Expert Parenting Advice
Practical parenting tips and advice from experts around the world

Karen Thurm Safran: How to use the “Playfulness Mindset” to help your children enjoy cooperating

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here

In this interview with Karen Thurm Safran, she shares her philosophy of playfulness, and how she used it to teach her children the habit of turning boring chores into fun games.

Every time I use this playfulness mindset, I am amazed about how easy it is to get my children to do things that I previously had to threaten or beg them to do.

Tags: Karen Thurm Safran

Also in this interview:

About Karen Thurm Safran

Karen Thurm Safran is a mom with two grown children. For over twenty years, she’s worked in K-12 Education Technology, making learning fun for kids. She has a BA degree in psychology from Mount Holyoke College and an MBA from Santa Clara University.

Karen was a stressed-out mom, but parenting became easier (and more fun!) when she used her parents’ playful technique. What’s her secret? Turn parenting challenges into a game. Karen wrote “Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It” to help others because if this playful approach helped her, it could help you too.

“Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It” is an Amazon #1 New Release in 7 parenting categories and perfect for busy parents. This easy-to-read, entertaining book shows playful ways to stop struggling with toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. Through light-hearted, 5-minute stories, you’ll learn playful parenting—playfully.

Visit her website,, and get a FREE printable of quick playful parenting tips.

How to use playfulness to get your children to enjoy cooperating

Karen explains how to work with children, instead of against them, by learning to speak the “language of playfulness.”

Sue Meintjes: What is your favorite technique or strategy for increasing cooperation and getting kids to listen?

Karen Thurm Safran: It’s so easy to scream at kids, right? And to just have an objective that you want kids to do. It’s like tunnel vision, where all you care about is the end-result.

But kids are different. They like to play.

The trick is that when you’re playful with your children, you’re working with them, instead of against them, because you’re speaking their language. They like to play.

So, if you want your kids to get ready for bed, then just saying, “Go to the bathroom and start brushing your teeth,” that’s not fun for them.

They’re going to resist. I’m talking about little kids at first, but this works for older kids also.

But, if you’re like Mary Poppins, and you make a game of it, then all of a sudden, you’re speaking their language. It’s kind of like going to Italy and trying to talk to someone when you don’t know Italian. If you learn the language, then you can communicate. It’s the same with kids: you want to speak their language, and their language is play.

So, if you instead go, “Let’s march to the bathroom,” “Let’s march like soldiers,” or you know, “How should we go to the bathroom today? Should we pretend we’re dancers?”

How the playfulness habit empowers your children

Playfulness not only makes it easier to get your kids to cooperate, but it also teaches them a valuable skill that they’ll be able to use for the rest of their lives.

Karen Thurm Safran: It makes it more fun for them. It makes it more fun for you. Nobody wants to be screamed at, nobody wants to scream. And it also empowers your children because they learn how to find “the fun” in doing things.

Even now, my 27-year-old had to do something and it was just a boring task. So, I was like, “Well, what are you doing?” He goes, “Well, I’m just making a game of it.”

Adults have to do things. We have to clean the house, we’ve got to take care of things, we’ve got to go shopping. But if you look at life differently, and you look at it like, “Let’s make a game of it,” then it makes life even more interesting, so it’s not just for kids.

How to remember to be playful when you are stressed

Karen shares how to be playful even when you don’t feel playful, and why being playful gets easier the more you do it.

Sue Meintjes: It sounds like this technique would help reduce stress as well. Because it is difficult to feel stressed while you are being playful. Do you have any tips for remembering to be playful in the moment?

Karen Thurm Safran: Yeah, and it’s hard to do. Now, I was brought up this way, so I had my parents as an example. The most important thing is just to breathe.

It’s so easy to react, but instead stop, take a breath, count in your head, and calm yourself down. And then you think outside the box. You just think, “Okay, well how can I make this fun? How can I speak their language?”

And once you do this, you kind of build a repertoire. It gets to be much easier.

Depending upon your child’s age, you could be like, “They’re little, how can I get them to clean their room?” You must think from their perspective. What do they like? “Oh, my daughter likes dance, or Disney stuff. And my son likes superheroes.

Then it’s like, “Let’s be superheroes and clean up our room. Who do you want to be? Superman. Okay, let’s be Superman” and you may even put a cape on the kid. It takes a little time, but in the end it’s worth it because then you’ll get cooperation.

Or if they’re older, you may be like, “Okay, let’s do a race,” because everyone likes to race.” So, then it’s like, “Let’s race and see how many things you can pick up in one minute or five minutes.”

