Giggle Parenting: The Best ‘Discipline’ Tool Out There!


Laughter is the shortest distance between two people– Victor Borge

Ever since she was old enough to leave me my daughter has gone shopping with her dad on Saturday mornings. She loves it. But one morning when she was two years old she absolutely refused to get dressed. It was clear she really did want to go out, but as soon as I tried to put her clothes on, she would wriggle and run away. I tried reasoning with her, talking in a serious voice, and explaining that if she didn’t get dressed it would be too late to go, but it didn’t work.

I’m sure most parents of toddlers are familiar with a scenario like this. Our child behaves in a way that seems completely irrational. But what can we do about it? The shouting, grumpy approach may work, but we may also get a sinking feeling that it isn’t the best way to go about parenting.

Suddenly I remembered my training as a Hand in Hand parenting instructor!

In that heat of the moment, like any stressed out parent, I sometimes ‘forget’ there is a more effective method. All that rationalising and reasoning with our kids is not the language of children. The language that gets through to children is one of play and laughter.

I began putting my daughter’s socks on her hands and her trousers on her head. She laughed a lot, and I kept repeating this game as she continued to laugh. Then I got her teddy dressed in her clothes, picked him up and said, ‘’Come on R it’s time to go!’’ Then when I got to the front door I would look at the teddy and say, ‘’Oh no! That’s not R that’s Teddy!’’ She would laugh and laugh at my ‘mistake.’

After a few minutes of playing like this she was trying to dress herself. A short while later she left with her dad and I was enjoying a nice, quiet morning to myself.

Believe it or not, toddlers are not completely irrational beings. When children feel closely connected to the adults around them they are naturally, good, loving and co-operative. They don’t actually want to make our lives difficult. They want to get on well with us, and co-operate with daily tasks.

However sometimes their feelings get in the way. When children experience stress or upset, they can no longer feel that sense of close connection. The limbic – the socio-emotional part of the brain senses a kind of ‘emotional emergency’ and the pre-frontal cortex- the part of the brain responsible for rational, reasonable behaviour, can’t function well.

So when a child feels upset they literally can’t think clearly. They can’t listen well to our reasoning. Their behaviour may go off-track because they can’t think through what is appropriate in the moment. In a sense it’s like they’re misbehaviour is like a red flag that they’re sending out saying, ‘’help! I can’t think, I need some connection.’’

When our child is behaving in off-track ways, we literally can’t get through to them by trying to speak to the rational, reasoning side of our child’s brain. We need to speak the language of emotion. With this understanding of emotions we have to have compassion for our children. We have to say goodbye to the old behavioural model of punishment and reward. A lot of the parenting methods out there are about manipulating our child and getting a quick ‘fix’ in the moment. But in the long run these parenting methods actually make things harder because they don’t address the underlying emotional cause of the behaviour.

Luckily, giggle parenting does! It’s fun and simple, way to connect with our children when they are acting off track. And it works. Laughter is a way to release stress and emotions, it lowers blood pressure, releases feel-good endorphins and builds connection between parent and child. When children get well-connected again, they can think and co-operate with us again.

Giggle parenting can be applied to many of the power struggles we face as the parent of a toddler. I remember when my daughter went through a phase where whenever she was her pyjamas come out a bedtime she would make a dash for it, crawling across the floor away from me.

This was a sure sign she still had some energy ready from the rest of the day, need for fun play and connection go with the play, let her laugh and play (and factor in time for that in the bedtime routine, was a sure fire way to help her sleep more deeply (laughter releases melatonin the hormone responsible for sleep), and children sleep better when they feel closely connected to us.

A toothbrush that keeps getting ears, or noses instead of a mouth, or flys out of the bathroom and into random places.

Giggle parenting takes time, but it’s an investment of time. It’s investing in fun and laughter as the currency of parenting. When we sprinkle play and laughter amidst our daily tasks, life goes much more smoothly.

Bribes, rewards, and manipulation creates a more transactional relationship, where both parent and child are thinking about what they want to ‘get’ out of a situation. These short-term fixes also don’t address the underlying feelings that caused the behaviour.

Giggle parenting strengthens the connection between you and your child. laughter and play, is about building the relationship, and releasing the feelings that get in the way of your child feeling closely connected to you.

It means that you save time in the long run, because children won’t need to giggle to get everything done. so when you ask them to get dressed they co-operate without a fuss, at least- most of the time!

They internalise the deep sense of fun and love and connection they have with you. And a laugh and a fun today, can cement the close connections, to stay close to your kids beyond toddlerhood, into the teenage years and beyond. Laughter is how we build relationships.

Disclaimer! Sometimes parents warn children away from laughter play. We all know the saying, “It’ll all end in tears.’’ It’s worth bearing in mind that if our child gets upset shortly after laughing a lot (or the next day), it’s not necessarily a sign that there’s anything wrong in the present moment.

Play and connection give children the sense that we are available to listen to them, and they may bring up feelings that have been simmering under the surface. Tears have been found to contain the stress hormone cortisol, so  children, and even adults! cry for what seems like no apparent reason (or for a small and petty reason!), because they are releasing stress. It could be from an over-stimulating day or from any big or small upsets that they have experienced in the past.

Being there to listen and give your child warmth and empathy helps them tune in to your calm, loving state. They can release their feelings and regulate their emotions, as long as you stay with them offering cuddles when needed. It won’t be long until they’re giggling again!

For further reading Larry Cohen’s Playful Parenting is packed full of Giggle Parenting ideas.

