Playful Parenting – Or 5 Lessons My Son Has Taught Me About Parenting Through Play

by Charise Rohm Nulsen

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 Code Name: Mama and Hobo 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.

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My 14 month old son has taught me so much about parenting during our luxuriously love filled journey together, and many of these lessons have occurred through play. Here are 5 of those lessons:

1. When in doubt of how to handle a situation, smile or laugh.
There are times when Baby does something that part of me wants to respond to with negativity. This most often is something like throwing food on the floor when he is done eating or ready for a drink. When I want to take the easy way out and simply tell him no in response, he often flashes me the most amazing smile with a little squeal of laughter. I can’t help but smile and laugh back, and before I know it, we’re both laughing and the moment has passed. Taking a second to smile or laugh often highlights the futility of bringing negativity into the situation.

2. Nature is a constant source of parenting inspiration.
Baby often stops what he is doing to wave hello to the trees, and if we’re playing outside and he feels a nice breeze, he puts his hand in the air and tips his head back to have a long moment of enjoyment. This has taught me to take gentle moments for myself when needed because being centered and appreciating life only makes me a better parent.

3. Physical activity makes us both feel better.
Baby loves to be chased. He squeals with delight as I run in slow motion after him throughout the house. Sometimes I have a moment of laziness where I would much rather curl up with him to read or play with the cats, but I always follow his lead when he wants to have these bursts of frenetic activity, and without a doubt, we both seem to have lighter moods after every one of these chase sessions.

4. Sometimes the best thing I can do as a parent is to sit back and observe.
Sometimes Baby is very content playing by himself, so I sit back and watch him. In these quiet moments of observation, I learn so much about him – how he thinks, what his preferences are, what new skills he is developing – and I get to experience that very magical part of parenting where you are overwhelmed with wonder and awe for your child. Taking the time to fully experience the beauty of your child keeps you from busying your mind with distraction and less important matters.

5. Parenting means listening with more than just your ears.
Baby only has a couple of words at his disposal at this point, and this means I’ve had to pay very close attention to him when we play in order to understand him and follow his lead. This has taught me the importance of having all of my senses sharpened, because I often pick up on what Baby really wants and needs by doing something other than hearing him. A certain look can show me he needs a hug, a tentative touch can show me he would like a little encouragement, and sensing a focused calm from him tells me that he would appreciate playing on his own for a while. I have a feeling that this lesson will become more and more important as Baby gets older.

mom and toddler smile together

My parenting guru teaches me how to enjoy the moment!


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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 — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares how the Playful Parenting book impacted her.
  • Parenting a toddler through play — Alicia at I Found My Feet lists some examples of how she uses play to parent through everyday tasks and challenges.
  • Splashing in Puddles — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how she learned to get dirty and have fun with her little boy.
  • Say Please — 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 — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life wishes parenting through play was her only responsibility during the day.
  • I’ll Run Away With Gypsies — 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 — 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 — Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding — 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 — Tree at Mom Grooves shares how parents can use play to set the foundation for communication and understanding.
  • A Box of Crayons — 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 — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her favorite lessons available for young ones through play.
  • The Art of Distraction — 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 — 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! — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares how one simple sound can diffuse an argument in an instant.
  • Getting Cooperation Through Play — 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??Momma Jorje didn’t think she had the energy for playful parenting. See what she was surprised to learn…
  • Dance Party Parenting — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen learned how to be the parent her children need through play.
  • Wrestling Saved My Life — Wrestling is as vital to her son’s well-being as babywearing once was, finds Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • Parenting through play — 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 — 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 — 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.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Danielle September 13, 2011 at 6:44 am

Children definitely teach you how to enjoy the moment. Sometimes you do need to simply step back and observe their care free attitudes and apply it to your own life. Loved your post.
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2 Jen @ After The Alter September 13, 2011 at 7:39 am

Awww what great lessons! I love watching my son play and at 9 months I am amazed at what he can do. Children are just so innocent. We all can learn from them!

