Before becoming one, I fancied myself a Mary Poppins-like parent.  Firm but caring, doling out spoons full of sugar when chores needed to be done, certainly never raising my voice.  While I have plenty of wonderful moments as a parent, I fell into a bit of a swamp for a while when the toddler years came around with my older daughter (with plenty of rough days/phases still sprinkled in to keep me humble).

My reaction to her (totally normal) defiance, mischief making, tantrums, and tears was to become more stern and rigid than I ever intended.  I couldn’t even consider playful parenting because I (irrationally) thought that would make me lose whatever last shred of control or thread of authority I had as a parent.

Then I found Hand in Hand Parenting.  5 flexible, adaptable parenting tools that include one called PLAY LISTENING.  I discovered how to let go of my white-knuckled control (mostly) and bring in WAY more fun and play.  Did you know that laughter is the antidote to fear?  Fear is the root cause of SO many off track behaviors.

PLAY LISTENING is intentional play where you let your child take the more powerful role and you follow the laughter and giggles.  They take the lead and you are bumbling and inept.  They are the smart ones and you can’t figure anything out.  You mete out mock threats that you’d never be able to pull off or that only make you sound silly.  All of this is done in a tone that clearly indicates you’re playing.

This builds connection, restores access to their thinking brain, enhances cooperation, heals fears and actually strengthens your role as guide and ally to your child.

I finally overcame my play-avoidance with a trial by fire game of pirate jail when she was about 3.  I decided to go all in and let her choose the game and how to play it – I just put a timer on so I would know there was an end.  She put me in pirate jail and delightedly tortured me with concoctions of food that I was required to pretend to eat and then pretend to throw up.  She cackled with delight at my antics.  She reveled in the power.  And when the timer went off, I could escape.  Seeing her confidence, creativity, and enjoyment blossom was all the proof I needed that this was a useful tool.

Check out these other playful approaches of working with normal toddler kerfuffles. 

For getting out the door

Working with aggression

Healing separation anxiety

In case you’re not feeling so playful

If these ideas interest you, we offer Toddler Parenting classes several times a year where you can find support, learn more about this approach and find solutions to the friction spots in your parenting relationship.