From ages 3 through the teen years, a child’s sense of self is forged by having a strong connection with their parents, and Cohen argues that the key to getting and staying connected is through play. It’s up to the parent to find and offer opportunities to connect and reconnect — and getting down on the floor to play whatever the child wants is the perfect way to invite the child to connect in their own way, on their own terms.
To encourage playfulness, Cohen suggests “following the giggles,” meaning that parents should act in silly ways that lead children to laugh. Roughhousing — interacting in a physical, rowdy but safe way — is also an important aspect of play. The rough-and-tumble exertion allows a child to release pent-up emotions, and to feel strong in a safe environment. Other avenues for play include swapping roles, engaging in storytelling, and even inviting behavior you hope to discourage, such as aggressive or sexist behavior, as a way to work through it. It’s crucial to set aside regular playtime and to follow your child’s lead on what they want to play as a way to build connection, express love and have fun.