Getting Cooperation Through Play

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 Hobo Mama and Code Name: 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.


Play is not the first thing that comes to mind when we think of getting cooperation from our kids – but it is essential to the parent-child relationship, and really truly useful (and fun!) in pretty much every moment.

There are times that merit respect as understood from an adult’s perspective. Sometimes, I feel that it’s totally appropriate to expect that children obey mommy and daddy. . . but in general, we parents are way too hard-headed when it comes to achieving cooperation and getting respect from our kiddos.

Kids that feel respected and loved are more apt to cooperate with us, and give respect and love back to us. That’s just logical (and supported by research). But while love is a universal language, respect to a child is different than respect as defined by an adult. I’ve learned lately that engaging cooperation from my preschooler requires not only that I explain and encourage my definition of respect, and what makes me feel respected and loved. . . but also that I respect her world-view and interact with her in a way that is respectful of her spirit and her reality as a child.

This ALWAYS includes play. I didn’t realize it before, but I find it essential knowledge now. Our children are pretty much always engaged in some sort of play. . . whether it’s pretend play, physical play, singing songs, doing dances, experimenting with things, or making up stories. . . it’s ALL play to them, every moment of every day. It’s difficult for us as parents to understand the world-view of a child, engrossed in a playful reality – because for us, everything is work. Yes, some work is enjoyable. . . but until the work is done, there is no time for play – that is our reality. To think of living an entire day (let alone having an entire existence) based completely in the enjoyment of trial and error, goofing around, and singing songs just doesn’t make sense to us. And our world-view, all logical and rule-based and task-related doesn’t make sense to our children.

To show respect toward us, we ask our children to understand, or at least to acknowledge, our task-based, logical world-view. So, in order to show them respect, and encourage cooperation in daily life, we need to embrace a little of the playful nature that rules their little lives.

It was actually in watching my husband interact with my child that I realized how her cooperation is so much easier to attain while playing. In our home, we have “after breakfast” and “after dinner” chores. All of us have tasks to do, and there is a specific time set aside to do them after meals. We pick up toys (mom and dad’s toys too!), we clean the surfaces and the floors, we put away laundry, and prepare for the day ahead. Having a routine helps us all to be motivated to do chores. . . but it doesn’t mean that our preschooler is always cheerfully obedient in picking up her things. Quite the contrary.

But a few nights ago, my husband got her to finish her chores (and help him to his!) in record time. I was only half-way through my responsibilities for the evening, and those two were going outside to do some celebratory bike riding before bed.

“Where are you two going?” I asked, perplexed.

“I got Abbey to do all her chores and help me with mine. And she didn’t even know she was doing work” he bragged, with a little wink.

All he did was just mix work with play, and voila – Abbey felt respected, chores got done, and daddy got the cooperation he needed. Now. . . if I could just remember to embrace play more often. Here are some ideas that have been helping me remember to get playful more often.

Make it a game. This is what my husband did. He told Abbey that it was time for chores in two minutes. Then they played a tossing game up and down the stairs with Abbey’s favorite ball for those two minutes. After the two minutes was up, My husband started throwing toys that needed to go in Abbey’s room, clothes that needed putting away, etc. and told her that she got extra points for catching the non-ball items and putting them where they belonged. She loved it, did her chores, and he had fun, too!

Play pretend to get things done Be a cleaning fairy, a royal family at meal times, or a fireman (or Coast Guard SAR) rescuing toys and bringing them back to their homes. Really commit to whatever character your child gives you. They will LOVE it, and you’ll probably enjoy goofing around for a bit.

When in doubt, sing! I’ve mentioned this before, but now that Abbey is really into song and dance, it’s even more useful (and fun!) One song that I’ve made up that has been especially popular lately is the “Angry Song” It goes loosely to the tune of “Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush” and talks about different things we can do when we’re angry that allow us to get our frustrations out and calm down – while still being kind.

When I’m angry I can [stamp my feet] repeat [action phrase] 2x
When I’m angry, I can [stamp my feet]
And still be kind!
When I’m angry I can [scrunch my face] repeat [ ] 2x
When I’m angry, I can [scrunch my face]
And still be kind!
Our favorite action phrases are [jump up and down] [shake our hands] [close our eyes] [take a deep breath] [say I'm mad] [use our words] . . .
. . . we start with the most practical ones and get really silly with [wiggle our hips] [bounce our elbows] [do a dance] [act like a duck] etc after whoever is angry starts to calm down. Sometimes Abbey just likes to sing the song, even if she’s not angry. She makes up the cutest and silliest action phrases.
Songs like this (and I have many but that’s another blog post) are really fun and useful. Another super useful play-based technique for encouraging respect and connection/cooperation is the “Fix Game” that Dr. Laura Markham suggests in her post What if Five Minutes of Play Could Change Your Life? We have been using this game and loving it. When I remember to play more and nag less, I feel so much more connected to my child.
How do you use play in your household?
I’d love to hear your feelings on play as a method of engaging in your child’s world-view and encouraging connection and cooperation!


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