Hi I’m Michelle, one of the GPS parent coaches. Lately, I’ve been focusing more on playful parenting and consciously adopting a more playful attitude to help defuse challenging situations with my kids. You may have seen my earlier blog post on how playful parenting helped me get a win in a toothbrushing showdown with my youngest. If not, you can check it out here.
I have another story to share about how taking a playful approach helped me in my parenting and led to a lovely moment of connection rather than the angry, forceful, shame and guilt cycle it could have been.
The other night, we came home from the skatepark and my 7 year old did not want to wash his hands. Jeez this kid really resists hygiene care(!) you must be thinking. Actually if you only knew…I’ll withhold his bath frequency from you all 😉 Maybe some of you can relate?
Anyway, since he had numerous encounters with the skatepark floor with his hands rubbing across it and we were about to sit down for dinner, it didn’t feel like an option to let it go and not have him wash. I made a lame attempt at trying to get playful by calling him Captain Underpants and saying “Let’s put on your cape and go wash hands!” That didn’t do it and after lots of logic and talking, I began to feel desperate and powerless in our struggle of wills.
As I became more upset and angry, I could feel myself moving from my prefrontal cortex, or thinking brain, into my lizard brain (that primitive part of our brains where we enter fight or flight mode and lose the ability to think clearly and find solutions). This, of course, is not where we want to be when we are trying to parent with love and connection. And we all inevitably find ourselves here at one point (or many!).
I started to enlist the help of my husband to help me corner him and bring him to the sink to force his hands under the water. I’m sure I could have tried to do this in a playful manner but without my son’s buy-in, it would still be using force. And it likely would have ended negatively, with my son in tears feeling angry and powerless and me feeling full of guilt and shame. So yes, he would have had clean hands, but at what cost?
Instead, I slowed down, took a few deep breaths, got present and my mind became clearer, allowing space for a creative idea to flow in. I threw him over my shoulder (I also got a surge of adrenaline!) and said excitedly “Have we ever done an upside down hand-wash before?!” When he was a little younger, he went through a phase where he loved being turned upside down and would beg to do everything upside down, so this seemed like it may appeal.
Though there wasn’t really much forethought to this. The idea just popped into my mind when I got clear and open. I made a whole big silly thing about washing hands upside down. He was hysterically laughing and begging for “more, more!” By the end, he had clean hands and I was exhausted – the good kind of tired 🙂
It was all well worth it and like many times in the past when play (and patience and persistence!) were used, we avoided the anger, yelling, and possible physical force that likely would have ensued.
I love the idea of play(ful parenting) and although it hasn’t been coming to me as naturally during the pandemic, I’ve been returning to it more lately. Being playful can feel like it will take more energy than we have in the moment, and if we can push through the resistance, it can actually have the opposite effect and energize and uplift us. And when we compare it to the energy used for force or anger and the difference in outcome, it’s well worth it in my experience, to take an extra breath, allow our creativity to surface, and see a more playful solution. I share my experiences to hopefully inspire you to give it a try and see what happens.
How have you used play in the past and/or how can you try to use it starting now? Share your ideas in the comments below!
This post was written by GPS Certified Coach Michelle Brussel! You can read her bio, and check out her and the other coaches’ bios here.
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