Are you looking for some giggle parenting inspiration? Sign up to follow my blog for weekly ‘giggle games’ for all your family challenges. You’ll find a button to sign up in the top right hand corner of this page. Click here for the giggle parenting archives

Do you have a family challenge you’d like a laughter cure for? Just leave me a comment or connect with me via facebook and I can find a giggle answer for you!

Diary of an imperfect mum
Cuddle Fairy


51 thoughts on “Giggle Parenting: The Best ‘Discipline’ Tool Out There!

  1. Kate this sounds like a plan to deal with my little man. I do try to hug him and calm him down when he is upset and stressed. His way to show me his feeling is with shouting and unger . I never tried playing and make him lauhg instead of just hugging him.. thank you for this post ☺ now gonna try and tame the beast 😂

    1. thanks Marisa, I hope this helps, laughter is a great tension diffuser, so it can really help with anger. Hugs are always good too!

    1. thanks Fiona 🙂 It was nice for me to realise that there is a purpose for all those little upsets, somehow it makes it easier to deal with, especially knowing that things will be brighter on the other side of the meltdowns!

  2. Is nobody going to mention the helicopter in the garden?! Great post – I’m definitely guilty of bribing, often with chocolate or sweeties. Daddy is usually the one that distracts my toddlers bad moods with play, or being silly which she responds to much more effectively. x #brilliantblogposts

    1. Hi, it’s a park actually! My friend took some pics of me and my daughter playing, and I couldn’t find a decent one except for this helicopter one 🙂 Interesting that the play is more effective than the sweet bribing. I think it’s a good long term strategy, as it deepens the connection so children feel better. thanks for reading.

  3. I LOVE THIS – so so true and it is so rewarding to see them giggle – thank you for sharing such a great post and putting the idea of laughter to the forefront of my mind #familyfun

  4. I really like this approach! I agree that kiddies are rational & they have their own agendas. They don’t like being told everything they have to do. This gentle approach is a wonderful idea. It’s great it has worked so well with your daughter! #FamilyFun

    1. Thanks Becky. It really is the most effective thing I’ve found. Now when we need to get something done my daughter says ‘only if you do giggles’ !!

  5. I really love this approach. My guy’s still little (he’s not quite 6 months) but I have already read up about gentle parenting which advocates empathy and understanding and moves away from the punishment style. Giggle parenting sounds even more up my street!! And my husband would definitely be on board too. I may have to check out that book!!! #FamilyFun

  6. I’ve never heard of giggle parenting but it is something that I unconsciously do with my kids especially at the end of a long day – bed time usually involves me chasing them upstairs as monster mummy and counting down the time until they are undressed. I must also admit to very often squirting cold water on them when in the shower (oops). What’s funny is hubby often moans at me that I am worse than the kids and it will end in tears. Now I can tell him that does;t matter I’m giggle parenting. TY for linking up to #FamilyFun 🎉 and giving me my ammunition 🌸 Hope to see you again as really enjoyed this!

  7. haha! Yes perfect ammunition. And the other side to Giggle Parenting, is debunking the old saying ”it’ll all end in tears.” Sometimes after lots of fun and connection children may cry more easily, and that’s also part of a healthy, healing process. Thank you, I’ll definitely link-up again, as I’ve had some lovely comments and I’m really enjoying working through all the blogs 🙂

  8. I’ve not heard of this before. Armed with a 10 month old I think that I’ll definately try this approach when he is older. I’ll probably end up doing it unintentionally anyway.. When he gets a bit upset and needy now, I blow raspberries on his tummy and get him giggling! Sure fine way that I’ll be on my way to giggle discipline! I’ll have to teach my other half the technique too! He’s struggled playing with his son at all, it’s only now that he is getting more interactive that they are bonding more. I like a good laugh, this excites me. Thanks for linking to #familyfun

  9. I definitely find this approach works and so often I have to stop and remember to use it…sometimes when you’re feeling tired and stressed you forget that there are better (and more effective) ways of parenting. I read a lot about this on Facebook from a group I follow and really love this approach, thank you for reminding me again and sharing such great tips. I agree about the time…it does take time but is far more stress free for both parties than bribery, cross patch and tantrums #familyfun

  10. What a fantastic approach to dealing with minor behavioural issues. Positive reinforcement always works better than negative reinforcement and giggling can really take the tension out of a situation!
    Thanks for linking up to #BloggerClubUK 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading. Yes it’s amazing how many scenarios the giggles can help with, it always surprises me. And although we can’t simply giggle away our child’s more serious behavioural issues, what I teach is that laughter can always be part of the ‘cure’ even if it’s not the whole solution.

  11. I really enjoyed reading your post and love this approach to handing things in a more positive way. Thanks for sharing your tips! #BloggerClubUK

  12. This sounds like a brilliant idea – I think taking this approach would definetly help things being done. It’s just hard when you need to get things done quickly. Thanks for linking up to #justanotherlinky xx

  13. I have 2 kids! Girl aged 4 and boy aged 2. I try and try to get them to bed but they run around being silly and won’t settle. Most nights I can handle it but mostly only by being stern. I know sleep is hard for them (my daughter has always been particularly hard) and it’s separation from me but I don’t know what to do. I stay with them til they fall asleep. We cuddle. I often read stories while they continue to jump or wrestle. We all sleep in the same room and the kids are in a queen bed together. I go between them to get them to sleep, then leave. How can going to bed be funny?

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