My eldest daughter, Ramona, talks a lot. She said only 7 words or so until her second birthday, at which point the flood gates of speech opened and they haven’t stopped since. Most of it is either hilarious or insightful, and the rest of it involves a variation on “LET’S PLAY!” (spoken exuberantly, in caps, just like that.) She wants to play ALL DAY (spoken aggressively, like Schmidt.)
It is only right; play is how children discover, process and communicate. Play is a crucial way that kids let us know what is going on, and one of the primary ways we can build a strong connection. So I want to nurture that, to be a playful parent. (Most of the time. Sometimes I want to curl up in a corner with a good book while she unravels the toilet roll, puts it in the sink and makes papier mache. Sometimes I think 70p spent on a wasted loo roll is the best 70p ever spent.)
My second child, Juno, is only 4 months old so has no words. But I feel she is communicating the same thing- she’ll shoot me a mischievous look, an invitation; “Let’s play!” She’s been doing it since she was a few weeks old, I’m sure they are born with the same playful ways, and we’ve been playing since. I figure many of the benefits of playful parenting can be ours even now, and it is a habit we can form together that will stay with us for her whole childhood. Here is how we play…
Follow the giggles!
In his book, Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen suggests that playful parenting can be led by the children, that their laughter will show you what they are enjoying so simply go with whatever that ridiculous thing is. Ramona’s first giggle came at 12 week, as Tim danced with her in the loung. It poured out of her like a waterfall- probably one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard in my life.
Noises and expression combination
Juno’s first laugh came when she was lying on my lap looking into her face and doing a PAH! sound with a crazy open mouthed face. There is no diginity at all in playful parenting- the more expressive your face is and the more unnatural the noise is the more your baby will be delightes!
At the International Gentle Parenting Conference I had the privilege of hearing Larry Cohen (it’s Larry to friends, yeah) speak. He spoke about the importance of rough play for kids- how wrestling with us physically helps them work out extra energy, anger, big feelings, and explore new strength and physical potential in a safe place. He described how it can be done with babies too and Juno loves it! I push her around with my head, rolling her over. She grabs my nose and ears and pushes at me.
This is a softer version of the above, and just as mammal- like! It is simply tickly kisses all over and growls in to her neck. A few parenty authors talk about the danger of tickling (you never thought you’d see that sentence in your life, eh?) and it is true, we must be so sensitive. Tickle fests can be hard to communicate within, kids can like it, but very quickly not. And if we go too far it can be a real invasion of physical boundaries and incredibly disempowering. Tickling babies must be done in tiny doses, softly and with great sensitivity.
This is the most natural game we all play with babies. At the conference, Laz Cohen (just what his best mates are allowed to call him) discussed a study of Peekaboo. Parents are instinctively amazing at it- knowing exactly, by the milisecond, how long to stay hidden for to get the best response. Beginning to play Peekaboo early is amazing because you can see a babies sense of object permanence develop right in front of you. One day is is like “Boo!” “Whatever, mum.” The next it is like “Boo!” “HAHHAHAHA YOU ARE BRILLIANT MUM! HAHAHA! BRILLIANT I TELL YOU! YOU WERE THERE, THEN NOT, THEN THERE AGAIN! GENIUS!”
How do you engage in play with your babies?