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This Playful Parenting Game Is the Best Way to End Power Struggles

Inside: How to end power struggles using a playful parenting game with your kids. Plus, learn 4 reasons why this positive parenting strategy works so well.

Since becoming parents, my husband and I regularly battle what we lovingly refer to as ‘the witching hours.’ It’s the time from late afternoon until early evening when our kids finally rescind, lay down their broomsticks and collapse into bed.

This is the parenting trenches, people.

The kids beg and plead for snacks like they haven’t eaten in a decade. They resist bedtime like they’ve never blinked their eyes shut before. And we’re just trying to…survive.

We’ve resigned to the idea that ‘the witching hours’ are simply part of parenting. They’re kids. And this is what kids do.


But lately it’s worse.

A LOT worse.

My son turned his normal begging, pleading and boundary testing into dramatic life or death pleas that went on and on and on…and then on some more.

I would tell him ‘no’ and his retort was always the same.

“Please. Please! PLEASE! PUH-LEASE!!!” He’d collapse onto the floor and scream louder. “PUHHH-LEASEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

The desperation in his voice was palpable. Each frantic plea echoed into my chest like a sledgehammer.

I thought surely sticking to my boundaries would teach him that this sort of dramatic begging wouldn’t work.

I did all the ‘right things’ hoping this would all blow over. He’d tire or grow out of it, right?

How to end power struggles using a playful parenting game with your kids. Plus, learn 4 reasons why this positive parenting strategy works so well.

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He persisted for weeks like this, and it was driving. me. crazy. I went to my mentor Sandy of Language of Listening® (It’s the 3-part parenting framework that I use) and asked her what to do.

She suggested turning it into a game (that we could play at another time when he’s calm) where I beg him to do something for me and he refuses. This concept comes from Lawrence Cohen of Playful Parenting. I was worried it wouldn’t work.

Related: 10 Game-Changing Phrases That Will Get Your Strong-Willed Child to Listen

What happened next surprised me.

The following evening my son wanted to play. I nodded, grabbed his hand and together we walked back to his bedroom.

“Let’s play catch, mom.” He smiled at me holding a basketball-sized ball from the local big box store.

The moment of opportunity was too perfect because I knew he wouldn’t catch the ball. I tossed it to him gently, and with his arms reached out, he bumbled the ball.

It bounced to the floor. Immediately, I collapsed and sobbed the most dramatic tantrum I could muster. “PUH-LEASE!!!! Catch the ball. Pleaaaaasssseeeee!!!!”

I tried to continue begging, but I was interrupted by his hysterical laughter.

He tossed the ball back to me. I caught it and passed it back his way. Immediately he caught onto this little game and swatted the ball away.

Intense giggles painted the room as I collapsed and begged again. “PUH-LEASE!!!! Catch the ball. Pleaaaaasssseeeee!!!!”

I didn’t know it yet, but the real magic was only beginning.

Related: How Get Kids to Listen Using a Daily Printable Schedule for Kids

Why playful parenting ends power struggles.

Turning a challenging parenting situation into a game with kids is a powerful tool to reconnect with kids.

Play is the forgotten tool of parenting.

When kids misbehave, your gut reaction might be to toughen up, act stricter or indulge in age-old clichés like ‘show ‘em who’s boss’ or ‘lay the hammer down.’

When you’re at the end of your parenting rope, the last thing you want to do is play a game with your kids. But here’s why you should…

How to end power struggles using a playful parenting game with your kids. Plus, learn 4 reasons why this positive parenting strategy works so well.

1. It creates a safe space.

You and your child immediately have a safe space to play out different scenarios. You can flip roles, where your child is the parent and you are the child. You both know that it’s a game and the child is free to explore (like refusing to catch a ball even when begged).

2. It allows your child to feel powerful.

When kids are in the lead they feel powerful and in control. This is very, very big for kids! When kids discover healthy ways to meet their need for power, they are less likely to seek it out elsewhere…like before dinner or bedtime.

3. It helps your child process.

Play is the work of a child. Through play, kids can make sense of things (i.e. process emotions, stress and tension). When tensions are high, kids need play the most.

4. It re-builds connection.

Most challenging behavior arises from disconnection. In fact, most challenging behaviors are a child’s way of attempting connection. Play is your trump card to re-build the connection in a more positive (and less mentally draining) way.

When you’re able to reconnect, you will start to notice behavior shifts. Play is a very quick way to reconnect. Play = connection.

A surprise ending to our game.

My son and I carried on with this simple “please game” of catch for 15 minutes. We literally did the same thing over and over again.

I tossed him the ball.

He refused.

 I begged.

He laughed.

I was hanging off the bed upside down, kicking my feet and screaming “PLEASE!” when my son hopped onto the bed, sat next to me and crossed his arms and legs, smiling.

I sat up, looked him in the eye, and quietly pleaded one more time. “Pl-ease, son. Will you please catch the ball?”

He smiled wide and commanded back. “No!”

I asked again. “Pl-ease, son. Will you pl-ease catch the ball?”

Standing his ground, he responded. “No! You have to wait until tomorrow!”

I looked at him and burst out laughing. How could I not?! He sounded…um…err…just like me.

How to end power struggles using a playful parenting game with your kids. Plus, learn 4 reasons why this positive parenting strategy works so well.

He was so satisfied with himself. He held his boundary, never giving me what I wanted.

To put a cherry on top, he told me I had to wait until tomorrow (an eternity to a child) before he’d even consider it.

Using this Playful Parenting game, we solved a 3-week-long problem in 15 minutes. In the days afterward, he quit begging and pleading completely.

Will it last forever?

I don’t have that answer yet.

But one thing is for certain: sometimes your best parenting move is to turn it into a game (and possibly…beg).

Print this free printable.

This post comes with a free printable with 7 MORE playful parenting power games. I always have the hardest time remembering these things. This printable simplifies it!

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  1. Love your posts — I use your suggestions in my preschool class! This one (changing a challenging situation into a game) reminded me of something I used to play with my children. We always taught and expected our 5 children to use table manners like elbows off the table, napkins in laps, using our utensils for eating and not fingers, pleases and thank you’s, passing the food politely, etc. But one day a month or so we would have rude night — a dinner when we could throw all the manners out of the window! Elbows on the table, burping, eating with our fingers, chewing with our mouths open, slurping our beverages, etc. They got such a kick out of it. Even though they are all 20 something now, they still laugh about “rude night.”
    Thank you for all your great posts on child development.

  2. Oh my…..this was me! Mom of three girls – a set of twins and and older singleton. We PLAYED our way through life – all day, every day. It was magical and it worked – to teach lessons, to allay fears, to exert control without force, and to form an unbreakable bond of trust and love and fun that endures.

    Finding moments of joy can be hard with cramped schedules and busy lives. My husband and I worked very hard to make our “ordinary moments” extraordinary because sometimes those were the only moments we had with the kids.

    We have successfully used our techniques with kids outside of our family, and it’s amazing how impactful those simple joyful interactions are. It’s what kids need most of all and, unfortunately, most receive precious little of this simple gift. Months later, seeing those same kids and having them sidle up to you and say, “can we do that sock thing again?” is priceless.

    I could (and should) write a book.

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