It is summertime, and the livin’ is easy . . . until you and your children hit that summer wall.  You’ve exhausted your list of “fun stuff to fill the time,” the much-anticipated excursions are now just sweet memories, and the lack of rhythm and routine finally just catches up with everyone.

I don’t know if this is how the waning weeks of summer looks for your family, but to be very honest, we have been struggling lately. I have had to reach deep into my parenting toolbox to come up with effective, practical, and positive ways to maintain a somewhat peaceful home.

Although I have not read Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, I have gleaned enough of the basic premise to cobble together a few ways of keeping the mood light when storm clouds start to gather in the eyes of my daughters.

Because I want to do more than just endure these last days of summer, I’ve been extremely open to any approach to parenting that allows me to enjoy my children – even if I have to act really silly in the process!

1. Start the Day with Play

Photo by dariuszka

This sounds too simple to be effective, but I can testify to the fact that it really does work!  For the past few weeks, I’ve been starting the day by taking the girls outside and playing with them. We run in the grass, we dig in the dirt, we color the sidewalks with chalk, and then we head inside for baths, ready to start the day.

I have noticed a considerable reduction in the whining and clinginess since we started this new routine.  In fact, the girls seem much more interested in playing with each other (instead of fighting) and entertaining themselves when we have started our day with free play.  And notably, the days we skip morning playtime have a tendency to not turn out quite so well.

2. Insta-Puppet

In her books on childhood, author Susan Linn writes on the amazing way children respond to puppets.  Both of my girls adore puppets and this can make for wonderful distraction and redirection – if you have a puppet nearby.

I have found that I can simply transform my plain old boring hand into a puppet character who can swoop in and intervene whenever she is called upon.

For some reason, a silly voice and a hand that talks is goofy enough to get my children to smile just a little bit.  More often than not, that little smile and that momentary break from the intensity of the situation are just what my child needs to relax and reframe the situation that had been so upsetting.

3. Shake It Out

Photo by Ctd 2005

This has been a lifesaver for the past few days.  When mean words start flying, I find the grouchy child and say, “Oh no!  Listen to those Meanies coming out of you.  Let’s just shake them all out right now!”  Then I scoop her up in my arms, flip her upside down, and shake the crankies away.  Neither of my girls can resist it – they both erupt into laughter, and usually the one who wasn’t even being a Meanie wants a good upside-down shaking, too!

4. The “Cereal Trick”

In their book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish describe an approach to help kids get unstuck from something upsetting.

In the illustration, a toddler asks his mother for a certain kind of cereal, a cereal that they don’t have in the house.  Instead of arguing back and forth over the cereal, the mom tells her little one, “I wish I had the magic power to make a giant box appear!”  The authors write, “Sometimes just having someone understand how much you want something makes the reality easier to bear.”

I like to take this technique and run with it.  For example, one day our two-year-old was angry and pouting over not being able to go to the zoo that day.  Instead of trying to explain how it was too hot and the animals wouldn’t be out and we would all be cranky and disappointed, I said, “I wish we had a zoo right in our backyard.  Wouldn’t that be so cool?  What animals would you like to have in a backyard zoo?  Oh yes, definitely crocodiles.  How about giraffes?  Yes, and hippos, too!  Hey, let’s draw a picture of our backyard zoo!”

At almost three, she doesn’t have the skill or attention span to create an elaborate depiction of her fantasy zoo, but playfully creating a fantasy seems help smooth over the feelings of frustration and disappointment that are often the source of unpleasant behaviors.

Sometimes as grown-ups, we feel just a little too grown up to indulge in playful parenting.  Give it a try — I think both you and your children will be surprised at the difference it makes in the mood in your home.

For further reading:

The Parent Vortex: Review of Playful Parenting
The Organic Sister: Playful Parenting, My Thoughts
Totally Smitten Mama: Don’t Smile

Have you tried some playful parenting?  My suggestions might work best for the five-and-under crowd, so I would be so interested to hear how playful parenting has worked for older children.  For parents of children in all age groups – what are your best solutions for keeping the atmosphere in your home peaceful and enjoyable?