“Think of it this way: You are doing the most important job in the world, raising a human being… Consider playtime one of your best investments. The more interested you show in doing things with your child early on, the more interested your child will have in doing things with you when he’s older.”
~Dr. Sears, The Discipline Book.
This is the scenario:
We are squished in the school bus tent that takes up roughly half of the living room rug. Jesse is wearing a visor to signify that he is the bus driver. Opal and I sit on our legs behind him with Golla-the-gorilla and Raggedy Ann propped between us.
Jesse fake-turns and we all lean to the right with a WHOA, then we lean to the left with another WHOA. He feigns the sound of breaks screeching to a halt and the three of us fall out of the doors in a fit of giggles.
Then the bus gets put away and we scatter scarves all over the living room rug; they stick to us like wet paper. Old-school Michael Jackson fills the room and Opal takes off her pants to convey that we have now entered a pool party.
Splash! She announces as she dives head first into the mounds of colored fabric. I lie on my back and do my best dry-land-backstroke. Jesse blows a fake whistle and lobs Golla into the center of the rug for a cannonball.
An image of straight-up family sweetness. Fun and love and all the goodness that makes the tougher, less glorious parenting moments more than worthwhile.
And yet, in the midst of our play-time-hoopla, something else is happening: discipline.
Last week I picked up my trusty old Dr. Sears Discipline Book, (which is looking more and more worn by the day) and slugged from a glass of mediocre red wine as I searched for some kind of a discipline refresher plan.
I opened the book as I often do, to a random page, with the trust and openness of flipping a hand of tarot cards. What I came across this time was characteristically spot-on. The chapter was titled, “Self Esteem: The Foundation of Good Behavior” and it went a little something like this:
“You will learn a lot about your child—and yourself—during play. Playtime gives your child the message, “You are worth my time. You are a valuable person.”
There is nothing in the world I love more than to play with my daughter. Being with her in that capacity is a ticket to realms of art and imagination that are at times astounding to a mind that is so conditioned to think. She expresses herself—her incandescent, free little soul—with a purity that can only come from such an ego-free master of timelessness. And she has the graciousness of taking me along for the ride.
And yet, there are still some busy days when finding even five minutes to get down to her level and allow myself to be swept away seems like an impossibility. Days when we need to be out early in the morning, and every moment from the time she wakes up is filled with maneuvering a toddler through the hoops of getting dressed, eating, brushing teeth and hair.
These mornings, I am reduced to playing from a distance while packing her lunch and bag, genuinely interested but unable to appease her constant requests for “Mommy play with meee!” This leaves both of us feeling dissatisfied and increases the odds of Opal having a tantrum, since she is all the more irritated that I have not taken the time to connect with her.
“…Play became therapeutic for me (says Dr. Sears), I needed some time away from my adult preoccupations to focus on this important little person who was, without realizing it, teaching me to relax…The child reveals himself to the parent—and vice versa—during play; the whole relationship benefits greatly. Playtime puts us on our child’s level, helping us get behind the eyes and into the mind of the child.”
Playtime rocks. This has never been a question.
But now it’s becoming incredibly clear how far play surpasses just something lovely to do. Only now am I realizing how it is the quickest path to understanding the world of my child, and thus providing me greater access into the workings of her little mind when the time comes for discipline to be instituted.
Not only does it help clue me in on how to proceed when she is melting down and boneless, it increases the odds that she will actually listen to me, because she also feels heard.
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Editor: Travis May