Tuesday 4 October 2011

Nurturing parent-child relationships through play

When we talk about playing with our kids, the typical things usually come to mind: imaginative play (dinosaurs, cars, house), creative play (Lego, crafting, colouring), or board games (Candyland, Go Fish, Snakes & Ladders).

But beyond that, we can nurture parent-child relationships through a different sort of play. This play is the fun, light-hearted play that occurs over the course of an ordinary day. It is the type of play that diffuses a tense situation, softens an angry heart, engages cooperation, and says that "life's too short to take things too seriously". Below are three of our family's favourite ways to nurture parent-child relationships through this type of playful atmosphere.

"Even if...I will still love you"

Most kids thrive on routine, structure, and boundaries. They like to know what the rules are and what will happen if they try to step past those boundaries. But they also need to know that they are loved, always and unconditionally.

Sometimes a child will challenge their parent in response to a request. Sometimes it won't even be a challenge, but a sincere request to know what will happen if they choose not to do what you have requested. Now, we can tackle that head on, wax eloquent about responsibilities and consequences and blah blah blah.

But sometimes, we take a different approach.

"What if I don't set the table?"
"Even if you don't set the table, I will still love you."
*giggles* "What if I throw the dishes?"
"Even if you break every dish in the house, I will still love you."
"What if I break every dish in the whole world?"
"Even if you break every dish in the whole world - and every cup, too! - I will still love you."

And so it goes. A power struggle is side-stepped and silliness abounds. A kiss and a hug and the child is sent off to carry through with the original request - because, after all, playful parenting is not permissive parenting!

Exaggerated threats

Exaggerated threats are a favourite in our house. They are a wonderfully silly way to diffuse tension and regain cooperation.

I have fond memories of my dad and his frequent threats to "hang you from the ceiling by your toenails!" if we didn't shape up; I've adopted that particular gem for use on my own boys. Threatening to eat them, toss them outside, or lock them in their room forever are other common mock-threats here, usually met with a squeal and a giggle and an “oooh, will you REALLY?”

The older boy likes to join in with his own threats now, turning it into a contest to see who can come up with the most outlandish threat in the end. Again, the intent is to create an atmosphere of fun and playfulness rather than antagonism and power struggles.

(Disclaimer! Don't use this if it would actually scare your child! We're not trying to terrify them here!)

Fun competition

While things can't be fun and games all the time, silly competitions can be great motivation for children and excellent sanity savers for parents.

Race to get shoes on the fastest. See who can scoop up the biggest pile of Lego to dump back into the bin. Have a "whisper supper", where all conversation must be held in a whisper. See who can be quietest the longest in the car! Even toddlers can be coached into cooperation with some well-placed silliness. The options are endless, and few things tickle a child more than being able to say "you talked, Mommy! I won the whisper game!"

What about you? What tips do you have for maintaining a playful, light-hearted home environment?


This post is part of the Attachment Parenting Month blog carnival, hosted by Attachment Parenting International.

Learn more by visiting API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International.


  1. When my kids get whiny near mealtime and ask what's for dinner, I'll say something like "newt eyeballs" and they'll scream "eewwwww!" It heads of complaints.

  2. Love it, Jenny! My dad always did the same thing. Thanks for sharing!