Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

"Hit the ball instead" game.
"Oftentimes, some of our most difficult parenting challenges can be defused or handled gracefully if we choose to use play", said the carnival invitation. I had to laugh, as I live with a 19 month old toddler! I have a headstrong, willful, spirited toddler who loves to challenge my resolve, boundaries, and limits. And I have tried many different methods of working through this behavior, but by far, play has worked the best. But try as I might, it is hardly what I think to do first. Perhaps with practice, in time.

Why is it so hard for me to remember that play works? I think it is because most of us did not grow up in a culture where parents interacted with their kids in this way. So it requires a mind-shift and extra effort on the part of the parent.

Crumple the trash in mama's purse instead of yelling
in the restaurant game.
When I say mind-shift, I mean that I believe that I and many other people have been conditioned to think of the relationship between kids and their parents in a certain way. Parents are in charge, kids must obey. Parents make the rules, kids follow them. And if a kid breaks the rules, s/he gets punished or at the very least gets a lecture on "respecting the rules"*. Now, I believe that the previous statements about parents being in charge statements are still true, but as a parent who believes in gentle discipline, I believe that they need to be seen through a different filter. Instead of a top-heavy power dynamic laden with punishment and authoritarianism- why not see these statements through the filter of play? After all, games have rules that someone makes up. In order to play the game correctly and everyone to have fun, people must follow those rules.
He was having a tantrum minutes earlier.
Now he has a hat and a fun dress up game.

In my experience, it isn't extra work to use play. The extra work comes in getting past first inclinations of what I am supposed to do as a parent. I have been frustrated with my son plenty of times when he does things he knows that he is not supposed to do, over and over. But in my experience, he is doing them to get my attention. If he gets my attention, he stops "acting out" (standing or jumping on the furniture, smashing crackers with his feet, or banging his toys loudly, for example).

So when he catches me not paying attention these days and draws attention to it (mama gets sucked into her laptop all too often) by being destructive or doing reckless things I don't want him to do (to keep him safe), I pause, take a deep breath and redirect with play. The making funny faces game is always a winner, as is the "Hey, where's Toy X? Bring it here and let's play."

Do you use play in your bag of discipline tricks? How? As a new mama, I am always looking for more tips!

*Personally, I am teaching Rowan to respect individuals, not rules.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


  1. I really love your article, because it sums up the point of parenting through play. There really are so many power paradigms that need to be subverted, in our own minds first of all.

  2. "The extra work comes in getting past first inclinations of what I am supposed to do as a parent." Oh what a very true statement. It's exactly what I mentioned in my post today - that my gut response is usually based on a desire to assert authority. It's how I was parented, and even though I want to parent differently, it's hard to reprogram what I learned. It's a process!

  3. Funny, I run into the same problem...Munchkin "acts up" when he needs attention from me. Or when I'm already frustrated. Hmmm. It's definitely a learning process, a balance between play and gently setting boundaries.

    The pic with the hat is too cute!

  4. I have the same issue: I don't go to play first. I think of de-schooling myself for our homeschooling plan-I have to do the same for parenting: de-parenting myself.That's not a criticism, of course, just how I reacted to it. I want to value the opinions of my littles, and as you say, it's the play that gets the message through that we want. The authoritarian parenting style may appear to give compliance, but it certainly does not create true values of sharing and honoring one another over the long run.

  5. "most of us did not grow up in a culture where parents interacted with their kids in this way."

    That is so true. Most of us did grow up in a culture where parents are the boss. And although I'm sure at some point in my parenting life I am going to use the awful saying, "because I'm the boss," but I hope never to say that. We're all just people trying to live in harmony and work within each other's boundaries.

    I love love love your last line about respecting people and not rules. Love it.

  6. I loved reading this - along with all the other posts in this carnival! - but this particularly struck me. It's difficult for me to want to do things differently in raising my children than my own parents did; particularly when it comes to discipline, it feels like I am judging them as lacking if I want to practice something more egalitarian, more playful. "After all, I turned out fine," I tell myself - but "fine" is a pretty low bar! So thank you for acknowledging the parenting models we inherit, and how those affect our own parenting; it helped me connect to this piece.

  7. Thanks for the comments, everyone!

    I echo Hobo Mama in subverting dominant paradigms! Yes!

    I agree with Code Name: Mama. I do not want to be an automaton as a parent! I have often said (and indeed, created my own special reading course in grad school all about this) that parenting is the best mindfulness practice. It requires more presence and intention, 24/7 than most people are used to giving. And that is WORK!

    MaMammalia: Isn't that always the way? When we are already distracted or upset, they need us even more. My little one is very empathic and is an amazing mirror to my feelings.

    TouchstoneZ: yes- exactly! de-schooling myself first is key to schooling someone else.

    TMuffin! My dad used to say, "I'm the boss" (groan) all the freaking time! How DID you know!

    eggsandbakey (great name, btw!): yes, I turned out fine, but I can say that a lot of that work was me, not my parents. I agree with you that "fine" is a low bar. I also strive for more. And hey, different doesn't imply "better" it just means different, right?

  8. I always love your posts and this one was no exception!!!! Play is not my default modus operandi. It takes a lot of mental work on my part although I agree that it is no more or less physically taxing to be a playful parent. I pretty much want to quote every thing you said here since it is so spot on! Thank you for such a brilliant post!


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