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Playfulness in Parenting with Sarah R. Moore

Playfulness in parenting is a way to connect with your child and discover more joy as a family. Join me as I speak with Sarah R Moore from Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting on The Parenting Coach Podcast.

Children love to play, it is their natural language and way of being. We can tap into that playful nature to work with our children.

Sarah R Moore was one of the speakers in the Gentle Parenting Summit. I just loved Sarah’s approach to parenting and it really connected with so many of the parents. Here are the key points from our conversation. Listen in or watch the video for the whole conversation.

Because playful parenting is something that it just really clicks with the kids. They’re playful. I’m just curious, how can we bring that into our parenting?

Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, it was a joy to be a part of your summit and an honor, I am humbled to have been among so many other wonderful speakers. So thank you for having me and asked for how we can bring more play and more joy into our lives. Well, number one, we can release our expectations that it needs to be something hard. A lot of us when we think about what is playful parenting, we think, Oh my goodness, I need to be funny. I need to graduate from improv comedy school like Sarah did, I need to look up how to be a playful parent on Pinterest, you don’t have to do any of those things. It’s all about relaxing, it’s all about finding mutual joy in one another. And here’s the trick, playful parenting is anything, anything at all, that brings you joy, it does not ever have to fit a particular model or recipe for it to be effective.

What’s an example of how you can use playfulness in everyday situation, you know? How can playfulness help us get our kids, you know, out the door to the breakfast table, you know, trying to move them through the day? How can we incorporate playfulness into that?

Absolutely one of the easiest ways to do that is actually a concept that I learned in improv comedy school. And it is the concept of Yes. And it is I’m not going to interrupt the energy or interrupt the flow of what you’re doing to make you do something else. I’m going to work with the path you’re already on, and keep going that direction. So for example, let’s take getting to the breakfast table, we know we’ve got to be out the door and a little while so we need to get done with breakfast. Not to mention, we don’t want to still be staring at our kid who’s playing you know, at 11 o’clock in the morning when nobody’s even eaten yet we we want to move on with the day. All right. So we might look at our child who is happily sitting on the living room floor, and let’s say they’re playing with their trucks. Alright, so they’re playing with our trucks, they’re having a good time, when we come in with the traditional, very adult focused parent parenting approach of, it’s time for breakfast. Oh, come on, I told you 15 times and we start escalating, the child starts retreating internally, the child will get all the more into their trucks, because they probably unless they’re really hungry, and super motivated to get over to that breakfast table. They want to keep doing what’s fun for them. So we are less likely to succeed. When we go in with this power over I’m in charge of you obey because I’m telling you to approach. What works much better in this example, is yes, and I see you’re playing with your trucks. Let’s drive them down the superhighway together, you might choose let’s pretend you have hardwood floors. Or maybe there’s a stripe and your carpeting. And that becomes the superhighway. Let’s drive them all the way over here. Next thing you know you’re driving the trucks to the breakfast table. And you don’t have to argue you don’t have to cajole, you don’t need to threaten, or shame or punish or do any of these things that we know are disconnecting. Instead, you work with the child where they are in that moment. And what do you know, let’s drive the truck right up the leg of the table. Things can defy gravity all the time and playful parenting, right? Let’s drive this truck off the table. And sure enough, what do you know you’re sitting in front of a bowl of cereal on like this grand, no tears, no harm, and we don’t need to feel like the proverbial jerk for having yelled at our child. And it’s not even eight o’clock in the morning yet. It’s easier and more comfortable and a heck of a lot more fun for both the adult and the child when we simply work with what’s already in front of us. Rather than trying to force something else.

Do you have any tips for when a child is upset? How can playfulness come into that to help regulate their emotions?

