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Most parents are so busy with their daily routines and chores that they completely forget what it is like to drop their inhibitions, get silly and laugh out loud with their little ones.
When I use the phrase 'playful parenting', the standard response I get from parents is a frown and a stare. I can almost hear them thinking, "Are you insane?" Believe it or not, parenting is not meant to be stressful and burdensome! You should enjoy playing this role and cherish the time you spend with your children. Remember, bringing up children is an opportunity to relive your childhood all over again.
In his best-selling book, 'Playful Parenting', Lawrence Cohen explains how play is every child's natural way of communicating and interacting with the world. He establishes beyond doubt that engaging in play with your children is the easiest way to bond with them and help them learn. I am sharing below some tried-and-tested strategies of parenting children playfully. Not only have my clients come back with positive feedback about the efficacy of these tips, but also, these strategies have been used by me with my own son, and I have found them to be valuable tools in bringing us closer and making both our lives rich and fulfilling.
One of the best places to introduce playful parenting is the kitchen. Many mothers I meet complain that they are too busy with kitchen work to spend time playing. So, I tell them to turn kitchen utensils into toys. A steel vessel and a spoon make for an interesting musical instrument. Tumblers filled with different quantities of water serve the same purpose. So, as you are cooking, your toddler gets to make music in a safe corner of the kitchen, while you engage her in conversation. Is there a better way than this to turn a boring chore into an enjoyable experience?
Another boring chore that many mothers need to do is laundry. If your toddler is in the mood to play but you are feeling bogged down by the ton of laundry to fold, enlist his support in sorting the clothes by type, size and colour. If he is a little older, show him how to fold and get into a game of 'who can fold the most clothes neatly'. When he is able to do it, acknowledge his effort and appreciate his contribution. He'll enjoy not just the game, but your attention too. And, you'll have some much-needed help in the laundry-folding department.
When both you and your little angel are in the mood to get silly, one of the most fun activities to engage in is playing dress-up. Offer your child selected articles of clothing and accessories from your wardrobe, and delight in her glee when she gets to try on your lipstick and earrings. There is nothing more amusing than seeing your child strut around in your high-heeled sandals, pretending to be you. These play times make for some great photo ops, and a chance to create some beautiful memories together.
If you feel you are out of shape, but not sure about how to divide your time between a fitness routine and being with your child, combine the two for an exciting and fun experience. Your toddler loves to imitate you. So, bring out the yoga mats, and invite him to try on some simple floor exercises with you. To add a touch of fun, you can lift him up in your arms and use him instead of the dumb-bells to do some giggly weight-lifting. Along with the health benefits of exercise and laughter, you will end up with the added advantage of spending some really good quality time with your adoring toddler.
If your child enjoys arts and crafts, one of the most fulfilling fun activities that you can do with her is making puppets out of used paper bags or envelopes. It is best to keep it simple. Use a marker to draw eyes, nose and other facial features on the blank side of the envelope or paper bag. Then, slide your hand into it, and voila, you have your own talking paper bag puppet ready!
If your child is a little older and has started schooling, you can add a touch of fun and frolic to study time to make academics interesting and appealing. This is something I practise with my son even today (even though he is 10 years old). We start off some game such as volley-balloon or football. Each time one of us scores a point, I get to ask him a question from one of his subjects. If he answers right, he gets an extra point. If he doesn't, I get a point. He loves this so much that he usually prepares well in advance just so he can get all the points and beat me at the game.
These are but a few activities to inject a dose of play and fun into your daily parenting routine. If you put on your thinking hat and get a little creative, the possibilities of engaging playfully with your child are endless. Moreover, none of the above games or activities requires expensive props or materials. All they take is a little bit of time and some creativity. So, go on and play your way through parenting!
Mina Dilip, Child Psychologist, Trainee Practitioner in Therapeutic Play Skills (PTUK).
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