Two Ways To Use Playful Parenting To Set Limits and Encourage Cooperation

Playfully engaging with children, especially in matters of discipline and parenting is sometimes mistaken as being permissive.  But, playful parenting most often leads to more cooperation and listening. It is possible to be playful and set meaningful parenting limits.

Playful Parenting means joining children in their world of play, focusing on connection and confidence. -Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting.

Playfully connecting with a child fuels cooperation and a child’s sense of capability. You can also use playfulness with your child to:

  • reduce power struggles
  • help a child accomplish a task with enthusiasm
  • acknowledge and overcome fears and worries
  • encourage children to be onboard with doing chores
  • help siblings get along
  • avoid tantrums and meltdowns
  • set limits that are kind and clear

Here are two examples of using playful parenting that invite children to listen and cooperate.

Playful Parenting: Fantasy and Story Telling to Fuel Cooperation 

When one of my children was around age 4,  he decided he no longer wanted to have his hair washed.  Instead of engaging in a power struggle, I tried to listen to his concerns. He was worried about the water in his eyes. This new issue also coincided with the birth of his sister.  When a sibling is born, preschoolers can have a hard time adjusting.

Understanding my son needed connection and reassurance, I started telling him a story about some sand gnomes. Little gnomes that magically appeared into a little boys head one night. It took three minutes of telling this cute story of mighty sand gnomes, castles and the special powers of soap and water to change our situation around.

My goal was to get hair washed, my son needed some extra validation and love. Play helped us both. Win-Win!  Although it was an added step to be playful, it was nevertheless much faster to help him feel in a bit more in charge of something that was not a favorite event for him. In this process, my son also learned that it was safe to tell me his worries and that we could find solutions together.

Playful Parenting: Setting Limits with a Game
Here is another example of how using playful parenting can help us set a reasonable limit without having to resort to nagging, yelling or rewarding:
A few years ago, both of my boys liked running at preschool pick up, from their classroom door up to the exit gate. Beyond the gate was a busy parking lot.  It was important to me and to the boys safety that they did not run beyond that gate.
fixing behavior problems (1)
At the time, my three year old was having a tough time containing his excitement. It was just so hard not to run beyond that gate.  To instill in both boys and especially the youngest the importance of stopping right at the gate and waiting for me, we started playing “Red light, Green Light.” This gave both boys a chance to practice running while still pay attention to a stopping que.  We played at home, at the park and finally at preschool. Both boys totally understood the limit of the gate and the game served as a friendly reminder not to run too far. Even their friends started joining in and enjoying the game each day.


This playful strategy eliminated daily reminders that they must wait for me or not run. Over time, I didn’t even need to say “red light” as waiting right at the gate became a habit. Play helped us build a sense of trust and encouraged cooperation.
How do you bring playfulness into your parenting?
Peace & Be Well,


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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

3 thoughts on “Two Ways To Use Playful Parenting To Set Limits and Encourage Cooperation

  • My toddler wanted to independently walk across the big field to get to the parking lot. It was a long way for her. So we hopped like kangaroos, crawled like lizards, ran like cheetahs, and when she was getting so slow and tired I picked her up and carried her like a baby koala (I asked her if she wanted to be a baby koala first). She loved it and we got across the field with big smiles.

  • […] So, you child doesn’t want to wash their hands, put on their shoes, go outside, go to the potty, leave the playdate and so on. Transitions from one activity to the next are hard for kids, as are everyday tasks. They are too busy playing to stop and take care of life things or move onto the next thing. The typical response from a parent may be to talk about consequences — if you don’t brush your teeth you will get cavities  — or to engage in a power struggle. The playful way is to just keep playing. We play a game ‘chasing’ the cavity germs around the mouth when we brush teeth. You could sing a song or play a song to help make transitions fun. Or use a favorite toy, make the toy “talk” and ask your child to put on their pajamas. Or try using a story to encourage cooperation or a game to set limits.  […]

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