Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: May 2013
Aletha Solter, HSP, is a Swiss/American who studied with Jean Piaget and earned her Ph.D. at University of California, Santa Barbara. Aletha is a highly creative woman. She wrote a book called Tears and Tantrums, in which she suggested that infants and all people should be allowed to cry freely–with someone’s loving attention–rather than placated with jiggling, food, or other distractions. She reasoned that the tension needed to be released; that tears contain the stress-hormone cortisol so that shedding them reduces arousal; and that being firmly and calmly held while “falling apart” is very good for all of us.
In Attachment Play, Solter takes a creative approach to discipline for children from birth to twelve that goes beyond simply being nonpunitive. It promotes the use of play that (a) releases tension, (b) gets the child laughing, and (c) in that good mood makes cooperation comfortable and easy. In my own language of linking and ranking, Aletha is suggesting that “pulling rank” only makes children feel angry, powerless, passive aggressive, manipulative, and all those other things parents are familiar with. Moving you and your child from ranking to linking is the way to make a family a linking team that supports each member and gets done whatever needs to be done.
Handling Those Difficult Limit-Setting Moments Without a Power Play
The book is structured around common situations requiring limit setting (she is not advocating permissive parenting), such as toilet training, bed time, lying or stealing, “bad” language, aggression, and sibling rivalry. She also applies attachment play to difficult times, such as divorce, the birth of a sibling, and separations. But it is based on a type of play that can and should be done anytime, as playing with a child is one of the very best ways to form a strong secure attachment, as you are showing genuine interest in your child.
She lists nine forms of attachment play, but my favorite is a set of power-reversal games. Although parents may feel controlled by their children, in fact parents always do have the ultimate power. To release some of the inevitable tension in children due to feeling envious, angry, hurt, and just plain powerless, she suggests games such as the parent pretending, in a silly way, to be frightened or hurt. Maybe the child threatens the parent with a plastic spider or snake, or plays doctor and “gives a shot.” Or a parent can suggest pretending that a certain pillow gives her son infinite strength, so that when he pushes against Mom, she fakes weakness and falls over helplessly. Children laugh wildly when they have these opportunities. A similar game involves two parents (especially the type always working and seeming not to want the child) mock fighting over who gets the child. “She’s mine.” “No, she’s mine! I want her.” At last the child feels the power of being attractive, not a nuisance.
Solter also helps parents who do not like to play with their child, or find it very difficult. She includes here the importance of not playing when you are not in the mood, and nurturing yourself adequately, good news for HS parents. She talks about what to do about getting furiously angry sometimes, and in an appendix she even discusses the research supporting her use of the nine types of play. And all this in a slim, quick read.
If you get attached to Solter’s style, there’s her Aware Parenting Institute in Santa Barbara, www.awareparenting.com She gives workshops, too.