Playful Parenting

November 25, 2023 [books] #parenting

Book: Playful Parenting
Author: Lawrence Cohen

One of Maria Montessori's organizing principles was this: “In the life of the child, play is perhaps something of little importance which he undertakes for the lack of something better to do.” Lawrence Cohen, a child therapist, turns this dictum around its head. The central theme of his practice is that playing is how children learn to form connections with others and cope with emotional distress. He makes his case with plenty of analogies and use cases from his career. To enter into the world of a child on her own terms is a very difficult task for most adults, far removed from their own childhood. I can name just a few in my own life who had quite the impact on me, most significant among them being my mother. Mom still has the preternatural ability to make any child her friend. Cohen's arguments worked for me because I had adult references for both what one should do and what one shouldn't. I wouldn't have thought of my mother as a playmate, but now I recognize that's what she was. Children best learn empathy and kindness not by moral lessons or lectures but via games designed to teach them. So playing can be fun, but also meaningful and complex. The most important thing we have to offer to our children is our ability to make them feel loved, respected, wanted, and welcome. With infants, this takes the form of cuddling, mirroring, talking and singing. With older kids, it's making many interactions a game, from hide and seek to driving a car to story telling.

There is a particular emphasis on reconnection in the book. Reconnection takes persistence since children receive conflicting messages from the world. You want to hear hurting children out, not try to cheer them or cajole them out of feeling bad. Follow the child's lead. Often this means saying "yes" when you want to say "no". Remember to jump into their world, and to make it easier, have a dedicated play time daily. Having a regular and scheduled time allows children to look forward to it and plan for it.

Cohen's messaging about connection and play is focused on children, but it is clear that it applies just as well to adult relationships. This is him talking about children:

I think we each want the other one to take the initiative to apologize and ask for forgiveness. But if we wait for them, it might never happen. I think it's up to us, the adults, the parents, to take the initiative. Make eye contact. Cuddle. Always make up after a fight. Offer forgiveness without being asked. Apologize when you've been wrong. When things are rough between you, spend more time together instead of less. As a way to resolve a conflict, offer a hug instead of the usual punishment. Tell everyone in the family something you appreciate about him or her.

Peter Kaufman, the CEO of Glenair and the author of Poor Charlie's Alamanack, emphasized in one of his talks how it's easy to fail in life while succeeding in a business. His central theme?

So you’ve got one lifetime. How do you want to spend your one lifetime? Do you want to spend your one lifetime like most people do, fighting with everybody around them? No. I just told you how to avoid that. And in exchange have what? A celebratory life. Instead of an antagonistic fighting life. All you have to do is go positive, go first, be patient enough.

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