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The Lighter Side of Parenting

Using humor to discipline and teach children.

Putting Play to Work: An Example

Say that you have a strong-willed toddler who fights getting changed -- diaper changes, getting dressed, getting undressed. Every change is a battle, and you've resorted to just holding her down and wrestling her like an alligator into her clothes. Instead of disciplining your young child in frustration, think of what you can do to make getting dressed fun:

  • Find a play time, and then say, "Let's play the getting-dressed game," suggests Cohen. Maybe try dressing up all her dolls and stuffed animals. Just don't try out your new game for the first time when you really need to get out the door; wait for a good time, then take it to the "play zone." "The problems always occur in the serious zone," Cohen says.
  • Or have your child choose your clothes and be the boss and dress you! Or maybe race around the house at top speed, waving her snow pants or diaper, insisting she has to wear them while she's squealing and giggling and saying no.
  • "Stumble and fall and let her get away, and she'll laugh and laugh," says Cohen. The miracle is that all that laughing and goofiness loosens up the tension that has gotten connected to getting dressed for some reason. Play is the way kids release tension.

Remember that not every playful approach you try will work. "You have to be willing to try lots of different things." says Cohen. "I'll have parents ask me 'How did you know just what to do with that child?' and I'll say, 'I tried 10 things and the first nine didn't work.'"

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."

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