PhD Larry Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, gets serious about play with Raising Nerd. From growing up as an anxious child and transforming into an adult who can find play even when a gun is pointed at him, read his expert tips on how to get more play into your day.
“Put connection first in every aspect of parenting. That means LIGHTEN UP, because humor is more connecting than seriousness. “
How did you become an “expert” in play and Playful Parenting?
I was a very serious and anxious child, so play didn’t come easily to me as a parent. But I saw right away the importance of connection, and I saw that play is the royal road to connection with children. I had a chance to practice a lot as an Uncle before I became a Father. Of course I still worried, but I noticed that my worry didn’t create deep and lasting connections – that came from play. I started observing children at play on their own, with other children and with parents. I wrote down the stories I witnessed and read everything I could find about play and I guess that’s what made me an expert. But really my education came from letting down my guard. I call it “lose your dignity to find your child” and being willing to fall over, be silly, have children laugh at my bald head, risk embarrassment and risk getting a bruise or two from rough housing.
What’s the most important or best advice you would give to parents about Playful Parenting?
Put connection first in every aspect of parenting. That means LIGHTEN UP, because humor is more connecting than seriousness. Spent 10 minutes pillow fighting before homework or violin practice and these activities will go so much smoother. Play for a few minutes before getting into serious “rush mode” either before school or before bedtime. Even when setting limits make sure you stay connected. Hint: Hitting children, yelling at them, lecturing them and time-outs are not connecting. To set limits with connection: Listen to children. Think about what their behavior tells you about what they need and what they feel, and tap into children’s natural urge to cooperate. For example, instead of nagging a child to finish a homework project or clean her room, try singing your request in a fake Italian Opera voice. You will both laugh and they will do it much faster, just to get you to stop!
How can parents incorporate more play into their day or week given that children and parents are distracted by devices?
First we have to face our own addiction to our devices before we can address (or complain about) our children’s addiction to them. That’s hard! Every family is different, but my biggest suggestion is to set aside an hour a week, or fifteen minutes a day – whatever works for you – of special time, which is one-on-one time with you without screens, no work or cooking dinner and the child is in charge of what you do together. You bring extra enthusiasm to that special time and say yes as much as possible. During the rest of the day, try incorporating little bits of playfulness into your routine. For example, with younger children, use silly voices and wear funny hats and make the toaster talk to your child in a silly about the toast. With older children, try role-playing difficult situations instead of just talking about them and join them in their favorite activities even if they aren’t your favorite.
“My mother tells me that when I was I was six I got my first joke book and I memorized the jokes and told them to adults. I had terrible delivery but I really wanted to be funny!”
What was one of your favorite childhood toys, games or activities and why?
I loved to build. My mother was the Director of a Preschool and every year she got a new shipment of cardboard blocks. They came flat and my job was to fold them up to make the blocks. Then I would line them up like dominoes so that when my mom came home the door knocked into the first one the line of blocks would fall over. I think I liked the process of transformation, making something happen and surprising someone. I also loved making paper airplanes.
Tell us about an experience where you learned through play and how that may have fueled your passion for your career in Playful Parenting?
I was a serious child. My mother tells me that when I was I was six I got my first joke book and I memorized the jokes and told them to adults. I had terrible delivery but I really wanted to be funny! Over time, I learned about playing with words, such as puns, rhymes, double meanings, or capturing someone’s style of speaking. I believe this fueled my interest in being a writer. I was also in a lot of school plays, which was very helpful for me as a shy child. It helped me in my career as a Psychologist because everyone needs to try on different roles in life, have imaginary conversations, and imagine new possibilities for themselves. Theater also helped me to be comfortable with people’s strong emotions.
The play moment that became the inspiration for my first book, Playful Parenting started with a toy water gun. My daughter’s friend Sam came over to visit. They were about 5-years old. He immediately found the only toy gun we had in our apartment. He came to the living room where I was sitting and aimed the gun at me. He had the stance and the look of a soldier, which he must have learned from movies or video games. In a moment of silliness (or inspiration?), I said “Oh! You found the love gun!” He responded, ‘What?!?” I said, “When I get shot with that gun, I have to love the person who shot me.” He thought about it for a long time, and then shot me with the gun. I got off the couch and started a fun game of chase and miss. (that lets the game of chaos go on longer and makes it more fun.) My daughter joined in and shot me with the love gun and I started singing corny love songs to them. We had a great time. It taught me that children always want to connect no matter what it looks like.
February is Raising Nerd’s “Importance of Play” Month
As We Celebrate The Benefits of Play For Nerds Young And Old
To help us highlight the importance of play and how it can inspire kids to greatness, we’ve again reached out to a diverse group of creative problem-solvers to gain some insight about how play influenced them in their childhood and professional lives. After getting their feedback, one thing was clear. Although we may not engage in play as often as we did growing up, the importance of play doesn’t subside with age.
We hope you enjoy our Importance of Play theme and always remember that you and your Nerds should always make time to play. Nerd on!