Parenting Through Play Starts in Infancy

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.



One of the overarching values that guides my parenting is playfulness. Through my years as a nanny, everything was made a bit easier with an attitude grounded in play and lightheartedness, and I bring this sense of play to parenting as well. When I think of playfulness as a parenting technique, I’m not just thinking about the games and stories that will be useful years from now. Parenting through play starts in infancy. It has already started, even though Dylan is only 3 months old.

Taking a parenting action that might otherwise be stressful (for either of you), harsh, abrupt, or coercive and turning it into something funny or silly or gentle or cooperative makes your relationship that much more joyful. Keeping play in mind as a value reminds me that things don’t have to be stressful; they shouldn’t be stressful. We can enjoy one another instead.

I’ll give an example.

When Dylan was in the hospital, he used the jacket-style shirts, but when we got home the shirts I had for him went over his head. Right off the bat, he hated anything touching his head or going over his eyes. Putting a shirt on was stressful for him as he jerked his body trying to get away from the offending object, stiffened up his limbs, and made gasping faces. Putting a shirt on only took seconds, but I knew I didn’t want to continue with it being stressful for him. I’m going to put a gazillion shirts on him throughout his childhood, plus touch his head for so many other reasons, like cleaning or putting on hats. I didn’t want to set a pattern of head/face touching being a horrible thing he had to put up with, but I also wasn’t going to stop putting shirts on him.

Enter playfulness.

I started turning shirt-putting-on into a silly moment. I’d lightly touch his face with the shirt, make a silly noise, and pull it away before he could really react. I made it into the same game as the boop-your-nose game or tickle-your-tummy game, all sound effects and light touching. The first couple of times, he was still skeptical. I’d touch his face, make a sound, and pull away, repeat, and then make a different sound and slip the shirt over his head. He’d still be surprised, but not as much so when I’d just put the shirt on him out of nowhere. But these days, he loves the game. I scrunch the shirt up so I can see him through the neck-hole and he smiles at me in anticipation of my putting it on him.

This is such a small example of playful parenting. Maybe it seems like it’s too much work to figure out how to make something a game. But with an attitude of playfulness, the motions of play are fresh in my mind. Maybe it seems like play would take up too much time. But a few moments making something fun can save you many moments of sadness getting in the way later. Maybe it seems like any one example of an unwanted moment for your kid is insignificant, but those small moments add up to many, many moments over the life of your relationship.

Play keeps me centered on the truth that we are having a relationship. It’s not my job to just get a shirt over his head (or whatever other situation arises). It’s my job to give and take and learn and teach and give smiles and get smiles and have a good time while we’re spending our time together. With our relationship full of the joy of playfulness, we’re off to a good start.


Issa writes at LoveLiveGrow about parenting and homesteading in the Tennessee Valley, where this year has included new baby sheep, new baby chickens, new baby pigs, and the arrival of a new baby human.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon September 13 with all the carnival links.)

  • On being a more playful parent — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares how the Playful Parenting book impacted her.
  • Parenting a toddler through play — Alicia at I Found My Feet lists some examples of how she uses play to parent through everyday tasks and challenges.
  • Splashing in Puddles — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how she learned to get dirty and have fun with her little boy.
  • Say Please — Cassie at There’s a Pickle in My Life explains how they taught their son manners by “play,” showing that actions speak louder than words.
  • No Nanny Needed — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life wishes parenting through play was her only responsibility during the day.
  • I’ll Run Away With Gypsies — Nikalee at Spotted Pandemonium maneuvers physical and emotional obstacles while spinning playful tales, jumping through hoops, and inspiring the kids to clean the living room.
  • A Promise To My Daughter — Lindsey at An Unschooling Adventure writes a poem for her daughter promising to use play instead of anger when facing difficult situations.
  • Parenting Through Play — Not Always Easy But Always Rewarding — Amy at Peace4Parents discusses how play hasn’t always come easily to her, the power of appreciative observation, and how her family learns together through play.
  • Imagination Plays a Role in Our Parenting — Tree at Mom Grooves shares how parents can use play to set the foundation for communication and understanding.
  • A Box of Crayons — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction talks about how a simple box of crayons has become a wonderful parenting and teaching tool.
  • The Essential Art of Play — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her favorite lessons available for young ones through play.
  • The Art of Distraction — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro shares a list of distracting alternatives to harsh punishments in tough parenting situations.
  • Grace and Courtesy Games at Home or School — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now has ideas for grace and courtesy games that help you encourage courteous behavior without reprimanding your child.
  • I am woman, hear me roar! — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares how one simple sound can diffuse an argument in an instant.
  • Getting Cooperation Through Play — Amyables at Toddler In Tow talks about respecting the worldview of a preschooler by using play to encourage connection and cooperation.
  • Playful Parenting = Extra Energy??Momma Jorje didn’t think she had the energy for playful parenting. See what she was surprised to learn…
  • Dance Party Parenting — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen learned how to be the parent her children need through play.
  • Wrestling Saved My Life — Wrestling is as vital to her son’s well-being as babywearing once was, finds Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • Parenting through play — By playing with her children, Tara from MUMmedia is given amazing opportunites to teach, train and equip her children for life.
  • Parenting Through Play Starts in Infancy — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Issa from LoveLiveGrow shares that though she only has a 3-month-old, playful parenting has already started.
  • Play Before Sleep — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how playing and singing with her son before he falls asleep helps calm her frustrations that tend to arise at night.
  • Playful Parenting — Or 5 Lessons My Son Has Taught Me About Parenting Through Play — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama has learned to be a better parent by following her toddler’s lead in play.

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