How Connected Play helped my child overcome competitiveness

How Connected Play helped my child overcome competitiveness


When my daughter Nika was 5 years old, she was getting more and more uptight about the winning and losing thing. She was becoming extremely competitive, in a very ungracious way – always wanting to win, being a sore loser and frankly a ‘sore winner’, too, quick to rub it in everyone’s face.

One day, quite spontaneously, her dad burst into a game which ended up being an inspired way to help her loosen up about this.

They were both playing Uno (the card game). Nika was doing an ugly, little ‘I win’ dance each time she won – full of tension and held-back feelings, I can see now. Then her dad won. He took off running through the house, yelling to everyone that he won!! She giggled and ran after him.

It’s the giggles that tell you you are on the right track, when it comes to Connected Play. If the kids are giggling, you know you are onto something, you are close to the emotional rub. Each peel of laughter is them letting go of a bit of tension on this subject.

The next round they played, daddy lost. Nika started doing her (even goofier) version of a victory-lap around the house… her dad followed her and started gleefully shouting ‘I lose! I lose! I lose!’. She – and all of us – thought the whole thing was hilarious. And now everyone wanted to lose (or win or just play a game through) to get to do a funnier-than-the-last-person’s victory or failure running dance. :)

And now, over two years later, I can report that not only was this little game (which got repeated a few times and kind of incorporated into our game playing, for a while) super fun for everyone but it also ushered in with it a new lighter attitude toward winning and losing. It helped bring a change in my daughter’s attitude in playing competitive games with others. 

In fact, since then, I have been amazed to observe – a few times, now – that not only can she win and lose more gracefully and be a ‘good sport’ about things but on occasions she has been positively, glowingly supportive of other kids when they were having trouble in this area.

For example, a kid once came round who was really tense around losing, in particular, and in fact started to cheat so that she could win. My daughter saw the other girl was cheating but had the maturity to ‘let her’ get away with it and essentially just smiled along, indulgently – without even calling her out on it. Overall, she has shifted in such a way that it is almost night and day and she can now – on a good day, at least – be visibly happy for others when they win. :)

So, yeah, if your kids are getting really stressed about winning and losing and you want to help them overcome this… I’d try some Connected Play first. When you see them getting uptight about this issue and if you are in a place where you can genuinely, warmly find a playful response to what is arising, go for it. Keep it fresh and light. Use this game or make up your own – just remember to follow the giggles. That is the path that will lead to success in helping kids release their tension around how hard it can be to lose and how important it can feel to WIN! Help them giggle those tensions away.

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How we (playfully) put an end to nipple biting

Ouch! My daughter recently started biting me at the end of a feed. It wasn’t very aggressive, as such, it was more one of those ‘I am bored and there is no more milk and I want to get a reaction out of you’ kind of bites. She would come off the breast, bite me and then when I said ‘ow’ she would smile like it was the cutest, cleverest thing she ever did – which as you may imagine didn’t endear me to her, in that moment. I am usually very patient (it is one of my rare virtues) but this was pushing my commitment to gentle parenting.

I didn’t want to fight her on this – I knew that. I mean, sometime back, when she went through a little biting phase (which retrospectively I realised was actually due to a funky latch caused by teething) I tried a more conventional ‘no biting – we treat mama’s breasts with love, respect and gratitude’ along with taking her off the breast. She did stop, but the feeling was always more adversarial than co-operative. Surely all my new-found knowledge about parenting through connection could help me find a better, more resonant way.

So, I got to thinking about her needs. What she clearly wanted here was to engage me and get a reaction out of me. So, I started wondering how we could both get what we needed. I remembered this game from Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting

The original game is about dealing with ‘naughty’ words. It is very simple. If a kid says a potty word, for example, trying to get a reaction out of you, you simply respond by saying, in a clearly lighthearted way: “you can say ‘sh*t’ as much as you like as long as you don’t say…” and insert a funny-sounding, long word like ‘schmoopotilupo’. Invariably what happens is that they will immediately say this new, forbidden word. Then you give them a huge reaction. “Oh, no, now you are going to get it” and run after them and tickle them, for example, or maybe pile onto them in a mock wrestling move or whatever works for you. Everybody wins. They get to play with being wayward and they get the reaction, connection and attention they clearly needed at that moment. You get to have fun AND ensure your kid is keeping their language clean. It really works. Try it!

Well, I thought, since the scenario was kind of similar (the need was to get a rise out of me) I could try something similar to help with the biting. If she bit me and looked up at me with mischievous eyes, I said: “you can bite there as much as you like as long as you don’t touch my belly button”. Like clockwork she puts her finger right in my bellybutton and I give her the biggest, loudest, silliest reaction ever. I yelp and giggle, tickle her and pat her bum, all while being really noisy and over the top.

Now it is effortless, if Nica wants to engage me and get a big energetic burst of a reaction out of me, she just pushes my belly button. I call it the ‘Push Here for a Reaction’ game. And it is great, we transformed what was an angsty situation into a playful game. She still gets a rise out of me but now it is a wholly fun and positive reaction whereas before it was anger-fuelled. Plus she has a new and very easy way of signalling when she is feeling disconnected from me without having to act-up. She gets to be the initiator and can choose a positive interaction over a… less positive one. And the biting has stopped.

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Have you tried similar playful ways to tackle situations you were previously being reactive to? I’d love to hear some of the playful parenting successes from your life? Or if you go away and try a version of these two games the ‘forbidden words’ or ‘push here for a reaction’, do come back and let us know how they work for you. Cheers,

Gauri