Power Play: What to Do When Play Turns Bad

from the hand in hand blog(1)

By Heidi Grainger Russell

Children’s playful giggles and laughter can soon boil over and frenzied excitement erupts into power struggles, arguments and aggression. So how can you step in safely to diffuse a play situation headed south?

Hand in Hand’s Heidi Grainger Russell explains how a burst of spontaneous Playlistening saved a recent play session from turning sour.

kids roaring

What would you do?

A dear friend of mine called asking for help. She had flu and was stuck home with her two young children. I offered to come over and watch them while she napped. I brought my five-year-old son with me since our kids have played together many times.

After an hour of playing inside, the kids wanted to go out and bounce on the trampoline. I sat close by and watched. They were having a great time laughing and roughhousing together, but at one point the play began to turn.

Her four-year-old son began to play more aggressively. He was clotheslining his little sister and knocking her down and he was roaring in my son’s face.

Nobody was getting hurt yet, but I could see the direction we were heading. I asked him to tone it down, but he was not hearing. I could see he was escalating pretty quickly.

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Time to Step in

I said it was time to get off and come inside but they didn’t listen.

Now I was faced with the awkward proposition of wrangling three squirmy kids off of a tall, bouncy surface. I unzipped the netting surrounding the trampoline it and stuck my arms through. I thought maybe I could grab one of them as they went by and help them down.

No such luck. Now they were squealing and running away from me. I was scrabbling, but all of a sudden I heard laughter, and I had an idea.

I began to make use of my total ineptitude on the trampoline by pretending I was an alligator snapping my jaws trying to chomp them. Now I was the one roaring! Sometimes I would grab one child, and the other two would step in and “rescue” him from my jaws. They were really enjoying this game, laughing and squealing, and I was having fun too.

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Power of Play

Almost instantly, the whole dynamic on the trampoline shifted. The children were giggling as they tried to avoid my grasp. They were now a united front with me as the enemy.

We played like this for about 30 minutes, by which point we were all exhausted. They decided it was time to come off the trampoline and I lifted them one by one. As I lifted the four year old, he wrapped his arms around me and gave me a big hug. We came inside and enjoyed peaceful play for the rest of our visit.

Thanks to Playlistening, everyone had fun and a sick mom got to nap – although no-one was quite sure how she managed to sleep through that alligator attack!

Why it Works

This spontaneous Playlistening session diffused the tension and saved the playdate in three special ways.

  • Her son was able to save face and not be the “bad guy” that ended trampoline time.
  • He was able to laugh and release some tension that was driving his aggressive behavior.
  • The game saved Heidi from having to figure out how to get the kids off the trampoline safely
  • Find more Playlistening ideas here
  • Download this booklet and learn the art of Playlistening

Heidi Grainger Russell is Certified Instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting, and lives in Petaluma, CA, where she offers ongoing parenting support. Heidi Grainger Russell

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