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Parenting Through Play – Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding

Welcome to the September Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how challenging discipline situations can be met with play. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Play hasn’t always come easy to me. Somewhere between childhood, the years I enjoyed babysitting as a teen, and parenthood I lost touch with play. I became a serious adult. And honestly, I felt a little (or a lot) embarrassed when I would get silly.

Thankfully, my children have clued me in to how important play really is and I am learning to be playful again – just for fun.

At first it wasn’t easy. I would resist play. I would prefer to observe and appreciate the kids as they played. During these times I focus on what the kids are experiencing, how much they are enjoying what they are doing, how they look while they play, what it sounds like, what I am feeling, and how grateful I am that I get to witness their growth through play.

Sometimes I let all break loose and just be free with myself, laughing, dancing, whatever. Then I would recede again into observation, allowing myself to grow in appreciation and comfort so I could venture into play again.

The kids absolutely love playing with Michael and the joy they share is contagious. Marrying a man who enjoys play brought it home that I was more often in the role of observing this aspect of my life than participating.

I sat with this for a while and continued my appreciative observation, occasionally jumping in to join the fun.

I still work at play, or play at work. Hmmm… Either way, I work at moving from my enjoyable adult activities into the free abandon of simply playing with children and life.

It is good for me – and the kids. They enjoy play and I appreciate the re-introduction.

Here are some ways we play and learn together…

Simple play

I like to play with blocks and little toys with Grace. I set them up, she moves them around, I set them up again, she moves them around again. I don’t tire easily of this because the purpose is to play – rather than build and look at what I’ve built. I am learning more and more that building sometimes involves a metaphorical wrecking ball to re-build again, in many aspects of life.

Meeting aggression

There are many ways to meet aggression. One we find helpful at times is a redirection of power through play. Aggression is often an acting out of personal power and it is perceived with the intent to harm, which is not the full picture when it comes to children. A baby who whacks someone on the face is not doing it with the same volition of a woman in her 20s arguing with her husband.

So if someone gets aggressive, we work to recognize it as a display of power, and offer play options that seize the opportunity to use power constructively without harm. Sometimes this looks like safe wrestling, teaching a baby to give a high five or touch gently, or modeling a set of physical exercises like jumping jacks, yoga, or lunges.


This isn’t always initially comfortable for me because I just want people to be nice. πŸ˜‰ It looks like playing with teasing, name calling, jabbing, and the like. Sometimes kids just want to be kids and rag on each other.

We find that if we allow this to take place without asking the kids to be different we get to see into their world a bit, offer alternatives if someone seems upset, and talk about how to receive harsh comments without feeling wounded.

Exploring boundaries

Observing kids in various forms of play and interactions to see what personal boundaries we all have is one aspect of parenting through play that deserves attention. Often we want to stop play that we feel uncomfortable about.

If we allow ourselves to observe, notice our judgments, watch how the children deal with the play, and discuss boundaries we can learn a lot about ourselves and our kids. We also open the door to very important conversations.

Talking about difficult subjects

Tough subjects like name calling, sexuality, and violence are not always easy to talk about. Once I notice and work through any inner resistance I have there are times when play can be just the way to delve into touchy territory. Offering a bit of jest or humor can help both parent and child feel at ease. A smile on the face lightens up the subject and makes it safe.

Being open to spontaneity and fun

Play is organic, in the moment, a free style. If I am trying to play and I’m not into it, I might as well move into appreciative observation until I’m ready to immerse myself in a joined world of exploration and imagination, possibly even introspection.

The most interesting part about resisting play for adults is that we may find we have bought into an idea that says we can’t always be playing or having fun.

Well, who said?!

Some adult – when we were kids. So we sucked it up and unconsciously accepted that crap. What else were we to do? Most likely it was important for us to quiet down or something and act respectable at that point in time.

