Is it OK to Bring Problems into the Play Zone?

A good friend of mine recently told me that her three-year-old daughter, Allie, absolutely refused to get dressed that morning. I hear this story about once a week, and it is similar each time – Dad tries to get the kids dressed in the morning, the five-year-old cooperates, but Allie doesn't like her options and either refuses to put anything on or refuses to let anyone help her. But here’s the problem: Mom and Dad need to get to work, the five-year-old needs to get to school, and Allie needs to get to pre-school. Often the result is the same: Mom buckles Allie into her car seat, usually not dressed, kicking and screaming.

By coincidence, I had just listened to Dr. Larry Cohen’s “Playful Parenting” podcast. Dr. Cohen describes a similar situation getting his daughter dressed in the morning. To tackle the problem he turned the unpleasant morning routine into a game. By providing his daughter with the attention she needed, and being silly in the process they were able to solve the problem together.

Parents often worry that using play, instead of taking punitive action for inappropriate behaviour, will encourage the child to act up more often to get the parent(s) to play. Dr. Cohen explains why this is not the case; play allows children to release feelings, play is effective for children who prefer physical or aggressive types of play, and it is important for children’s development.

To hear the podcasts follow the link

The first quarter of the podcast is a question and answer period with Dr. Laura Markham. Dr. Cohen appears as the guest approximately 17 minutes in.

You may be curious to know how this approach worked for my friend.

This week, Allie was acting up at bedtime; she kept climbing out of her crib. When Mom put her back she screamed and cried and climbed out again. After three tries, Mom and I decided to switch gears. We got Allie’s Paw Patrol toys and played ‘Three Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed’ on the couch, with some alterations to the lyrics. Then Mom read her a short book. The session lasted less than 10 minutes, and it worked! When Mom told Allie it was time for bed, she asked for one more story. When Mom said, “no, it’s time for bed,” Allie gathered up her toys and willingly went to bed.

Although the fourth time putting Allie in her crib might have worked, I felt this approach worked much better. Not only did Allie get to spend some time with her Mom, but Mom also seemed to be calmer and had fun in the process.

Bringing a problem into the play zone may not work for all children, and may not be appropriate in all situations; however, if nothing else is working, why not give it a try!


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