Book Review: Playful Parenting

22 Mar

When DB was an infant, I turned to baby-care and parenting books out of insecurity and fear.  Between the postpartum depression, Doodlebug’s reflux and milk allergy, and my recurring clogged milk ducts, I was desperate for answers.  Each book only made matters worse, increasing my anxiety and making me feel less secure as a mother.  When I was brave enough to put down the books and just trust my instinct, it turned out I did a pretty good job.

Now my self-confidence as the parent of a toddler is solid.  Although I make mistakes every day, on the whole, I know I am raising a happy and well-adjusted child.  More importantly, I’m doing what works for my family.

It’s in this healthy state-of-mind that I’ve started enjoying parenting books again.  But I choose carefully, and keep in mind that the authors of each book do not know me.  They do not know my family.  And they do not know my child.  I decide how much weight to give each new parenting idea, which is a powerful idea in itself.

I’d like to take time to review each of the books here.  Mostly just to aid me while I process what I have read, but perhaps to help someone else who is looking for new ideas about raising a child.  And also to start some healthy, constructive discussions – I love hearing what works and doesn’t work for other people.

Book Cover

The first book I’m reviewing is Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen (the link is to Amazon).  The basic premise of the book is that play is important to a child’s psychological development, and that many parents are unsure of how to really play with their children.  Let me start by saying that Cohen spends the majority of the book discussing school-age children, but that the concepts behind the narratives and theories are applicable for those of us who have toddlers (and even infants).

Cohen asserts that like a lion cub’s play fine-tunes its skills for life in the wilderness, a child’s play is a way for them to make sense of the world around them.

“Play is important, not just because children do so much of it, but because there are layers and layers of meaning to even the most casual play.”

Children use play to connect.  They use play as a safe method of testing their strengths and weaknesses, and to practice new skills.  And most importantly, they use it to work though hurt and fear.  Cohen uses narratives of his time as a play therapist and parent to both explain the principles of the book and provide strategies for parents to use with their own children.

Cohen’s writing style is accessible and friendly in tone.  Not once did I feel like I was being talked down to or being lectured on the best way to parent.  He uses examples of his own parenting mistakes to help explain how play has helped him interact with his own children.  And the narratives about different children not only thoroughly explain each concept, but make it clear that his approach takes into consideration that each child (and parent) is different.  This is not a one-size-fits-all kind of parenting guide.

I particularly liked the sections devoted to how playful parenting can aid in discipline.

“In the rush to punish children, we forget that the essence of discipline is to teach.

Timeouts rarely work with my 2 year old these days, and we don’t use corporal punishment in our home.  So then what do you do?  Using play to deescalate conflicts and let DB work out her frustration (in conjunction with the natural consequences we were already following through on) has made our whole house a happier one.  Now, instead of fighting her in a parking lot when she doesn’t want to hold hands, I might tell her to pretend we are trying to sneak up to the car and we have to tiptoe.  Or we’ll play follow the leader.  It may not always work, but at least I have more tricks in my bag now.  He also suggests “meetings on the couch” in place of time out – I have yet to put this into practice and try it out, but it peaked my curiosity.  I have a feeling it will be better suited to our family when DB is a little older.

The biggest impact this book had on my parenting has been the change in the way I play with DB.  I know I’m not the only parent who often finds toddler games either silly or mind-numbing.  Knowing that the play has purpose (beyond just annoying me) inspired me to throw myself into the play, really focusing on her.  While engaging with DB, I can see the bigger picture – the development behind the play, and that makes it more interesting for me.  And more importantly, after only a day of more direct, whole-hearted play, she was a much easier kid to parent.  She handled frustration more easily, was more willing to listen and follow directions, and just seemed happier.  Cohen describes it as “filling up their cup of love”.  I grant you that sounds terribly cheesy, but it totally worked with my daughter.

Other topics that resonated with me were how play fosters confidence, using play to address gender stereotypes, handling fear and anxiety, encouraging emotional literacy, and letting children direct the games they want to play.

I highly recommend this book.   And although its narrative format doesn’t make it a great quick reference, it’s a book I’ll reread periodically when I need to be inspired to really connect with my child.

disclaimer:  I bought the book on my own from Amazon, and am reviewing it on my own, with no compensation for the review or the link above.  Which is too bad, because it would be crazy-awesome if they paid me to do this.  Also, it’s not lendable from my Kindle, which is a bummer.


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