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3 Dionna @ Code Name: Mama September 13, 2011 at 10:11 am

You are a wise woman :) I think I needed the reminder about how smiling/laughing – esp. when you feel like frowning/rebuking – can do so much to help. I take life and parenting way too seriously sometimes, I need to learn to smile and shake it off :)

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4 Grady Pruitt@Amazing Self Review September 13, 2011 at 10:42 am

Being a parent can really teach you a lot about how to be successful if you are paying attention What comes naturally for them, we have to be hit over the head with sometimes.

For example, kids have no fear of failure. They’ll often do things just to see what happens. No right or wrong. Just what happens. They learn a lot this way, and so can we!

Thanks for sharing!
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5 Mrs Green @ littlegreenblog.com September 13, 2011 at 10:52 am

you’ve captured some wonderful ideas; what I love most is that these are not complicated – they are just simple things that we all need reminding of. Thanks for sharing!
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6 Gaby @ Tmuffin September 13, 2011 at 2:59 pm

I agree with Mrs. Green. Your post is all about taking time to smell the flowers. And kids notice. When your mind is constantly running over everything else, your kids know that you’re a little removed from them. Stopping, paying attention, and just being is a good lesson for both kids and parents!
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7 Kellie September 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Yes, being fully present and invested with our kids goes so far! Thanks for the post.

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8 Tara September 13, 2011 at 8:28 pm

It’s amazing what life lessons babies can teach us! I love the idea of being full present with our kids but also giving them the space when they need it. Beautiful!
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9 Alicia C. September 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm

This is a great list. I especially like #4 – Sit back and watch. Sometimes we’re so busy trying to be part of the play or using that playtime as time to do our own thing. Taking a moment to observe our children play can teach us more about them than anything else, I think.
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10 Adrienne September 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I love the last one, especially! It’s true that when we take the time to really be in tune with our babies, we can learn so much!
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11 Issa@LoveLiveGrow September 13, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I completely agree – there’s so much wonderful that we can learn through our parenting. I love all your examples.
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12 Kristl Story September 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Enjoying the moment…that is the key! Easier said than done now that my 3 children are teens!
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13 Alison Golden - The Secret Life of a Warrior Woman September 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I had two at a time with very divergent personalities so it was a bit like spinning plates but whenever I had some one-on-one time, it was so much fun getting down on their level. It gets even more fun (for me, anyway) when we would play ‘shop’ or ‘kitchen.’ I was never a mom that worried about mess (we’ve let our house run down a little on purpose) and so paint, shaving cream, ‘cooking’ were always a lot of fun. I drew the line at glitter though. Took years to get that our of the counter tile grout.
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14 MAMA P September 18, 2011 at 9:57 am

I love this picture of you and baby!

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15 Lauren@Hobo Mama September 18, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Lovely! I’ve been concentrating lately on physical activity as well. It’s amazing the difference it makes in changing the energy levels to positive.
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16 Momma Jorje September 19, 2011 at 1:32 am

Absolutely beautiful! What an awesome Momma you are!
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17 Lizzy @ Japanese Car Lease Broker Los Angeles September 19, 2011 at 2:48 pm

It’s funny, even though I do apply these with my daughter, I was just thinking about how they really could be applied to any relationship – especially the first one. If I took a second thought about situations that I would normally immediately have a negative response to and instead tried to smile or laugh them off, I bet I’d be in a much better mood most of the time! :)

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18 Marie October 23, 2011 at 11:30 am

Being able to laugh has saved me from so many frustrating situations. Sometimes my son used to be in the habit of throwing things and it used to really frustrate me because I couldn’t work out what was frustrating him..in the end I would just act playful and the throwing would turn into us play tiggling and chasing each other.

Physical activity is also important to us..I always try to get us both out each day – it certainly refreshes my spirit and his too.
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21 Shane@EnviroBooty November 9, 2012 at 9:41 am

Fabulous advice. I live by 1,2 and 3!! I think each of us has a different temperament and being a mom can be harder for some than others and these tips are such a gift to us. You are such an inspiration!
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