Friday, February 12, 2010

Playful Parenting

I have another excellent book to add to my list of parenting reads: Lawrence Cohen's Playful Parenting. (Linked it in the sidebar, for more information.) I stumbled across this one at my library and thought it might have some useful suggestions for more imaginative play with Dory. And it does. But, oh baby, it is so much more than that.

Dr. Cohen digs into the emotional, mental, and psychological importance of play in a child's life. Play can open a child's self-expression, can help heal an emotional hurt, can strengthen or even create a bond between child and parent and is always needed- from birth to the teenage years (and adult years too, though Cohen points out, most adults idea of play is relaxing and being stationary, which can make it difficult for adults to engage in child's play!). Children find their power through play, they find their voice through play, they work out confusions and fears. One of my favorite examples describes a three year old girl, who's gotten a shot, comes home and now wants to play doctor. She wants to administer the "shot" and she needs an adult, preferably a parent, to administer to. Through this game, she is now in control, she now has her power back, and the one who took the power away (i.e. hello mom! hello dad!) is now looking to her. Give her her power back, Dr. Cohen says. Play with her. Be the patient! Shriek, cry, let her know it's painful! Allow her to work out what happened, what it means, and to feel her autonomy in her world again.

I've read this time so many times, but it always bears repeating: children have so many decisions made for them everyday. Most of us parents, no matter how lightly we hope to tread, still make lots of choices for our child (this shirt, this food, this time to leave, this stop to make) and that can leave a little one feeling frustrated, disempowered and marginalized, at best. Dr. Cohen explains, you can help your child regain his sense of himself through play. Let him lead. Let him guide. You follow. Get on his level and give him the reigns.

Of the many, many useful suggestions of this book (read all of it- it's worth it), this stood out with me the most. Be your child's advocate for maintaing his sense of worth, his sense of importance, his sense of relation to this world by helping him maintain his power.

Other points that stood out to me:
Girls need physical play! Boys need more cuddles! In our attempts to give our children "roots and wings," our overly stereotyped idea of the sexes leaves girls feeling rooted, but timid and fearful and boys feeling adventurous and often reckless and with no grounding. Play can build and strengthen these underdeveloped areas.

Be flexible. Your child may want to play the same game a very different way- for instance, yesterday, she wanted you to give in and let her win. Today, she wants a challenge. Follow your child's lead. Sometimes she wants to build her confidence, other days she wants to see herself tested. Let her decide.

Participate consciously. Even if you're exhausted, even if you're sore, even if you've worked all day, even if you've already spent the entire day together- be present when you play. Conscious playing fills a child's need for your attention and fills his feelings of worthiness and importance in the world. Often, once he's full, he can play on his own for even longer periods of time, especially as he gets older. And if you aren't able to do this for extended periods, set time aside everyday (even if its only ten minutes!) and play fully and actively with your child.

This is a child's world. Play is her world. This is how she learns, how she processes and understands, how she participates. Respect that. This is her way of relating. Respect that. Even if you are not in a mood to play too, respect that this is her work in the world right now.

For me, the best part of Playful Parenting is how little I really knew beforehand. The more I know, the more I thrive and enjoy parenting. Before reading this, I had some basic concepts- play is important, interaction in play is really important, find toys that allow for imagination (which typically means avoiding anything with the phrase "requires AA batteries"). I'm home with Dory everyday, we play for seventy percent of it (at least), and I hoped this book might give me some ideas on how to shake our play up. I revel in having my expectations blown away.

Playful Parenting is rich with insights into our children, how their minds work, how they communicate and what they need from us to thrive and grow. Just an exceptional read. And for the little bit of information I've posted here, I've barely brushed the surface.

It's definitely a Good Mama read.

And, there are so many more good books to go. Currently, I'm reading Naomi Aldort's Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and I can't wait to write more about it. Another amazing, amazing book. Also on the list: The Hurried Child, which was first popular when I was a wee one and is still much talked about today (that's promising), Free Range Kids and Hold Onto Your Kids. There are so many exceptional, thinking people writing about children and yet so few naptimes and late nights in which to read. I would have started years ago if I had any idea how interesting and amazing this parenting-thing would be...

1 comment:

Kristine said...

Excellent points, and thanks for the reminders. :)

I'm really leaving this comment, because Lucy's hanging out on my lap, and got very upset with me when i informed her that the baby in the pictures was not, in fact, her. She wouldn't even say hi. :( Very entertaining. :)