How Playing With Your Kids Can Make Them Behave Better

How Playing With Your Kids Can Make Them Behave Better

Simple ways to laugh more, argue less, and enjoy family time.

By Lorraine Allen

Arguments with kids about simple things – wearing shoes, going to bed, or just listening – is a never-ending source of grief for parents. Unfortunately, these routine issues and struggles for parents come up from morning until night, and they can easily become overwhelming.

That’s where Playful Parenting, a method created by psychologist and author Lawrence Cohen, PhD, comes in. Playful Parenting taps into kids’ silly side and offers parents a quick, fun, and easy way out of any struggle. Because it’s fun, using Cohen’s method gets kids’ attention immediately and gets them on your side. It entails parents thinking of playful ways to get kids to listen or do tasks, instead of just ordering them to do so.

Here is how this method works:

Say your two kids are banging on tambourines, and you’ve ask them twice to stop. They are both laughing and having fun acting silly, so they ignore you and keep going. You could let yourself get upset by this, give a time-out, or raise your voice and threaten a consequence. But maybe those tactics haven’t worked in the past, plus they spoil all the joy.

You could try to take away the tambourines, but again the struggle won’t end in a fun or happy way, and these scenarios happen all day long. So, instead, try to get what you want playfully. Try saying something silly like, “Oh, you don’t want to give me the tambourines? Well, you’re going to have to because I have a magic button that will make you give them to me, see?” And when you say this, you tickle them under their armpits, until they are laughing so hard they let go!

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Or, you say, in a silly voice, in a whisper: “What? You didn’t hear the secret? It’s because you’re being too loud. You can’t hear the secret if you don’t stop the noise.” You can also pretend you are saying something really important, but say it without any noise, just mouthing the words, and they will stop so they can try to hear you.


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The whole concept of this method is to think of fun, silly ways to reach kids and get their attention without causing a power struggle or ordering them to do things.

You can apply it to bedtime too, by saying, “I’ll race you to get my PJs on and my teeth brushed! Winner is queen for the morning!” For getting out the door, try something like “I’ll bet I can get both my shoes on, and get ready using just one hand faster than you can get yourself ready with two hands.” Then pretend you’re struggling and let them win, so they move faster.

Using silly voices, tickling them, and saying they have “magic buttons” that can make them smile, or pretending you have something in your pocket, or in your ear that’s telling you secrets, help you to connect with your kids through play, something that’s familiar to them. It encourages you to follow your kids’ lead to get them to pay better attention to you.

Do you have playful ways to squash arguments and struggles with kids?

Lorraine is a freelance parenting and food writer, and she shares her cooking adventures and family recipes at She lives in New York with her family and one squirrel-obsessed dog. Follow her @feedingLina.

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