I’m only a few chapters in so far, but I’m really enjoying reading Playful Parenting, by Lawrence Cohen. Cohen is a child psychologist and play therapist who lives in Brookline, MA. The basic premise so far is that play is children’s first language. We have actions before we have words and play is really just symbolic actions. He argues that without it, kids can feel as isolated as an adult might feel if no one ever spoke with them.
Even more interesting is the way Cohen presents misbehavior as a way that kids communicate that’s part and parcel of their use of play for communication. So, depending on the context, when they’re communicating positive feelings and needs, it comes out as playfulness; when they’re communicating more negative feelings and needs, it comes out more as “misbehavior”. When he talks about playful parenting, he seems to mean engaging with kids in their own language of symbolic actions. Whatever feelings kids are using their actions and play to share, engaging them through positive (playful) actions is the best way to interact with them. Playing lets them know that they can tell you what they need and want safely, in a way that’s natural for them, because play’s the language they’re built to “speak” and understand the best.
It’s a pretty neat idea that I can already see is making a difference in how I approach my own kids – and how they respond. It really makes a lot of sense when you stop and think about it. As we grow older, we’re taught to rely more on words and less on play to get our needs met; to the point that we often forget how to play. Adults have learned to connect using words and have changed the ways that we play, but it’s important as parents to make the effort to connect with our kids on their level, in their native tongue, because that makes the relationship easier and safer for them.
Like I said, I’m only about 1/5 of the way through the book so far, but unless he drops some sort of horrible bombshell later in the book (e.g., “also, be sure to eat at least 2 children for breakfast every morning”) it seems like a winner to me so far – perhaps the most readable, sensible parenting book I’ve come across. Anyway, I’m gonna go read now.