Laughter play for parents about our control patterns

I’ve just returned from our second Aware Parenting camp, which was in Northern N.S.W. Australia, with twelve other families.  Yet again, I loved the sense of community, learning, laughter, crying and play that we shared.

In the middle of us talking about control patterns and loving limits, a laughter game popped up which I loved so much and found so beneficial, that I’d like to share it here.

Any of you who have been reading my recent blogs will see that I am really interested in exploring control patterns right now – both in myself as a parent, and with my children.  

I see control patterns as frozen, fixed or rigid bits of behaviour where we are disconnected from ourselves, from particular feelings and underlying beliefs, and thus also from other people and our environment.

In babies, control patterns are often very obvious, like clutching on to a soft toy or sucking a thumb.  In small children they are often easy to spot too, like asking for food after falling over, or sucking on a dummy.  However, as children get older, control patterns often become subtler, and more like those of adults, and it is therefore easy to overlook them.  

They often look like fixed ways of doing things, like: “having” to have food on a certain plate, or wear certain clothes; an unwillingness to try new foods, or new activities; a rigid belief system; set ways of doing things, and so on.  Control patterns are marked by this stiffness, hardness, and lack of flexibility.  Without intervention, they often get harder and more fixed with time.

On the camp, we had been talking about our control patterns, and about some of our children’s control patterns – particularly those where we have challenges to help ourselves or them connect with what is really going on emotionally.

All of a sudden, when one mum was talking about her challenges around her child’s food choices, I was inspired to get some food and to start putting it right close to her face, saying things like, “come on now, you really are hungry, come and eat this lovely food.”  Another participant joined in on the other side with some other food, saying similar things, like, “come on, have some more now, surely you’re hungry,” based on what we had learnt from the mum about what was going on between her and her child.  Straight away, she started to laugh and laugh, saying, “no”, and laughing more.  The other mum and I kept trusting what came to us, kept on offering the food right up close, using words similar to those she had used, and finding that “sweet spot”, and her laughter came and kept coming and coming!

It became clear to me that this is a beautiful tool to help us release fear and powerlessness and not-knowing and frustration and all those things that come up as parents practising Aware Parenting where we so want to help our children express all their feelings.

I had an opportunity to have a go soon after.  Tidying up and creating order is one of the ways I keep feelings at bay.  So for my turn, I went around the room picking up cushions off the floor from all the pillow fights we had been having, and another friend threw them on the floor as soon as I picked each one up, saying, “No tidying up,” and so on…..  Yet again, I found myself laughing and laughing as I ran around the room, picking up pillows, and she followed right on behind, throwing them back down.

Over the few days of the camp, we had quite a few games like this.  It seems to me that there are a few things that need to be in place to play these laughter games helpfully.  

One is a sense of trust, because we are going into sensitive areas and bringing fun into places where we can have a lot of seriousness about; and also because after the laughter, tears or anger may follow.  

Another is a sense of emotional safety, where we have confidence that the other/s listening will be able to hear both our laughter and our tears. 

Yet another is a sense by the helpers of how to find that “sweet spot”, that place somewhere along the axis of safety and the stimulus for the feelings, where the laughter emerges.  

We also played these laughter games in larger groups – one time, there were five adults and a few children joining in (the children seemed to really enjoy the role reversal of evoking the laughter, and laughed a lot too!)  In fact, there was often nearly as much laughter by the folk helping the “laugher” as there was coming from the “laugher”!  I had the sense that there was a lot of letting go of the fear of not being in control, and of being seen, of getting parenting “right”, and so on!

A couple of times, the laughter moved into tears or anger.  Just like playing laughter games with our children, laughter frees up emotional energy and creates connection, warmth and emotional safety, and means that tears and rage are likely to follow.   So, after playing these games, strong feelings came up for many of us adults, sometimes in the form of “broken cookies” (like seemingly unrelated and apparently small events). 

So, just like after laughter games with children, if you do these Parent Laughter Games, be prepared for more tears to flow if your partner doesn’t phone when they said they would, or if the driver in front of you brakes suddenly!

Other control patterns that we explored with these laughter games were thumb sucking, chocolate-eating, throwing food away, television-watching, book-reading, clothes-buying, and movement.  

I had another go at being the laugher; this time around food.  I love organic and raw food, and this love has got rather rigid of late.  So here were three lovely women in front of me, offering me non-organic strawberries, chicken nuggets, and increasingly funny mixtures of foods that I have stayed well clear of.  I was in such paroxysms of laughter that tears were falling down my cheeks and I could feel that relaxing of my solar plexus that I had felt before when having very deep releases through laughter.  Afterwards, I felt light and joyful.  

When I met up with some of the group after the camp in Byron Bay, I found myself freely choosing food and drink and ice cream that I would not have gone near before that big belly laugh, now eating it with ease and enjoyment.  I felt delighted feeling comfortable and light around my children’s food choices too.

All this helped remind me, yet again, that laughter is powerful healing medicine, both for ourselves, and for our babies and children.  I talked to some of the other folk who had experienced these games, and they too said they had more lightness and flexibility around the things that they had laughed about, and had been able to be more relaxed, more playful, and more trusting of their children’s choices in the related areas.  

I am also finding in the following days, that I am easily doing a lot more laughter play with my children, and a lot more Present Time and loving limits.  There is a lot more laughing and fun and release-crying going on, and a sense of more freedom and flexibility.

So I see these Parent Laughter Games as another tool we have to help ourselves with Aware Parenting.  Combined with such things as empathic support, loving limits, Present Time, and laughter games with our children, they free us up to be more present, more relaxed, more playful and more centred with our loving limits.

Oh yes, and I’m planning on setting up some playshops on these laughter games, if you are interested in playing!

I’d love to know how you get on with these games.  Feel free to email me at if you'd like to share your story.

Edited April 2011