Joyful Parenting Tool: Playtime Skills to Make Parenting Fun Again!
Ready for new Joyful Parenting skills? Feeling burned out by some frustrating patterns? You are not alone! By the time we are discouraged with our kids’ behaviors, we’ve usually developed our own response patterns that we’d like to adjust. We can get stuck in a rut. That’s why Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) begins by equipping caregivers with a skill set to strengthen the caregiver-child connection.
The good news: many parents see an increase in warmth, connection and positive behaviors just by using the skills from the first phase of PCIT. The even better news: you don’t need a PCIT therapist to start using these skills – I’ve outlined them for you below!
I recommend starting by setting aside 5 - 10 minutes a day to practice. Pick a time and an activity that doesn’t involve a lot of boundary setting (i.e. not while getting ready in the morning, or while crafting with paint and glitter, please). It’s helpful to set a reminder and timer on your phone to make sure you’re being consistent and very intentional. If you’re co-parenting, make it a contest: whoever demonstrates the most skills in 5 minutes gets to sleep in on Saturday! (Nothing motivates a parent like the promise of sleep…)
As we explore each specific skill, you’ll notice a theme – these tools help us focus our attention on positive behaviors. Our attention is the highest-value currency for kids. For better or worse, it reinforces and increases whatever behavior it’s directed it. Think of behavior as flowers (or weeds, in some cases…) and attention as fertilizer. Each PCIT skill is essentially a new way to call attention (sometimes subtly, other times overtly) to desired behaviors, nurturing and reinforcing the good stuff we see. Meanwhile, we ignore undesirable behaviors, taking a quick break from all the correcting and directing that everyday life entails.
So what are these magic tools? PRIDE Skills: Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, and Enjoy.
PRAISE: Praise is so important! Check out my post on Effective Praise for more details. The Cliff Notes: if you’re struggling with a specific behavior, take some time to figure out the “Positive Opposite” - what you’d like to see instead. Then praise the heck out of this behavior every time you can. It may feel silly. That’s okay. Kids like silly.
REFLECT: This tool helps identify and call attention to positive verbal skills. We repeat (verbatim) or reflect (summarize in different words with the same meaning) the appropriate verbal content of our child’s play, while ignoring anything we don’t love hearing. This helps reinforce positive language by attending to it, subtly implying, “I like it when you say that”. As an added bonus (as if you needed more!), it also enhances your child’s language development.
Child: “vvrrrroom, vrrrrrom!”
Parent: “vrrooom, vrrrrroom!” (repeating sounds)
Child: “I like the blue car”
Parent: “You like the blue car!” (repeating)
Child: “Your car is stupid”
Parent: (ignoring undesirable language)
Child: “My car needs gas!”
Parent: “Uh oh! Your car is all out of gas!” (paraphrasing/reflecting)
IMITATE: You’d be surprised how often us adults take over play time, showing kids the “right way” to play. Using the Imitate skill, you allow your child to take the lead and mimic appropriate behaviors while ignoring undesirable behaviors. This grants your child ownership over the play, subtly reinforces the behaviors you like, increases creativity, and (as if we needed another perk) helps sustain their attention to the activity longer.
DESCRIBE: This one will feel silly at first, but bear with me! You’ll get the hang of it. This skill is just what it sounds like: describe appropriate behaviors as they happen. Think of yourself like a sportscaster narrating the play. This skill also helps with language development as you put words to behaviors. Your positive attention also reinforces the activities and often helps sustain attention longer.
“You are building with all the blue Legos!”
“Oh, not anymore, now you’re adding red Legos too!”
“And you’re building such a tall tower!”
ENJOY/ENTHUSIASM: This is my favorite PRIDE skill, mostly because of the way it’s worded: “act as if you are enjoying the play”. I can personally attest to the fact that knocking down a block tower is fun one time. Maybe. Around the eighth time, I’m less entertained. However, for any of these skills to work, we need to let our kids know that we’re enjoying our time with them (even if we’re not exhilarated by the activity of choice). This is foundational for the rest of the skills to be effective. Take a deep breath, and smile through just a little more Paw Patrol talk…
Hugging, or rubbing your child’s back as you play
Saying “I love playing with you!”
Smiling and laughing
Last but not least, take a moment to reflect on what a good parent you are just for reading this. Your kids are lucky to have you.
Bonus for your fridge: a visual from the UC Davis PCIT Training Center: