Parenting with Playfulness and Respect

Published on: April 09, 2021

Suzi explains how her childhood experiences led her to discover the concept of respectful parenting and the tools we can use to connect with and understand our children.

By Suzi Chaemchang

When I became a new mother I asked everyone for advice. I spent hours scrolling social media mum groups and websites seeking the right way to be a mum. I read about breastfeeding and sleep and pored over developmental stages to check we were all on the right track. I asked my friends, my mum, and my family. It took years to trust my instincts, but I now know I just needed to find what worked for us.  I also realize that what worked for us is not right for everyone.

“My priority was to develop my child’s ability to express their emotions”

I looked to Sarah Ockwell-Smith’s books on Gentle Parenting, which resonated with me, and Janet Lansbury who teaches communication, respect, and understanding of our children. My priority was to develop my child’s ability to express their emotions because when they are young that is all they have and as adults, we spend our entire days managing them or other people.

Growing up, I was one of five kids and you just got on with it. If I was hurt there would be more chance of my arm falling off before someone noticed and said ‘you’re fine’ and stuck it back on. This is also the norm in Thailand. I have witnessed a child with a cracked tooth bleeding being told “don’t cry, you’re fine.”

Imagine how a friend would feel if they fell over, grazed their knee and your response was “get up, you’re fine, stop crying?” Let’s consider this— what would you say to another adult who had hurt themselves or was angry about something? 

If a child shows an outburst of emotion, the adults around them will usually try their best to subdue it, for convenience, for time, and sometimes to keep sane. I decided that I want to listen to my child and all the feelings, even the ugly ones which result in you both sitting on the sidewalk crying about the sweets being red, not pink.

Steps we can take to defuse a difficult situation

  • Listen: Crouch down to their level, make eye contact, and listen.
  • Empathy: “Are you ok, did that hurt? I can hear that it is really hard.” 
  • Wishing: “I wish I could buy you that toy today.”
  • Reassurance: “I will stay here with you until you need me for a hug, chat, etc.”

I have tried my best to listen to my child and spend time processing emotions and demands. I am also aware there are occasions when we can’t spend time exploring or we can’t put our feelings into words. In these cases, I use play to connect. I use play daily in my work with the younger children in my care and I have realized that play is the most important language of a child. 

Uses for play in difficult times

Roleplay: Use play characters to act out scenes with children. These could be difficult situations they have experienced or a way to listen and understand your child better— to hear their inner dialogue and voice.

Special Time: Tell your child they have ten minutes of uninterrupted time with you to do anything they want, put your phone away, set a timer, and go. Prepare them for the ending as this may bring up difficult emotions but helping to manage those with your child can be as powerful as the play. 

Competitive games: Play games with winners and losers, to manage the emotional fallouts of not always being a winner.

Patty Wipfler from Hand in Hand Parenting has written the following about ‘Staylistening,’ a tool to help children with emotional release. 

During Staylistening, you want to do at least 75% listening.

  1. You see what has happened and you care. “I’m watching over you every minute.”
  2. The present situation is safe. “No one is upset with you. But I do have to stop you.”
  3. It is safe to notice what just happened. “You really wanted the teacup she took.” 
  4. If your child is deep in the throes of fear. Survival is paramount. “You made it” and “I’m here” are key reassurances.

Lastly, to be calm and present as a parent we must prioritize taking care of ourselves and find time for the things we enjoy. Self-care fills your cup so that you can help fill your children’s. Photo from Unsplash


What to Say During Staylistening  

About the Author

Suzi is a born Londoner with an Irish heritage. She is an Early Years Teacher and a holistic health coach for busy mums with the message, BE REAL not perfect. She lives in Phuket, with her child and husband of 10 years. Follow her #motherhoodrebellion

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