I just finished reading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen for my book club and wanted to document some thoughts. I took a long time to read this book and I think a big part of that was that the author seems to repeat himself so much. There are some gems though that can be sifted out of the many examples and repetitive directions.
The first thing I found while reading was that I had this overwhelming desire to go play with my kid. The way Cohen presents play as so healing and nurturing and connection building, he makes it seem like some decadent chocolate treat that you just have to go enjoy right now! Early on in the reading, I put the book down and crawled on my hands and knees into our library where my son was reading. I nuzzled his elbow and gave a little kiss. Silence. I nuzzled the hip and gave another kiss. Little giggle. By the end, my husband wanted to know what was going on because we were laughing so hard and just enjoying ourselves so thoroughly. One of Cohen's rules is "Follow the giggles" and I was certainly enjoying it in this context :) So, the first gem was just looking at play again as a way to connect (reminds me of one of my favorite posts here about humor.
Second, I was a little dubious of his suggestion that older kids would find it funny if parents pretended goofy things. l was dealing with a common situation in my home, my kiddo was being too rough again and again and I was getting hurt and angry. I said, "Let's pretend you're my little boy and I'm your exasperated mommy and if you touch me one more time I'M GOING TO…" He giggled. Then he touched me so gently with one finger tip. I play shrieked with agony and fury. He giggled and finger tip touched me again and so the circle went with solid fun and no more hurts. I'm intrigued. I've been amazed by his glee at this kind of pretend and how giggly he gets if I pretend along with him.
The third idea that I found worth noting was that it may be worth joining in a child's pretend play, even if you find it deadly dull, as a way to help them feel heard and learn to think about other options. The example Cohen gave was of his daughter playing with barbies in a way that the woman was always powerless and needed to be saved by a prince. It drove him batty and he hated it, but if he tried to play and alter the script, she would get furious that he was playing "wrong" and adhere to the melodrama even more tightly. He found that if he played it her way and made her feel secure in exploring that idea, she was willing to consider other ways dear Barbie could act. The idea of joining in an older child's game that I find boring seemed like a negative choice, a sacrifice that would promote feelings of irritation. However, I remember how much I did this when my son was younger and how clearly I understood that I needed to respect his context of delight at peek a boo or a shape sorting game. I wonder if I joined in his video game of exploding worms or his legos that do some fantastical things again and again and again… I wonder what would happen if I did more than listen supportively and got down on the floor with him in this situations that don't captivate me. Cohen acknowledges that playing with kids this way, on their terms, is exhausting and he recommends setting aside a delineated amount of time so you don't wear yourself out. His experience in play therapy is that it helps children connect and feel safe and heard and valued.
I have some more thinking to do about next actions, but I'm glad I read the book. If anyone else read the book, I'm curious "What do you think?"