Giggle Parenting: The Best ‘Discipline’ Tool Out There!

Photography: Marijke Smith

Re-blogged with permission by Kate Orson

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people

~ Victor Borge

Ever since she was old enough to leave me my daughter has gone shopping with her dad on Saturday mornings. She loves it. But one morning when she was two years old she absolutely refused to get dressed. It was clear she really did want to go out, but as soon as I tried to put her clothes on, she would wriggle and run away. I tried reasoning with her, talking in a serious voice, and explaining that if she didn’t get dressed it would be too late to go, but it didn’t work.

I’m sure most parents of toddlers are familiar with a scenario like this. Our child behaves in a way that seems completely irrational. But what can we do about it? The shouting, grumpy approach may work, but we may also get a sinking feeling that it isn’t the best way to go about parenting.

Suddenly I remembered my training as a Hand in Hand parenting instructor!

In that heat of the moment, like any stressed out parent, I sometimes ‘forget’ there is a more effective method. All that rationalising and reasoning with our kids is not the language of children. The language that gets through to children is one of play and laughter.

I began putting my daughter’s socks on her hands and her trousers on her head. She laughed a lot, and I kept repeating this game as she continued to laugh. Then I got her teddy dressed in her clothes, picked him up and said, ”Come on R it’s time to go!” Then when I got to the front door I would look at the teddy and say, ”Oh no! That’s not R that’s Teddy!” She would laugh and laugh at my ‘mistake.’

After a few minutes of playing like this she was trying to dress herself. A short while later she left with her dad and I was enjoying a nice, quiet morning to myself.

Believe it or not, toddlers are not completely irrational beings. When children feel closely connected to the adults around them they are naturally, good, loving and co-operative. They don’t actually want to make our lives difficult. They want to get on well with us, and co-operate with daily tasks.

However sometimes their feelings get in the way. When children experience stress or upset, they can no longer feel that sense of close connection. The limbic – the socio-emotional part of the brain senses a kind of ’emotional emergency’ and the pre-frontal cortex- the part of the brain responsible for rational, reasonable behaviour, can’t function well.

So when a child feels upset they literally can’t think clearly. They can’t listen well to our reasoning. Their behaviour may go off-track because they can’t think through what is appropriate in the moment. In a sense it’s like they’re misbehaviour is like a red flag that they’re sending out saying, ”help! I can’t think, I need some connection.”

When our child is behaving in off-track ways, we literally can’t get through to them by trying to speak to the rational, reasoning side of our child’s brain. We need to speak the language of emotion. With this understanding of emotions we have to have compassion for our children. We have to say goodbye to the old behavioural model of punishment and reward. A lot of the parenting methods out there are about manipulating our child and getting a quick ‘fix’ in the moment. But in the long run these parenting methods actually make things harder because they don’t address the underlying emotional cause of the behaviour.

Luckily, giggle parenting does! It’s fun and simple, way to connect with our children when they are acting off track. And it works. Laughter is a way to release stress and emotions, it lowers blood pressure, releases feel-good endorphins and builds connection between parent and child. When children get well-connected again, they can think and co-operate with us again.

Giggle parenting can be applied to many of the power struggles we face as the parent of a toddler. I remember when my daughter went through a phase where whenever she was her pyjamas come out a bedtime she would make a dash for it, crawling across the floor away from me.

This was a sure sign she still had some energy ready from the rest of the day, need for fun play and connection go with the play, let her laugh and play (and factor in time for that in the bedtime routine, was a sure fire way to help her sleep more deeply (laughter releases melatonin the hormone responsible for sleep), and children sleep better when they feel closely connected to us.

A toothbrush that keeps getting ears, or noses instead of a mouth, or flys out of the bathroom and into random places.

Giggle parenting takes time, but it’s an investment of time. It’s investing in fun and laughter as the currency of parenting. When we sprinkle play and laughter amidst our daily tasks, life goes much more smoothly.

Bribes, rewards, and manipulation creates a more transactional relationship, where both parent and child are thinking about what they want to ‘get’ out of a situation. These short-term fixes also don’t address the underlying feelings that caused the behaviour.

Giggle parenting strengthens the connection between you and your child. laughter and play, is about building the relationship, and releasing the feelings that get in the way of your child feeling closely connected to you.

It means that you save time in the long run, because children won’t need to giggle to get everything done. so when you ask them to get dressed they co-operate without a fuss, at least- most of the time!

They internalise the deep sense of fun and love and connection they have with you. And a laugh and a fun today, can cement the close connections, to stay close to your kids beyond toddlerhood, into the teenage years and beyond. Laughter is how we build relationships.

Disclaimer! Sometimes parents warn children away from laughter play. We all know the saying, “It’ll all end in tears.” It’s worth bearing in mind that if our child gets upset shortly after laughing a lot (or the next day), it’s not necessarily a sign that there’s anything wrong in the present moment.

Play and connection give children the sense that we are available to listen to them, and they may bring up feelings that have been simmering under the surface. Tears have been found to contain the stress hormone cortisol, so  children, and even adults! cry for what seems like no apparent reason (or for a small and petty reason!), because they are releasing stress. It could be from an over-stimulating day or from any big or small upsets that they have experienced in the past.

Being there to listen and give your child warmth and empathy helps them tune in to your calm, loving state. They can release their feelings and regulate their emotions, as long as you stay with them offering cuddles when needed. It won’t be long until they’re giggling again!

For further reading Larry Cohen’s Playful Parenting is packed full of Giggle Parenting ideas.


kate-orsonKate Orson is a Hand in Hand parenting instructor and author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to our Children. Originally from the UK, she now lives in Basel, Switzerland with her husband the author Toni Davidson, and their five-year-old daughter.

She teaches Hand in Hand parenting courses, and offers consultations both online and in person.

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