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Putting Fun Into Parenting - By David Stoepker, Psy.D., & Erin Brown Conroy, M.A.

Do you remember Dennis the Menace cartoons? Robert Ketchum, the cartoon?s author, often struck a familiar chord with parents through his humorous and honest comic strip. Like the one where Dennis and his pal Joey are playing in the foreground, while Dennis? mother stands in a doorway some distance in the background, red-faced and obviously shouting at the top of her lungs for Dennis. Dennis says to Joey, ?I don?t have to go in yet. That?s not her real angry voice.?

Parenting can be very stressful and even seem impossible at times ? especially when children are oppositional. From mild resistance to downright defiance, children often challenge us, stretching our parenting skills and patience. And the odds of our child?s resistance often seem to increase directly in proportion to how much of a hurry we?re in! It?s at these times that few moms and dads describe parenting as ?fun.? Yet fun may be the key to breaking the parent-child stand off.

The Benefits of Fun, Humor, and Play

Fun, humor, and play are important in raising children for several reasons:

1. Research shows that laughter is healthy. There are actual changes that take place physically, within us, when we laugh. After laughter, chemicals that suppress the immune system drop, infection-fighting agents rise, blood pressure drops, and pain tolerance increases.

2. For children, play is a major form of communicating and learning about life. Play helps to ?speak? to a child in the language that they understand best: play.

3. Humor relieves stress. By creating emotional distance from the stressful event, there is a cathartic release of emotion, breaking the negative cycle in which the child and parent are spinning.

4. Laughing with our child enhances the bonding process. Bonding through laughter can especially be seen in infants ages three to four months, who connect with parents through smiles and laughter long before they?re able to talk. Some research even demonstrates that mothers who laugh more have babies who laugh more. People in general experience a sense of ?connectedness? when sharing a good laugh together.

How to Bring Laughter, Play, and Humor into your Parenting

If you let your go, you can come up with several ways to incorporate laughter, play, and humor into your parenting. Brainstorm ideas with a group of parents, and your list can be endless. Here are some suggestions to get you started on your way to putting fun into parenting.

? Set aside a time each day (such as after a meal or at bedtime) when each family member shares a joke, riddle, humorous event, or some other funny experience that happened that particular day.

? Occasionally ? and unexpectedly ? walk in on a child who?s busy, smile mischievously, and ask, ?Do you want to hear a joke?? (This is much better than always catching a child doing something wrong and administering a punishment)

? Have a family bulletin board especially for cartoons and jokes.

? Leave notes with a smiling face or with an affirming comment for your child to find.

? Play charades together as a family dramatizing cartoons or humorous events.

? Have a ?family basket? decorated with smiles that every member can put especially funny cartoons, jokes, or riddles. Draw out one or more to read when you and your child need some ?laughter medicine? in your life.

Humor to Relieve Stress

When children have difficulty complying with a parent because of frustration, tiredness, or stress, it may help to break the cycle with some quick humor. Here are some practical suggestions for taking a U-turn when things are relationally going south and need a turnaround through a speedy dose of humor.

? A parent can call ?time out for a joke? and read a quick quip from the ?family basket? described above.

? If the children are complaining about the food at mealtime, say, ?The next one to complain has to have chicken for supper!? Then bring out a rubber chicken and hang it on the chair of the complainer.

? If your child is slow to brush his or her teeth, wind up a set of plastic chattering teeth and challenge your child to finish brushing before the teeth stop chattering.

? When homework gets frustrating, bring out a rubber pencil or giant-sized pencil to help with those ?big problems.? Giant erasers are also for sale in novelty and gift shops for ?big mistakes.? Recently, I found ink pens that light up to ?shed a little light on the problem.?

? Reading the parent a joke from a favorite joke book can be a reward, once your child has (finally) complied with your expectation or desire.

Play and that Challenging (and all-too-familiar) Oppositional Stage of Development

Play can be especially helpful when children are going through the oppositional stage of development. The use of playful competition can be an almost miraculous strategy to use for results with a smile. Here are some suggestions.

? If your child tends to resist washing hands before meals, playfully say, ?I?ll finish washing my hands before you do!? If said and done in a clearly light-hearted, playful way, positive competition can work well to help your child along with a smile. This method works great for not just hand-washing, but for any behavior, such as coming to the table for a meal, getting in the car, clicking on a seatbelt, or brushing teeth.

? Simply frame a situation in terms that imply that your child is in control. If your tired child is slow to pick up toys at bedtime, say to your child, ?You can?t make me pick up a toy.? Then let your child know that the game works in this way: Every time your child picks up a toy, the parent has to pick up a toy as well. Once the child is ?into? the game, make it especially fun by begging your child to not pick up any more toys so that you, as a parent, don?t have to pick up any more toys. You can even begin to complain, ?Not again! No, please! No more!? Kids often get a charge out of ?making the parent do something.? If said and done with playfulness, the toys (or other task) will be completed in no time at all.

Approaching oppositional children with humor and play (as in these examples) as a matter of routine can remove much stress from the task of parenting ? and save a lot of time and energy, compared to methods of yelling and punishing.

