Monday, April 26, 2010

Making It Fun - The Power of Play

This post is written for inclusion in the Carnival of Gentle Discipline hosted by Paige @ Baby Dust Diaries. All week, April 26-30, we will be featuring essays about non-punitive discipline. See the bottom of this post for more information.

My little guy is not fond of getting his hair wet. He loves being in the bathtub and he loves splashing around in the water, but when it’s time to get his hair washed, he would scream and cry when I poured water over his head. I felt horrible and guilty after the crying and screaming, and was determined to find a way to make hair washings more tolerable for everyone. One night I tried something new. I turned my ‘silly factor’ up a notch. As I poured the water over his little head, I started squealing “Doot Doot Doot!” in a silly singsong voice, put my face up to my toddler’s, and wiggled my nose next to his. My little guy smiled and giggled, and I knew I was on to something. I peaked at him from under the pitcher, made faces, and planted kisses on his now grinning face. Hair washing from then on was a transformed experience. It was fun.

This is the power of play.

I will confess right off the bat that I have not yet read the book Playful Parenting, and in fact only heard about it through other parenting blogs. That being the case, I tend to think that I might be particularly suited to this style of parenting because I have a tendency for being, to use the technical term, a goofball. I have been known to spontaneously start skipping in parking lots, and it has long been a pastime of mine to come up with silly lyrics to popular songs.

There are times that I want my toddler to do something he is unsure about, or flat out doesn’t want to do at all. Sometimes I can allow him to do as he wishes. Sometimes not. And sometimes, all he needs is a little bit of the right kind of encouragement. Here are some other ideas that have worked for me.

When I sit him down on the potty, I typically sing this:
(sung to the tune of I’ve Been Working On the Railroad)
You can sit down on the potty, if you would like to
You can sit down on the potty, like the big boys and girls do
You can sit down on the potty, if you think that it is fun
Oh you can sit down on the potty, you’ll have a nice clean bum!

It also helps to clap my hands and toss my head from side to side like a muppet.

My kiddo also hates having his teeth brushed. One thing that works is the following: I start by “brushing” (tickling) his ears with the toothbrush, then his forehead, his nose, his shoulders, before proceeding to the teeth with another song:

(sung to the tune of Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush)
This is the way you brush your teeth,
This is the way you brush your teeth,
This is the way you brush your teeth,
So they stay nice and clean

Is it important to me to have dinner together as a family at night, but sometimes my little schmoo is more interested in tossing around his books in the living room at dinner time. One particularly effective way of bringing him to the dinner table is bringing out a few pieces of a yummy dinner-friendly snack (grapes are my little one’s temptation) and pretend I’m a train taking the grapes to the kitchen table. Of course there are lots of fun sound effects and dancing around a bit as I make my way.

Could I pick him up off the floor and storm into the kitchen while yelling, “I said it’s dinner time! That means you come when I call you! I’m your mother and you better learn to respect me and do what I say!”? Well yes, I suppose I could. I could put up with a lot more crying and screaming and anger and frustration. But why would I choose screams when I can get giggles? And how would that contribute to the positive family vibe I am trying to create by having dinner together in the first place?

Do I need to put up with some screams in order to get respect? Do you feel respect for people who constantly pull the authority card and force you to do what they want? Fear maybe, resentment maybe, but respect? I know I have a very hard time respecting someone who doesn’t show respect for me. Why would I expect my child to be any different?

I have found that making it fun (whatever ‘it’ might be) is remarkably effective at encouraging my toddler to behave in a way that satisfies my own needs without struggle and the energy drain associated with conflict. It can be an easy way to allow everyone to win, and thereby enhance the connection between me and my child. Plus there’s the added bonus of… you know, fun!

Gentle Parent - art by Erika Hastings at to the Carnival of Gentle Discipline

Please join us all week, April 26-30, as we explore alternatives to punitive discipline. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the USA and April 30th is Spank Out Day USA. In honor of this we have collected a wonderful array of articles and essays about the negative effects of punitive discipline methods, like spanking, and a myriad of effective alternatives.

Are you a Gentle Parent? Put the Badge on your blog or website to spread the word that gentle love works!

Links will become available on the specified day of the Carnival.

Day 1 - What Is Gentle Discipline

Day 2 - False Expectations, Positive Intentions, and Choosing Joy (coming Tuesday, April 27)

Day 3 - Choosing Not To Spank (coming Wednesday, April 28)

Day 4 - Creating a "Yes" Environment (coming Thursday, April 29)

Day 5 - Terrific Toddlers; Tantrums and All (coming Friday, April 30)


  1. Aha! Beautiful. I remember having a song for EVERYTHING when DD was younger - it works like magic. I love how you are developing wonderful memories with your little one - what a lovely gift and what great advise for us parents who sometimes, get weighed down by life and get a little too serious ;)

  2. Oh, these are GREAT ideas. I also have found that being goofy almost always works wonders. Whether he then complies with my wishes or not, I feel better! :)

    I'm going to try the hair-washing one for sure, because we have lots o' fear in that department.

    My mother was always good at making up songs on the spur of the moment. She cracked herself up with what rhymes she could create.

  3. Is there any problem that a song won't fix? I love to sing to Aellyn - just nonsense songs about whatever we are doing. It works especially well when I'm cutting her nails. Singing turns it from a battle to a game!

    I especially love the example of dinnertime. I know so many families that would say dinnertime together is important to them but they spend the bulk of it yelling at their kids to sit straight, chew with their mouths closed, and stop playing with their food. talk about missing the point.

    Thanks so much for participating in the carnival. Your post was such a great perspective! :)

  4. Isn't parenting way more fun when we're acting more like kids and less like "parents"? I'm on the same boat- never picked up the book Playful Parenting (hardly ever pick up a parenting book actually...) but I'm sure it would be a book for me.

    One of my son's favorite "games" is acting like and animal while doing something I want him to..... like getting to the car after the park last week. Hard place to leave, right? Not so hard when you're stalking the car like a lion prowling to attack!

  5. Your article brings back good memories! I always loved singing to my children. I had a habit of singing to them while I changed their diapers. It made that task into a special time.

  6. I love this post! I love your songs too. That being said I WISH WISH WISH I could do this with my oldest child who would benefit the most from this approach but anytime I act silly she freaks out and scream and cries. Same with if I laugh or do anything that she doesn't understand what the reason is for. We've had her tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder and it came back negative but there's still something there, a little quirk all her own that makes it so difficult to figure out how to navigate behaviour challenges. BUt I can use these ideas with my youngest out of earshot. She'd love them!

  7. How very true, a little fun and games changes all. We got ou little one to like the hairwashing by letting her poor it over her head herself and also by having her wash our hair and then scream and cry (but in a fun way) she found it hilarious

  8. Reading this post makes me realize I'm not the only one singing silly songs in my house! :) My husband thinks I'm a NUT, but I find him repeating the silly songs to our 17 month old son. Being silly as a family is SO much easier than getting upset. A lot of times my sons tantrums are from miscommunications and there are moments when he does babble what he needs, the tantrum does stop.

  9. great post!! we do a lot of playing as well. I think children really respond to it. I never want my kids to do something because they fear me. I want them to trust that I have their best interest at heart.

  10. I completely agree with using play to parent gently! Especially with toddlers - they just don't understand all of our social graces or reasons for doing things a certain way (brushing teeth, washing hair), and it does no good to get angry.
    And I definitely recommend Playful Parenting :)