Yeah, absolutely. This is a tricky one, because we have to be careful. If a child is severely dysregulated and sincerely upset, we don’t want to minimize their emotional experience and have them feel that we’re patronizing them. So we certainly want to hold space for their feelings. We want to respect their emotional experience, and we want to meet them where they are. So what I might do first of all, is co regulate with the child a little bit. Let’s say the child, you know, my goodness, the child does not want to go along with the thing we’re saying and they start having a big emotional release about it. The time then is not to say, Well, I’m going to be goofy mommy or goofy daddy or grumpy, whoever. That’s not going to feel legitimate. And safe for their nervous system. Instead when we co regulate alongside them and say you know what I hear how much you don’t want to go I understand I get it, you validate the child you reconnect with the child, everybody calms down in that case. Once you are both calmer then the next best thing to do is that play you don’t go back into what got you into that place in the first place you don’t go back to Well now that you’re calmer we’re going to do this anyway. If it didn’t work the first time it’s not going to work the second time instead, here’s where you can use play Alright, so first approach didn’t work Note to self right? So Alright, we’re calmer now. Tell you what, let’s take giant let’s put on our moon boots and look keen on holding an imaginary moon boot right now. And I’m not talking like 1980 Michael Jackson version I’m talking, you know, boots, the imaginary boots you can put on to take Giant Steps across the room, let’s put on our own boots. And let’s march to the door together, you just something to add a small degree of levity, nothing over the top nothing ridiculous, but something that makes it more playful and therefore more emotionally safe to the child to try this different approach in the first place. If the child then escalates all over again, that’s your message. I rushed it and pushed it, I moved too soon. And then you go back to co regulating again, if playful parenting isn’t working, you can simply hold space for the child’s feelings. I’ve got a separate mini course about holding space for big feelings. Because guess what, welcome to parenting, we’re going to have to deal with a lot of big feelings in our children’s lives. But there are ways to do that where the child feels emotionally validated, where we can reconnect. And then we can learn based on the child in front of us, not based on some formula that’s a one size fits all, but based on the child in front of us, when is play most likely to be effective to connect with the child’s heart. final point on that, especially for children who are not used to us using playful parenting methods, it may take some time for them to build trust, that this is the new way of doing things. Children might resist, if they’re used to being yelled at if they’re used to being told what to do, if they’re used to being made, to feel as if they’re being controlled. It will probably take rebuilding some trust, before playful parenting will ever work. How do we build that trust, we use it consistently. And we consistently create a space where they can be emotionally safe with us, so that they can relax and get into the fun with us more often.

My next question for you is then what else can I do? Or what do I do if I’m just not feeling playful?

Absolutely. Number one that is totally valid Welcome to being human. Right, this is real life. So I hear you and I get it. So number one, we can realize if we’re really not feeling it, we don’t have to force it. We get to be our true authentic selves and model that for our children, it’s okay to even verbally and outwardly say to our child, you know what I’m struggling today, you know, when you please give me some grace, and I’m going to work on taking care of myself so that I feel better and can be more playful later today or tomorrow, whatever. So number one, it is perfectly healthy, to acknowledge and accept where we really are. Number two, we can actually use brain science to trick our bodies a little bit. So for example, I know I shared this in the summit a little bit but for example, if we smile, even when we’re not feeling it our facial muscles actually send a message to our brain that we’re happy. And our brain then will tell the amygdala which is the part of the brain in the back that essentially triggers our fight or flight response. It’ll tell her amygdala, oh, this isn’t a threat right? Now I can relax. So our cortisol comes down. That’s the proverbial stress hormone. And we can start to self regulate a little bit when we self regulate, I don’t expect children to self regulate, that is not a realistic expectation for children. We as adults have more practice self regulating. So when we can say alright, here are some things I can do to calm down in the moment, for example, I can do that smile, I can give myself a hug. It’s known as proprioceptive input. And that’s basically a fancy way to say, here is my body and I am safe in my body, and doing something like you know, squeezing your, you know, the palm of your hand, or even some people do tapping, which by the way, is scientifically valid. I didn’t realize that until recently. But there are lots of different things that you can do with your body to help ground yourself. Belly breaths are another great one, you can get yourself back to a state of feeling more regulated, even within what seems to be a very dysregulated situation, so that you can be more playful. stretching the body is another good one. If I stretch my body into an unusual position, that also sends messages to my brain that I need to relax. That also helps me move into a more playful mode. Last but not least, I can work with it. I’ll share a very brief example of the other day when I was not being optimal, happy, playful, gentle Mama. It was dinner time. I know from Child Development, that the best way to help my child get to the dinner table is to physically go over to her touch her because she’s receptive to touch not all children are, but touch her and help her transition. Sometimes using playful parenting sometimes using plain old garden variety connection, help her come to the dinner table by my being present with her. But I was grouchy. I was really grouchy. I was overwhelmed. I was tired. I just wasn’t having it that day. So I was standing in the kitchen, feet planted as if they were glued to the ground. And I was calling out dinner’s ready. Come to the table, I don’t want to tell you again, hey, dinners getting cold. And next thing you know, I can tell my blood pressure is rising, I’m feeling less and less peaceful. And I’m not really a yeller. But I was doing my version of yelling, which was, you know, my voice is raised. And basically I just sound super stressed. I knew in that moment that as I was saying, through gritted teeth, come to the table. I’m tired of telling you. I knew I shouldn’t be doing this right now. I know there are better options, and I don’t feel like I have control over what I’m saying. And over my mood. I’m past the point of giving myself that regulating hog. I’m already yelling. So I decided once again to use my yes and concept and said, You know what? If I’m yelling, I’m working with the yelling, the yelling feels right in my nervous system right now. So instead, rather than lowering my volume artificially for myself, I decided to be playful in my yelling, and I said, You must come to dinner right now. Otherwise, we’re all going to turn into penguins, again. I have no idea where that came from. But you better believe my daughter looked up that we’re gonna turn into penguins. She’s eight, by the way. And next thing you know she have her own volition. That up, came across the room stood right next to me. And three seconds later, we were washing our flippers together in the kitchen sink because it was time to eat. And then we moved on to have our sardines which really was not at all sardines, it was at dinner that you would I would probably enjoy eating much more than sardines. But we kept it playful. And I worked with my anger and frustration, rather than pretending it wasn’t there. So that was a long winded answer. But those are three very specific ways. You can deal with it when you just don’t want to deal with it.

