parenting as a team: part 2 of 3 using humor to diffuse tension

Reposted from Hand in Hand parenting blog

Written by Megha Mawandia and Anca Deaconu


In part one of this series on Parenting As a Team Anca and Megha talked about how to become more confident in making parenting decisions. Today they focus on an unexpected tool for diffusing tension: Play

Often when we make decisions about parenting, others are not in agreement. They might find us too strict or too lenient. Soon, our own limbic system feeds on this disapproval, whether it is voiced or unvoiced, and pretty soon our confidence in our parenting is affected.

As we get triggered, we enter the low road.

In such situations, we recommend Playlistening.

Play is a great tool that can be used to deflect tension in two ways. Play can be used to build connection with your child in a difficult moment, but it can also be used to lighten things around adults, and help us avoid responding negatively.


step 2. diffuse tension with humor and play

Let’s say that our partner (or a grandparent or another caregiver) is parenting our child in a way that doesn’t feel right to us.

It’s very easy to get stuck into a lecture about what we would do, or what they should do, or perhaps we just pretend not to notice what’s going on. A third option is play.

Here’s what a playful response looked like when Anca noticed her husband’s interactions with their son was having a negative effect.


“My son started school almost a year ago and, at the time, both my husband and I were eager to support him in any way that we possibly could. For instance, when homework time came, one of us would sit beside him and volunteered our assistance.

My son accepted our helping hand for a while but, as time went on, we noticed that he was becoming increasingly confident and more self reliant. Little by little, we started to back off, providing him with the space he needed to get his assignments done by himself.

Our actions are usually limited to simply letting him know that we are nearby. 

But one day my husband returned from work and found our son doing his homework. In an effort to connect with him, he went right over and started to provide unrequested advice, but I noticed how our son got more and more irritated with his dad’s interference.

I decided to step in. I pretended to be a class teacher and I playfully said:

“Children, why are you talking to each other? I want pin-drop silence in this class! Now!”

My husband immediately got the joke and played along.

“I’m sorry, Miss, I’ll keep quiet,” he answered apologetically.

 And then with a playful look, he let a book fall on the floor, as if by accident.

As soon as he did that, our son joined the game, partnering with his dad and giving me, in my role as teacher, a really hard time.

The laughter that followed lightened up the atmosphere and, soon after that, our son returned joyfully to his homework and finished the process all by himself.”


Megha had a similar experience diffusing a situation around teeth-brushing that was feeling tense:

My husband was shouting at my daughter for not brushing her teeth yet again. He has been on a mission about setting this limit and just isn’t able to do it with compassion, no matter how hard he tries. This was another instance when he lost his cool. 

Read about Setting Compassionate Limits

I didn’t want to undermine him, but I was not ok with my child feeling so low first thing in the morning.

I stood behind him and I crossed my eyes, stuck my tongue out, and flared my nose. When my husband saw my daughter smile, his anger got diffused. He realised he was losing control. He accompanied her to the bathroom, and used play to help her brush her teeth.


when you don’t feel playful

Play requires flexibility, and a sense of ease, which isn’t always available, especially if we feel threatened or doubtful. Even though Anca knows well the benefits of a playful response, sometimes she finds she just can’t summon it.

She could have used a playful response with a parent she met outside her son’s classroom recently, but didn’t:

“My son came running to me after class and asked me to hold him tight in my arms for a while. As I was doing this, another mom, who didn’t know me or my son, but who happened to be nearby, commented on our reunion:

She said, “Such a big boy, and he still needs to be held by his mommy.”

I wanted, deep inside, to say that the need for affection doesn’t have to stop at a specific age and that giving them our attention and care is like “filling their cup” so they can feel our love and connection.

I wanted to tell her that when they feel seen and loved, they’re able to be cooperative and communicative with us. But instead  I just kept quiet and resumed my actions, taking a few deep breaths and caring for my son.


how i could have been playful…

What I could have said could have been much more playful. If i’d have said instead “This mommy is just not ready to let go! Just one more hug! No, two! Perhaps three!” and laughed, I would have felt a lot brighter. And, so might have she.

But, as you can see, at that specific moment in time I lacked the ability to be spontaneous and to creatively react using play.

And that is O.K. as well. We don’t need to add extra pressure by attempting to be playful or funny all the times, sometimes we are too tired or we already have too much on our plate. In those times, just like our children, what we truly need is just to refill our cup as well.”

When we find ourselves stuck, resentful or raging, we go back to Step One in this three-step plan: we go back to Listening Partnerships. We take our troubles, our doubts and our indecisions to someone that can listen.

Playful responses help get your point across without hurting another caregiver’s feelings or getting their defences up. Have you used play to diffuse tension?

Tomorrow we’ll look at the third-step in our plan for parenting as a team, using an Invest and Deflect strategy.

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