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Parenting Through Play

by Ben Johnson

Anyone who has spent any amount of time around children know that all kids love to play. My three year old daughter will spend hours with a stuffed animal in one hand and a toy dinosaur in the other. I don’t always understand what each one is saying, but based on the excitement in her voice, they are having a very stimulating conversation. The only thing she seems to enjoy more is when I pick up a toy and join in with her.


Parenting and Interacting with my daughter at this level has brought countless benefits to my relationship with her and to her social development. When I’m the dad and she’s the kid, we are limited to the constraints that those roles bring with them. When my daughter role-plays, she is no longer a three year old girl, she is a mighty Tyrannosaur and I am a tasty looking bunny rabbit. As I use logic to try and convince her that she should not eat me, she is able to put herself in a position of power and control over me that she might otherwise feel she can only achieve by throwing a tantrum in the supermarket.

Difficult Conversations

Another benefit to playing with your child is that it allows you to have conversations that can be difficult to have in normal circumstances. My daughter watched a movie recently that gave her bad dreams. I had one of the toys start crying and when she asked it what was wrong, it said it was afraid of monsters. My daughter told the toy that monsters aren’t real and that you can wake up and the bad dreams will go away. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. Nobody likes to be told what to do, even if we know they are right.

How to Play

Many parents don’t quite know how to play with their kids. It’s always come naturally for me, but one tip that I can give is that all you need to do is pick up some toys and let your child lead the way. Sitting together and interacting in any way is better than nothing. Here are a few suggestions to start with:

  • Build a fort out of blankets
  • Re-enact a scene from a movie you both know using stuffed animals
  • Pretend that you each have super-powers and join forces to catch the bad guys
  • Place a blanket or a box on the floor to use as a boat and go on a jungle safari

Returning to your Roles

When play time is over, you can go back to being the parent and be as strict as you want. So many people seem to think that you can either be a strict parent or a buddy parent. I say that you can be both. Playing won’t solve all your problems. When we stop playing and put away all the toys, she still cries that she doesn’t want to go to bed. She still misbehaves and needs to go to time out. To kids, words don’t mean anything, they respond to actions. Telling them you love them will mean so much more if you spend quality time with them. This will make discipline much easier for both parties to bear because they will know that even though you are not happy with what they’ve done, you still like who they are.

Author Biography

Ben Johnson, Age 30

I grew up in a loving family with five siblings. Both of my parents were raised in families where abuse, loss, and financial struggles were all too common. They both committed to raise their family with a higher set of standards and I try my best to continue that goal with my young family.

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