Play is the safe cradle in which our children experiment, express themselves, and explore their world. Whatever the activity, your child is playing when her actions are spontaneous, she controls her role, and there’s no pressure to reach a goal. Play is its own reward, and is deeply satisfying to your child. It is no trivial pursuit, however. It builds your child’s intellect, judgment, strength, coordination, and character.
In fact, play is so vital to children’s development that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has declared it an inalienable right.
Playlistening gives you an elegant strategy: you can help your child release some of that tension by initiating play. You don’t, and can’t, force her, of course—coercion is the antithesis of play. But you can try some humor, mix it with affection and a dash of imagination, and see where it takes you.
One laugh, and you’ve lightened the tone for everyone. And because laughter connects us, Playlistening can be as restorative for you as it is for your child.
This tool is a godsend for parents of more than one child, and for working with children in a group. Playlistening can work with one child, two children, or ten. For instance, when one child excludes another in a group, you can help them all by offering your affection and then taking the less powerful role. “Oh, I have some hugs for you all. Smooshy hugs! Lots of hugs! Who’s going to get my first hug?” Then, throwing your arms wide with an expectant grin, you start a slow chase through the house, or around the play yard.
You might manage to tug on a sweater here or a grab a shirttail there, but you play clumsily, so they all escape. You might heighten their laughter by giving a big hug to the sofa or the playground slide by mistake. As you play the warm and goofy foe, the children are brought together on the same side. You let them playfully exclude you! The laughter they share will begin to bond them, and move them away from targeting one of their own.
Playlistening helps children build cooperative relationships, and it can take the sting out of being instructed, guided, directed, and taught by adults day in and day out. For example, my grandson played on a baseball team of seven- to nine-year-old boys. Their coach was warm and patient with the boys during practice, but as coach, it was his job to give them lots of direction and instructions. At the end of every practice and game, he’d hold a team meeting, and then reverse their roles. He’d say, “OK, team, it’s time to get the coach!” He would run off to the outfield, dodging and darting, with the boys giving chase. Eventually they’d tackle him and all pile on, making gleefully sure he couldn’t get up.
That’s Playlistening. It lightened their practices and bonded their team.
Once you’ve built a strong relationship with your child, you can use Playlistening to lift specific fears and smooth bumpy relationships. For example, you can build your child’s confidence before visiting the doctor or dentist, plump up her connections with relatives who don’t visit often, and lighten the burdens presented by siblings, chores, homework, and even foods that don’t hit her A-list.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox
Read all the posts in this series and find out how to simplify your parenting, keep calm and build connections. Go here for day 6, What is a Listening Partnership and Why do I need One?
- Read Playlistening with a Picky Eater
- Does Playlistening distract my child? Instructor Shauna Casey explains the difference. Read it here.
- Use play to transform every day struggles. Here are 15 Playful Ways To Get Children To Walk
- This post is from Listen: Five Simple Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore. Download a chapter and buy the book here.