Play Therapy and “Lighthouse Parenting”: The Longstanding Connection

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I recently heard about a new parenting approach called “Lighthouse Parenting.” This comes on the heels of “Tiger” and “Helicopter” parenting, so I was a little wary of another catchy name to take the media by storm. However, after looking into the approach behind Lighthouse Parenting, I was so pleased to see a parallel with play therapy and a strategy that aligns with what I have been teaching for years. 

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg wrote a book called “Raising Kids to Thrive” discussing his conversations with more than 500 teens related to what they need and want from their parents. Overwhelmingly, teens indicated that they wanted parents to find a balance between monitoring them and trusting them. They also wanted a fusion of unconditional love and high expectations.

The great news about what he found is that it mirrors the play therapy approach to parenting flawlessly! Here’s how what teens reported they want is met with a play therapy principle:

Watchful and Present

Kids need and want their parents to be watchful and present. I call this “Attentive Parenting” but not in an attempt to coin a new phrase to circulate! I believe that the play therapy skill Reflective Responding communicates both. When we reflectively respond, we express to our children that we are aware of their actions and feelings, and we are paying attention. Reflective Responding means telling them what we see them doing, what we think they are feeling, or what we hear them telling us.

Not Intrusive

Kids want their parents to respect them and offer them space. This especially applies to teens, but even extends to children in their desire to struggle. One of the play therapy principles that that we focus on in the Online CPRT Parent Training is the need for a child to do things for him or herself. The struggle is what creates confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, and courage. A child needs the opportunity to try things (even fail sometimes) so that important qualities for adulthood develop.

Stable and Calm

Kids want to have parents who are stable and calm, no matter the situation or circumstance. This principle is also a part of the 8 week training, where we work on responding rather than reacting to kids. The idea is that we model for our children how to control their emotions under difficult circumstances by the way that we respond, and we help them to self-regulate their feelings more effectively.

High Expectations

Kids expressed that while unconditional love is important for when they make mistakes, mess up, or fail, they also want high expectations for morals, values, character, and effort. “Otherwise, a child will feel nurtured, but not learn to hold himself to high standards,” as taken from Ginsburg’s website. Expectations, according to play therapy principles, are made clear by limit setting. You clearly and calmly set the limit on behavior, so that no matter what the child chooses, the consequences are clear. However, the consequences are enforced with acceptance of the choice and unconditional love.

Above all, Lighthouse Parents remain a distant, but ever present guide and help to ensure that our children do not crash into the rocks and wreck. But, we are not steering the ship and we cannot stop the winds and waves from battering it. We also serve as a beacon of light for whenever the ship needs or wants refuge. I love the idea of standing tall and assisting in quiet and simple ways, rather than trying to take the role of the captain.

Play therapy has always advocated for these same principles, because they work! They teach children to be self-directed, self-regulating, courageous, confident, and prepared for the world. I always think back to a quote that said, “My job as a parent is to raise my child to be a well-rounded, happy 35 year old.” A play therapy approach to parenting, similar to Lighthouse Parenting, is guaranteed to accomplish just that, and I am excited that the rest of the world is beginning to take notice!