided to share the notes I took at a wonderful and practical seminar I attended many years ago by Dr. Lawrence Cohen. The information below is expanded in his book by the same name, Playful Parenting. I’ve used most of these great techniques over the years (and still do) with my three boys, and I’ve found them to be immensely helpful. I recommend them to you here.

What are the purposes of play?

  1.      To connect with your child.
  2.      To develop confidence and mastery for your child.
    We shine light (attention) on them through engaged play.
  3.      To recover from life’s upsets (little and big ones).
  4.      To show themselves. They reveal what’s inside them through their play.

Specific tools:

  1. Playful wrestling with kids really connects for them (especially boys).
  2. Reversing the roles in play (you be the child, they the parent).
    This brings conflicts and problems into a play zone and helps you work through them.
  3. Lose your dignity to find your child. Be incompetent (for a change), fall over, lose, fail, etc.
  4. Follow your child’s lead in play. They get to be in charge.
    One-on-one time is so important in this.
  5. Invite the behavior you hate.
    “Let’s all do some whining for five minutes.”
    “Could you kids start a fight right now. You usually do it when I’m out of the room or busy, but I’m here now with nothing to do.”
    “I’m sure we’re going to have a melt down some time later this afternoon, so let’s just do it now and get it out of the way.”
  6. Join in (enthusiastically) on games you don’t really enjoy.
    If we resist, it gets worse. If we join, we can actually introduce other elements and themes (friendship, loyalty, rescue) to the play we don’t like (war, guns, etc.).
  7. Use play to repair a damaged relationship. Thumb-wrestling can work well: seems like battle, but you are holding hands, close, laughing together.

The importance for children of exposing their emotions openly and freely:

  1. Bad feelings feel so bad we want to bury them, but that keeps them inside. They need to come up in order to come out.
  2. Kids sometimes choose a “little” thing to get upset about because the real thing is too painful (seems too big to them and scary). Then, once the crying or upset starts, they can pour out their real feelings (though they may still be directing those feelings at that small thing). As a parent, don’t be fooled by this. The thing they seem upset over may not be the real or deeper issue.

A light-hearted approach to some of the very difficult challenges of parenting:

We parents can be so hard on ourselves. We are often quite self-critical (sometimes even condemning). Give your kids focused time one-on-one. Give 100% of your energy in blocks of time rather than giving 80% all day long. Then, by the end of the day, you are exhausted and the kids still feel like they didn’t get enough of you or all of you.


To read more from Keith, take a look at his book:

Large Book with Outline



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