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
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."