Asking for Playfulness

A post originally from two years ago, of a time when I “got it right” with playfulness, and with seeing “misbehavior” as a plea for playfulness.

My 2yo and I were sitting at the kids’ dinner table. My 3.5yo always has a hard time with dinner. He’s groggy from his nap and his blood sugar is low. The evening is usually miserable until we’ve just gotten him to eat *anything* and then it starts improving rapidly.

He lay down on the couch next to the table and put his feet on the table instead of joining us to sit. He looked at me to see what I would do, and I didn’t do anything right away. So he escalated: he started kicking the table, making the dishes shake.
“Whoa, careful feet, watch out for the plate,” I said calmly.

Now he knew that I was watching him at least, and his job as a 3.5yo is to assert his independence from me, so predictably: he started kicking harder. I put my food down and picked up a pillow off the couch, putting it between his feet and the table. “You can kick a pillow if you need something to kick.”

“No!” he said.

I veered into playfulness/connection. “Oh no? Then the pillow can kick you!” I looked at his face, he was watching me curiously, so I lightly bopped the pillow on his head while saying, “Kick!”

He dissolved in giggles and said “Nooooo!” So I put the pillow back down.

Then he paused and said, “Kick again?” so I made the pillow bop him again. We repeated this six or seven times, him laughing all the while.

Then he said “All done pillow” and sat up and ate some food.

Believe me, there have been dozens if not hundreds of days where I’ve messed this up instead, where we’ve ended in meltdowns or thrown food or tears. But this time I could see him asking to be seen, and I saw him, and I was able to keep my playful lens on.