Skip to content

Children's Health

Font Size

The Lighter Side of Parenting

Using humor to discipline and teach children.

Using Play When Disciplining Older Children

With older kids, like 5- or 6-year-olds, play is a great way to learn how they're feeling about issues at school.

"A lot of these kids will spontaneously come home and play school, and they'll want to be the strict teacher and you the student who's getting in trouble," Cohen says. "They'll exaggerate and make it very dramatic, just taking some of the emotionally difficult things and bringing them to the play zone."

What about using play to teach things like respect and manners? Try using stuffed animals or hand puppets -- but you really have to get into it! Give one puppet great manners and the other terrible manners -- but both should be fun, super silly, and exaggerated. The goal again is to relieve the tension that gets in the way of them spontaneously being polite and thoughtful.

In Cohen's house, once a month the family has an April Fool's dinner, where they put food coloring in everything, drink from vases instead of glasses, and use serving bowls and serving spoons. "We're just as goofy as you can get, and it's really fun. Then it's easier for us to ask the kids to follow our rules the rest of the time."

Does Playful Discipline Spoil Children?

Cohen is quick to stress that disciplining children with playful parenting is not the same as spoiling children. In fact, he says, spoiling doesn't make a connection at all.

"If you're giving in to a child's whining because you just can't stand it another minute, that's not making a connection. But if you give a warm hug, or say, 'Hey, let's play a little game first,' that's not spoiling a child or going against your values. Giving the whole box of cookies because you don't want to hear the whining, that's going against your values."

You may be thinking: But shouldn't disciplining children be -- well -- disciplinary? Isn't responding to bad behavior with play just rewarding it?

Think about discipline like food, says Cohen. "Most children and adults get cranky when they're hungry. Just because they're cranky doesn't mean we're not going to feed them. Connection is also a basic human need -- children will literally die without it. It's not optional, and it doesn't make sense to think of it as a reward for bad behavior. Think instead that the bad behavior is coming from disconnection, so the solution is reconnection."

Reviewed on August 04, 2010

Today on WebMD

child with red rash on cheeks
What’s that rash?
plate of fruit and veggies
How healthy is your child’s diet?
smiling baby
Treating diarrhea, fever and more.
Middle school band practice
Understanding your child’s changing body.

worried kid
boy on father's shoulder
Child with red rash on cheeks
girl thinking

Loaded with tips to help you avoid food allergy triggers.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

Child with adhd
rl with friends
Syringes and graph illustration