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Book Review: Playful Parenting (by Lawrence J. Cohen)

I promised a few book reviews as part of my Carnival of Play. This is one I've been wanting to review for a long time.


Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen explains to parents that play is a child's way of communicating and understanding their environment. Children use play to explore the world, communicate deep feelings, get close to people that they care about, work through stressful situations, and blow off steam. This book helps parents to harness the power of play, join kids in their world, and use it as a powerful parenting tool for dealing with everything from discipline to sibling rivalry to building confidence and overcoming fears.

What I Like About the Book

I really enjoyed almost all aspects of this book. Larry Cohen's style is very engaging. He uses a lot of stories and examples to present his ideas, but also references research (footnoted studies) where appropriate. Some things in particular that really spoke to me include:

  • Using play to get kids to cooperate. Instead of having a huge battle over things you need them to do that they don't want to do, find a way to turn it into a game.

  • Using play to connect with kids. Once they wean from the breast and grow out of the sling especially, we need to use play to keep a strong connection. I wrote more about this in Beyond the Baby B's: Attachment Through Play.

  • Information on the differences between boys and girls. Larry mentions that the differences between boys and girls are not that significant, but that they way society deals with boys and girls exacerbate them. Girls generally find it easier to connect with people but will need help with empowerment. Boys will have more trouble connecting, but are pushed to be powerful. The book gives parents ideas for undoing some of the gender brainwashing of society by using play to help empower girls and get boys to connect.

  • His views on cry it out and self-soothing. He mentions several times in the book that he is against the CIO method and recommends that parents don't send their kids to their rooms to cry alone or leave them alone to cry themselves to sleep. He says he is starting to see eight, nine and ten year olds in his practice whose parents left to them to cry it out as babies and that they are having trouble sleeping through the night now because of fears, nightmares and worries stemming from feelings that they shut away for years rather than dealing with them.

  • Good judgment, not obedience. He talks about the importance of giving children the tools to make sound judgments and choices, rather than teaching them to obey. He says:

Children develop into thoughtful, considerate, honest, and kind adults because of love and affection, because of high moral standards, and because of a close relationship with someone who models those values. I have never seen anyone punished into being good. Bribes don't work either. Promises, threats, rewards and punishments have been called "the most primitive way of dealingwith human beings".

  • How to help struggling parents. He has some great ideas for how to approach a parent that is having trouble with their kids and maybe using undesirable or abusive practices. He suggests a playful and non-threatening approach and gives some great examples.

What I Don't Like About the Book

There isn't much that I didn't like about this book. If I had one suggestion for making it better, it would be to have a quick summary of the key points or strategies in each chapter. The stories are great, but if I'm going back afterwards looking for reminders, I don't want to have to read the whole thing again to pull out those great nuggets and ideas.


Every parent should read this book. Maybe if you are naturally a complete goofball and play is your first instinct for interacting with your kids, you might not need it. But in all other cases, I think that parents can get great ideas from this book on how to get their kids to cooperate, how to connect with their kids, and now to help them grow into a confidence and secure human being.

Want more Playful Parenting?

« Science of Play on Quirks and Quarks Today! | Main | Get outside! Carnival Posts (Part 5) »

Reader Comments (19)

I read this book, too, and I loved it. It's very practical, and is a great complement to Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting".

I pulled two main points from the book. The first is that we often put off playing with kids because we 'don't have time.' And then we proceed to argue with our child for 20 minutes when we could have played with the kid for 5 minutes and been done. The second was the idea of filling a child's emotional cup through play. Now that I have two kids I'm not able to spend as much time with my first. By recognizing that a relatively small amount of time spent playing will tide her over and smooth things out, I do a better job of meeting everyone's needs.

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

Love this book!

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCJStewart

This sounds like something I'd like to read. I did read Unconditional Parenting and go back to it from time to time for clearing my head. Good review. Thanks.

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeila

I've been meaning to read this book for a while. Your review was very interesting - I'll definitely pick this book up sometime.

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

I love this! It fits in well with my natural parenting style (mostly - I don't always remember to relax and play). I try to make ordinary things a playful experience; it helps that I'm not always a very serious person. :)
Thanks for reviewing this. It's so hard to know what you'll get when you buy a parenting book, unless you trust the reviewer. Which, in this case, I do!

April 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

[...] your child choose and lead. These concepts are a really great companion to some of the chapters in Playful Parenting, which I reviewed a few days [...]

This book has been so helpful for me getting some perspective after an intense bout of sibling rivalry in our family. I had become so resentful (maybe that's a little strong, but maybe not) toward my oldest for her relentless behavior that I had become much more of a disciplinarian than a playmate and friend. "Connection" is my mantra these days!

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily Geizer

[...] Parenting, also recently reviewed at PhD in Parenting, is a refreshing parenting book that takes on the important and often neglected parenting issue [...]

[...] book that offers some helpful suggestions is Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting. It has a lot of great ideas for ways to diffuse a difficult situation using play. Since [...]

August 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWhen all else fails….

[...] Parenting, also recently reviewed at PhD in Parenting, is a refreshing parenting book that takes on the important and often neglected parenting issue [...]

[...] for opportunities to reconnect, I ensure they are getting enough of their Omega 3s, and I re-read Playful Parenting. I don’t think that products are the solution to discipline problems. I think parenting is. [...]

[...] to turn things into a game or a playful moment helps too, but usually if I am ready to snap, then it is already past that point for me. That is an [...]

[...] book I like a lot in terms of how to create the type of attachment they are talking about is Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, which teaches parents to use play as a tool to create attachment, to discipline, and to give their [...]

[...] his book, Playful Parenting, Lawrence J. Cohen talks about attachment and reconnecting with your child using the metaphor of [...]

[...] to that deeper level of closeness, they find it to be one of the most rewarding exercises.” [Playful Parenting at [...]

Just found your review...I just finished reading this and it was so helpful! I have a 5 month old, but to be honest, didn't really enjoy playing with my nieces and nephews. This book really opened my eyes to the importance of play and gave me some good ideas as my daughter gets older.

July 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie MZ

[...] Book: Playful Parenting Book Review (PhD in [...]

[...] I continue to work on, migrating from books like Attachment Parenting and The Baby Book to Playful Parenting and Connected Parenting and continually reminding myself to focus on the relationship, not just the [...]

November 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterI’m Scared of Age 10 — P

[...] One of my favourite books for toddler discipline (and child discipline in general) is Playful Parenting. [...]

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