A Caution

One caution in using humor: Humor must be done in a playful, uplifting way. Avoid sarcasm and hostile humor, which will actually make the situation worse and be emotionally hurtful to your child.

A Final Word

As a parent, humor is absolutely necessary for your mental health. Keeping a perspective of humor goes a long way for feeling good and acting in a healthy way toward your child. Here are some final suggestions for ways that you, the parent, can maintain a perspective of healthy humor.

? When you?re in a stressful situation, pretend you?re on a television, taping an ?I Love Lucy? show, ?America?s Funniest Videos,? or ?Candid Camera.?

? Smile spontaneously to a stranger and watch their reaction.

? Draw a picture of a stressful event with your non-dominant hand.

? Set up a minimum number of mistakes to make in a day. Humorously keep count.

? Put a note on your keys that says, ?If you have these, I don?t.?

? Finally, if you?re in a hurry, play some appropriate fast-paced background music such as the William Tell Overture.

Laugh, play, and have fun with your children. It can make a vast difference in your relationship together.

David Stoepker, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he?s worked with children and families for 20 years. For information on his availability for workshops on Putting the Fun into Parenting, send an email to Erin Brown Conroy, M.A., expert author and speaker regarding education and child development, resides in Michigan with her husband and 12 children. For more practical ideas for great parenting, for information on Erin?s book, 20 Secrets to Success with Your Child (Copyright 2003, Celtic Cross Publishing), or to contact Erin, visit

The First Year`s Rough: From A Kid That Knows - By Meredith Gill


Most parents want the best for their children. They want their children to be raised in loving and stable households where they can grow into decent, well-adjusted adults. But, what happens when this stability is wrecked and love is on the line? Children mourn for their past and are frightened about their future when parents divorce and re-marry. The first year that a new family lives together is a time of healing wounds, developing new relationships and creating a new ?norm?.

And I should know. At the age of seven, I moved with my mother and younger brother from New Jersey to London to live with my new, foreign step-father. I had met him several times before. I liked him then because he liked Mary Poppins and was good at thinking of games to play. That?s all it takes when the grown-up seems relatively unimportant.

The first year we lived in England, my parents were still in the midst of a custody battle. My father wanted us to live with him in New York, and my mother was worried that he would win this round of the proceeding. My brother and I were only vaguely aware of what was going on between our parents, but I think we could tell that they were both very tense. I felt tense, too, and would bolster myself by acting as different as possible in front of my new English school friends.

In French class, when we were learning the family tree, I made sure my teacher knew that I was a special case who required additional tutelage for all my steps (step-father, step-mother, step-brother, step-sister). I enjoyed being the ?American?, too. I remember my parent?s friends remarking how strange it was that my brother should have an English accent and me an American one. Yes, David was younger ? but only by a year and a half. Why did he blend in and not his sister?

Outside of school, the transition to a larger family wasn?t so appealing. I did not like sharing my mother?s attention with my new step-father. I became irritated by his little endearments and habits, particularly those that seemed to prove that he did not belong to my family. It irritated me that he called my mother ?darling? instead of ?honey,? and I disliked the English roast potatoes which he preferred to my favorite mashed.

Rather than say we are eating mashed and call me honey as I wanted, my mother accommodated my step-father?s differences and gave him even more say in all of our lives. I did not know where I fit in this new arrangement and protested in a sort of panic. I tried pouting at my mother and completely ignoring my step-father ? but nothing gave me the old way of life back. My mother was going to do some things differently from now on and, if I behaved badly, I thought I risked her disappoint or her anger and rejection.

Meanwhile, my step-father waited, unperturbed by my outbreaks. I calmed down and began to circle him each day getting a little closer. I was suspicious and worried about his behavior. If he was particularly nice: was he trying to impress my mom? Or, did he think he could eventually act like my dad and tell me what to do? What bothered me less ? and encouraged me more ? was his consistency and decency. He would talk to me and take my brother and me on trips to the swimming pool or park. When his children were visiting, we did group activities where everyone could play and have fun.

I gradually understood that I was loved and belonged to a loving, larger family. Not just as much as I had been by my mother but also by this new person who had just been introduced to my life. I came to this realization thanks to some masterful parenting.

My parents acted as a team: my mother pushing me to make adjustments; my step-father allowing me to heal. They made all of their children feel included in their new, odd family. Today, this family vacations together for at least a week every February. My step-father calls me his daughter sometimes. I like that he does not think of me as a ?step? all the time. My parents also spent a lot of time with us. All of this time translated something words cannot: it said that this move to England was the last change my brother and I would see for a long time, that it was the beginning of a new, permanent life.

If your child is anything like I was, she won?t understand accept her new life right away. My advice is: don?t panic! The best can still be gotten for your child, even if you both have had a tough year. And, it will be gotten, if you keep her close and look levelly at the future.

I lived in England from 7 to 18. I just graduated from Brown University and live in New York City. I am currently working in sales for a TV company.

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