How can we then make those repairs and do that reconnection?

Yeah, absolutely. You just said a couple of the buzzwords that we really need to unpack, rupture and repair. It’s a scientific thing. So a rupture is anytime we mess up. The repair is anytime we make it right. Many of us were raised to believe either by our families of origin or just by society, that you know what we messed up, just let it go and move on. No, letting it go and moving on skips the repair part, the repair is where the healing happens. How we do a repair is number one, we apologize sincerely, and say, here’s how I messed up. We acknowledge pain. I know I hurt you, when I did this thing. We can’t just say I did this thing. I’m really sorry. We have to add the piece about I know it hurt you when I did this. That’s the validation for the child. When I run into the situation again, here are the specifics of how I plan to handle it differently. spell out for them that you have a plan. And finally, ask for forgiveness. Will you please forgive me for this? Now here’s the thing. We can’t expect that our child is going to say, Yes, of course I forgive you. That if anything is a learned response that we as adults often think like, Oh, we have to say, Yes, I forgive you. No, we don’t. Kids are great at being authentic and saying, I’m not ready to forgive you. I don’t want to forgive you, I will never forgive you. Well, it’s unlikely that they will never forgive us. But that basically translates to, I need some time. And there’s some science behind this as well. We know from research that for every one negative emotional interaction we have with somebody, it takes five positive interactions with that person to compensate for the one. So when our child says I’m not ready to forgive you yet, even if they say it in less kind terms than that, it essentially means my nervous system isn’t ready I need to have five solid attempts at reconnection. One of those might be reading a story not one not and another one might be I need a hug. You know, it doesn’t have to be apologize five times. It means I need enough validation in my nervous system, that you really are making it safe for me to be here with you emotionally. That’s where the repair happens. The beautiful thing is, once we have the repair, our children can truly heal from the experience as can we. We also get to forgive ourselves along the way. By the way, you know parent guilt and shame are very real things and I’ve got special mini courses all about those topics as well. But when we allow ourselves to forgive ourselves even if our child hasn’t forgiven us yet. That’s where the healing happens for us with time and through that repair process that’s where the healing happens for them. And this is how we avoid permanently messing up our kids we will mess them up in different ways but it doesn’t have to be the ways that we encounter on a day to day basis we can heal every single time and if we have to apologize and go through this whole process 10 times a day so be it again welcome to being human we all have good days and bad days you’re all welcome here and I get it.

Do you have any last minute encouragement or tips for parents as they try to be more positive and more playful in their parenting?

My last tip for today is simply be intentional about it. Find one thing I don’t care how small it is, I don’t care if right now you simply roll and wiggle your shoulders for a couple of minutes just to shake up whatever energy you’ve been carrying around today. Do one thing for yourself that gives you joy today, because you’ll be able to carry that greater sense of joy. Even if it’s brief, even if it’s fleeting, you’ll be able to carry that forward into your parenting and have greater connection with those around you.

Connect with Sarah

Sarah R. Moore is the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. Sarah offers a popular series of mini-courses (including her FREE video, Three Keys to Positive Parenting), webinars, and expert interviews. Additionally, she’s the Editor for Pregnancy Magazine and a Master Trainer for an international conscious parenting organization. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube.

She’s a certified gentle parenting coach and has studied directly with some of the world’s most respected psychologists, neuroscientists, researchers, and advocates for children. She’s also a regular contributor to international parenting magazines and is releasing her first parenting book next year.