The premise of the book is that children need a strong connection with their parents in order to have good self-esteem, self-confidence, happiness and good behavior. The author is a play therapist that feels that the key to getting and staying connected with our children aged three through the teen years is through play. If you think your child has great behavior then following the ideas in this book will still help foster close connections and reduce the minor issues such as whining, begging, etc. The author contends that simply by spending time playing with our children with the child in control of the nature of the play, that a strong connection can be made. Specific ideas for play "tactics" are given when the parent wants to solve some particular problem or fear. This book is not just for "problem kids" who have sought professional counseling with the author.
The gist of the book is that at about age 3 and up children are in the play mode, they like to play, want to play, need to play. They also at this time live in a world where they feel powerless or isolated at least some of the time, even in the best family situations. The theory is that they have "cups" that fill with love and sometimes when feeling isolated or powerless the cups run low and need refilling. When the cup is low the negative behaviors begin. The author feels that at these ages 3 through teen years, the fastest and most effective way to fill the love cup is by playing with your children. Most of his examples are with the work he has done with his child and his patients. He tells of certain games that can be played to overcome
this or that, such as how to deal with the child who wants to play guns and shoot at the parent, how to deal with swearing, what to do when the child is hyper and aggressive, etc. He made this seem so very simple that I didn't believe it would work. I also at first, didn't want to think my own children would ever need this. But I started using it immediately with my 4
YO and it DOES WORK.
The author discusses the negative issues of permissiveness and the negative aspects of the opposite extreme of over-strictness/authoritarian style of discipline. Regarding punishment methods, the author also is against yelling, threatening, or using verbal abusive techniques such as shaming as well as physical methods such as hitting in any way or spanking. He is also against using time-outs for punishment and explains why they don't work but instead foster more feelings of isolation and detachment. He discusses why letting a baby "cry it out" should not be done. The author is also against behavior modification tactics such as rewards and bribes, giving a brief overview of why they fail in the end, then he suggests reading "Punished by Rewards" for more detailed information.
The author is supportive of attachment in infancy and continuing throughout the teen years. The author interestingly enough never mentions actions to be taken in infancy that would secure an attachment. If you are looking for ways to foster this attachment in your birth through two year old I would recommend books on the subject of attachment parenting such as "The Baby Book" or "The Discipline Book", both written by William Sears MD and his wife Martha Sears RN. However, "Playful Parenting" expands on the information outlined by the Sears' and this book gives more tools and techniques while the essence of this book flows seamlessly from the philosophy as the Sears'.
Unlike other parenting book author "experts", Cohen is able to give the special perspective of a psychologist and really gives some useful information, psychological-wise, on the importance of fostering a close connection with our children and how and why these exercises (play therapy) can and does work. Cohen does not use psychological terminology and the writing style is easy for parents to read and understand. While some other parenting books identify certain behaviors as "normal" for this age or that age, Cohen cites these behaviors as signals that the child is in need of some attention (via play) and once given, the behavior stops. (I recently read a parenting book by psychologists that simply listed multiple negative behaviors as normal for that age. I prefer Cohen's book because he cites the reason for it and suggests solutions.)
He talks about power struggles and about parents who don't like to play,
that are serious all the time or preoccupied and begs parents to loosen up
and play with the kids.
Near the end of the book he does discuss individual issues of importance
such dealing with children's sex play, sibling rivalry, gun play, etc.
Lastly, Cohen admits throughout the book that as a parent he is not perfect and that he even has to sometimes push himself to get down and play Barbie games with his daughter. He does not write with a holier-than-thou attitude. I've done a lot of reading about parenting but have never read anything as great as Cohen's theory and ideas for parenting the three-plus year old.
I'm glad to see this is now out in paperback, the low paperback price will be appreciated by parents.