-Lawrence Cohen, “Playful Parenting”

Chances are, you don’t always enjoy playing with your child – especially when you are busy, tired or the imagination game she likes to play isn’t your idea of fun. It can be hard to let go of your to-do list and play even for ten minutes.

However, embracing play and humor can foster positive changes in your child’s behavior. As any good preschool teacher will tell you, play is child’s work, and its benefits extend into adulthood and go beyond simply having fun. Play is a crucial aspect of cognitive, physical and emotional development, and necessary for maintaining strong relationships and emotional well-being.

Lawrence Cohen, a clinical psychologist and the author of “Playful Parenting” (2001) and “The Art of Roughhousing” (2011), points out some specific uses of play, including supporting learning and emotional processing, releasing stress hormones, promoting self-soothing and providing deep connection to others.

Being a more playful parent can also help put an end to power struggles, invite cooperation and teach responsibility and encouragement. All you need is a willingness to adopt a more playful attitude in responding to your child. Singing a goofy song instead of repeating a chore request, for example, works wonders – even with an aloof teenager.

Here is a situation in which humor and play can pack a positive parenting punch:

When a child wants attention or is clingy

When a child is nagging or interrupting you, try saying, “Oh! Are you out of hugs? How awful!” Then, give her a big bear hug, holding her tightly until she starts to squirm away. Grab her hand and say, “Wait! I think you have a hug leak! Let’s plug it.” Give her a kiss to plug it and then say, “OK, one last squeeze to make sure your tank is full.” Make this a regular practice and soon, when your child is feeling lonely or bored, she will ask for the “hugging game,” rather than whining.

Use play to fill a child’s cup, anytime

Playing with a child, even for ten minutes a day, can fill a child’s cup with acknowledgement, connection and courage. Play heals wounds and refills cups that we, as parents, sometimes leave empty. When your child’s cup is full, she’s more likely to solve problems independently, treat others respectfully, cooperate and entertain herself. “Playing” it forward, so to speak, will ultimately fill your own cup with the time, energy, focus and perspective required to take on your to-do list and the parenting journey that lies ahead.

Suzanne Ritter is a parent coach and a certified parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP). She’s the courageously imperfect mother of two teenage sons and an nine-year-old daughter. PEP offers classes and workshops for parents of children ages 2 ½ to 18. This article was excepted from the July 2017 issue of Washington Parent Magazine. To see the full article, click here