Do you know that acting out behavior can be minimized and joy and harmony returned to your family when you learn to play with your child? Most of us parents have been conditioned to focus on correcting our child’s behavior… which damages our relationship and simply frustrates both of us. Now I’m not saying that you don’t need to set guidelines, parameters and teach your child how to function effectively in all kinds of group settings. However, your child is most likely to LISTEN to you if they WANT to listen. It’s like the old saying goes, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” When we really connect with our children, in the spirit of play, they know how much we care. The only true authority we have with them is that which they give us, based on our connection with them. Connecting with your child will set you up to be the true authority… the natural “go to” not “run from” person in their lives! If you can just realize that connecting with your child is more important than correcting your child, you will create mutual respect and harmony in your relationship.
Play offers the optimum opportunity to connect. Play is also our child’s optimum state of learning. There is a wonderful story in Michael Mendizza and Joseph Chilton Pearce’s book entitled Magical Child Magical Parent, which exemplifies how important it is to get into the stream of play with our children to most effectively educate them. It is a story (which I may have embellished in the retelling!) of a man who decides to teach his child how to kick a soccer ball.
The man’s five-year old son is so excited that Dad is taking the time to play outside with him. But, when the two of them go outside, the child doesn’t want to kick the soccer ball. In a state of pure play, he wants to pounce on the ball, roll with the ball, LICK the ball, but he doesn’t want to kick the ball! His exasperated father grows increasingly impatient with his son. After all, he brought him outside to teach him how to kick the ball. What will the other soccer moms and dads think if his kid doesn’t learn to kick?
The authors of the book point out that this child starts out this adventure in the spirit of play. One-hundred percent of his attention is flowing into his business of play. He is in his optimum learning state. However, as he senses his dad’s impatience and annoyance, he starts to transfer some of his attention to his dad. After all, this adult means everything to him, and he doesn’t want to make him angry. So now a good portion of his attention is transferred to pleasing Dad. The boy learns to try to kick the soccer ball for his dad.
Being able to get onside with our child and join him in the stream of play is indeed an art. The joy and the value of connecting are priceless. When we can join with our child in this state of optimum learning we can gradually lead him to learn the valuable skills that we have to teach, and then we all gain so much! Few adults had parents who taught us in this manner and most of us feel awkward and inadequate with this concept. The good news is, it’s never too late to learn and, luckily, if you are a parent, grandparent or involved aunt or uncle, you have a willing teacher – your child.
Next time your child is playing, allow yourself to simply become curious about the play consciousness that she is in. Ask her if you can join her and remember to let her lead! Stay open and curious about the process and do everything you can to simply stay in the moment and share her world respectfully. Match her body language and see what you can learn from it. If you hear your inner critique pulling you away from the situation, insisting that there are “more important matters to take care of,” or telling you how silly this is, simply ask yourself if that inner critic is helping you or hurting you in your overall life plan.
If you are experiencing behavior problems with your child, it may just be that your child is crying out for this kind of real connection. Studies out of the University of Washington indicate that parents that spend 15 minutes a day engaged in this state of play with their child substantially decrease a wide range of behavioral and learning problems.
Don’t think that the only time you can play with your children is when they are young! As George Bernard Shaw says, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing!” In my Playshops I have seen moms and daughters of all ages connect through play, in ways they hadn’t thought possible.
Here we have an opportunity to suspend our busy and cluttered adult agenda and absorb the free flow state of play that our child naturally experiences if we don’t interfere. It is a state of being that can be life enhancing for all.
Do yourself and your child a favor for life and resolve to suspend your busy schedule long enough to playfully connect with your child every day. It’s a great way to have fun together , relieve stress and build memories that last a lifetime!
Maggie Reigh offers “Playshops” to bring out your playful self.