So – no blame here. Just awareness that we can choose to play, now. We can have fun, now. And we can do it as much as we want!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • On being a more playful parent β€” Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares how the Playful Parenting book impacted her.
  • Parenting a toddler through play β€” Alicia at I Found My Feet lists some examples of how she uses play to parent through everyday tasks and challenges.
  • Splashing in Puddles β€” Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how she learned to get dirty and have fun with her little boy.
  • Say Please β€” Cassie at There’s a Pickle in My Life explains how they taught their son manners by “play,” showing that actions speak louder than words.
  • No Nanny Needed β€” Laura at Our Messy Messy Life wishes parenting through play was her only responsibility during the day.
  • I’ll Run Away With Gypsies β€” Nikalee at Spotted Pandemonium maneuvers physical and emotional obstacles while spinning playful tales, jumping through hoops, and inspiring the kids to clean the living room.
  • A Promise To My Daughter β€” Lindsey at An Unschooling Adventure writes a poem for her daughter promising to use play instead of anger when facing difficult situations.
  • Parenting Through Play β€” Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding β€” Amy at Peace4Parents discusses how play hasn’t always come easily to her, the power of appreciative observation, and how her family learns together through play.
  • Imagination Plays a Role in Our Parenting β€” Tree at Mom Grooves shares how parents can use play to set the foundation for communication and understanding.
  • A Box of Crayons β€” Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction talks about how a simple box of crayons has become a wonderful parenting and teaching tool.
  • The Essential Art of Play β€” Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her favorite lessons available for young ones through play.
  • The Art of Distraction β€” Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro shares a list of distracting alternatives to harsh punishments in tough parenting situations.
  • Grace and Courtesy Games at Home or School β€” Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has ideas for grace and courtesy games that help you encourage courteous behavior without reprimanding your child.
  • I am woman, hear me roar! β€” Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares how one simple sound can diffuse an argument in an instant.
  • Getting Cooperation Through Play β€” Amyables at Toddler In Tow talks about respecting the worldview of a preschooler by using play to encourage connection and cooperation.
  • Playful Parenting = Extra Energy?? β€” Momma Jorje didn’t think she had the energy for playful parenting. See what she was surprised to learn…
  • Dance Party Parenting β€” Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen learned how to be the parent her children need through play.
  • Wrestling Saved My Life β€” Wrestling is as vital to her son’s well-being as babywearing once was, finds Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • Parenting through play β€” By playing with her children, Tara from MUMmedia is given amazing opportunites to teach, train and equip her children for life.
  • Parenting Through Play Starts in Infancy β€” In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Issa from LoveLiveGrow shares that though she only has a 3-month-old, playful parenting has already started.
  • Play Before Sleep β€” Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how playing and singing with her son before he falls asleep helps calm her frustrations that tend to arise at night.
  • Playful Parenting β€” Or 5 Lessons My Son Has Taught Me About Parenting Through Play β€” Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama has learned to be a better parent by following her toddler’s lead in play.
  • Hurry up! Hurry up! I mean it! Quack, quack, quack! β€” Kellie at Our Mindful Life leads a trail of ducklings
  • On the Road: Learning to Play β€” Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers her inner adult through a summer of playing with her children.
  • Preventing Tantrums Through Play β€” Gaby at Tmuffin explains how she keeps her household happy by not taking things too seriously.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting Through Play β€” Lily, aka Witch Mom, redirects unwanted behavior in a toddler using games and play.
  • Exaggerating for effect β€” Lauren at Hobo Mama has learned how to ham it up.
  • Handling Big Emotions with Role Playing β€” Zoie at TouchstoneZ plays at tempering her parental frustrations while helping her children handle some big emotions
  • How To Herd Toddlers by Talking Pictorially β€” Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama demonstrates how talking in pictures is a playful way to engage your young child in transitioning from one activity to the next.
  • Getting a Toddler to Go Where You Want…Playfully β€” Sylvia at MaMammalia describes how a game of hide-and-seek can be used to steer a wandering toddler in the direction of her choosing.
  • Playful Parenting: Chores That Do Themselves β€” Remember chores when you were a kid? If chores were this fun for Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey, she wouldn’t have needed any reminders!
  • Clown School Express: Playing away Fears β€” MudpieMama describes how she helped her boys confront their fears about starting kindergarten by playing with trains.
  • Practicing Playful Parenting β€” Terri at Child of the Nature Isle realizes that playfulness is the best way through the day and seeks more ways to practice it.
  • Today, Tomorrow and Every Day β€” Starr at Taking Time addresses her children in a letter sharing with them how improtant it is that they spend their childhood playing.
  • Learning Through Immersion β€” Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares how she helps her daughter develop naturally without focusing on teaching, but rather by immersing her in their family’s way of life and making her an active part of her environment.
  • Play Here Now β€” Jessica at Instead of Institutions learns and relearns and tries to remember the value of play.
  • Play: A Wonderful Parenting Tool β€” Mamapoekie from Authentic Parenting offers a list of examples on how to use play in real-life parenting situations.
  • Playful Parenting β€” a Book Review β€” Erica at ChildOrganics shares simple yet sage advice from Dr. Cohen on how play can change your child’s life.
  • Mock Threats: Turning Real Frustration into Playful Parenting β€” Threatening is not an effective discipline strategy, but Dionna at Code Name: Mama explains how parents can turn their frustration into playful moments by making “mock threats.”
  • I’m Sick of Yelling β€” I Want to Play β€” Alicia at McCrenshaw’s Newest Thoughts realizes she needs to change the way she’s parenting and is forming a new plan.
  • Sing-along, Brush-along Songs β€” Shana at Tales of Minor Interest shares a few songs to make brushing her three-year-old’s teeth more fun.
  • Monster Voice β€” Ever have those frustrating moments with your kid(s) when you just want to scream? Amy at Anktangle shares a silly strategy for getting through those difficult times.


Are you struggling as a parent? If so, I’d like to share something with you: a story and some hope.