Or, what we used to do in my house, is we would put the music on, and we would clean up and we’d say, “Guess how many songs it’s going to take.”

Well, each song is like three minutes, so it doesn’t seem as long. Let’s say it’s going to take 15 minutes, then that’s five songs. Whereas if you said 15 minutes, that seems like a long time.

So, I would say, “All right, guess how many songs it’s going to take to clean up the living room?” And then everyone guessed, and then it’s like, “What music should we play?” And then you turn the music on and everyone’s racing around and all of a sudden, it’s fun and it’s not just doing a boring task.

So as far as the stress part goes, you are changing a stressful situation into a fun situation and making it more enjoyable for everybody.

How to turn boring activities into a game

The most difficult part of being playful is coming up with ideas on how to be playful in the moment. Here Karen shares some more simple ideas to turn boring activities into a game.

Sue Meintjes: That sounds like a great idea. Do you have any more examples of how you made tasks fun in your house?

Karen Thurm Safran: The racing was really good, especially since there were two and it was a fun thing. We would turn music on. Or even doing something fun with your body.

So, if I wanted them to put the dishes away, they would march to the kitchen or to the sink. We would sing a lot, so we would make up songs like, “Let’s go to the kitchen.”

One time they had dirty hands. I didn’t want them to touch anything because we were eating pizza and their hands were filthy. So instead of screaming, “Don’t touch anything,” I just said, “Let’s march to the kitchen and hands up.” And I went “Hands up, hands up, let’s march to the kitchen, hands up, hands up, let’s march to the kitchen.”

And suddenly it was fun. My kids had their hands up in the air because I wanted them to wash their hands. But it wasn’t like screaming, “Don’t touch anything. I need to wash your hands.” It was a game, and they came to the sink, and I washed their hands. I incorporated a lot of singing and movement with my kids when they were little.

When they were little, they didn’t want to have to wait in line. Nobody wants to wait in line, like in the bathroom, but I would just be like, “Okay, let’s guess how long the line’s going to take.” I would teach them, “How many bathroom stalls are there? How many people? Let’s divide. Let’s figure out what the average wait time is.” Even if you don’t know how to do this, you just guess. It makes waiting a lot more fun. It just changed it to a playful activity and something that was more tolerable and less stressful.

The “Mary Poppins technique” for finding the fun in every chore

A great example of the playfulness habit is found in the movie “Mary Poppins”. Here Karen shares how to use Mary Poppins as a way to “find the fun”.

Sue Meintjes: Thanks, I loved those examples. It sounds like it is about having a playful attitude. Is there anything else you think parents should know about what we talked about today?

Karen Thurm Safran: It’s hard to do, right? If it doesn’t come to you easily then ask your child what would be fun. “Would it be fun to turn music on?”

It may take more time in the beginning, but then once you decide that they want to dance to the bathroom and then they want to turn music on while they’re getting ready, then you have your formula. And then every night you just say, “Okay, it’s time to get ready for bed. How should we dance? What song should we sing?”

Think of Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins has a great quote and it’s “In every job that must be done, there’s an element of fun.” You find the fun and, snap, the job’s a game. And if you think of what Mary Poppins did, she made everything fun.

That’s the idea. And if people go to my website, I have a free printable of quick playful parenting tips that shows them how to make parenting easier and more fun.

Visit and get a FREE printable of quick playful parenting tips.

How the playfulness mindset empowers your children…and when NOT to be playful

Being playful is one way to treat your kids with respect, because you show them that you value their viewpoint high enough that you are willing to speak their language.

Karen Thurm Safran: And again, this is just another tool in the parenting toolbox. There’s a whole lot of things to do. But it’s parenting. It’s really stressful…and it’s the most rewarding thing.

If your kid’s running across the street and there’s a car, well then you would scream, right? Then it’s like, STOP.

But, for the most part, you want to treat your kids with respect. Trust me, when they get older, they’re happier, they’re empowered, because they realize they’ve got to do certain things. They’ve got to clean their room, they’ve got to help with dinner, they have chores to do, they have to do homework.

It just changes their attitude in life. It makes them less stressful kids because they approach the mundane tasks differently. It empowers them. And not only that, but they also don’t think of it as such a horrible task to do, because they approach it differently.

How the playfulness mindset helps you get more done

Sue Meintjes: Thanks, it has been great talking to you this morning. I’m going to take what I’ve learned and try to make our difficult morning routine more playful.

Karen Thurm Safran: And tell me what you did. I’m curious. There’s an example on my website. The kid, I guess a two-year-old, couldn’t find her favorite dress and she was hysterical, and the mom was going crazy and the grandmother was going crazy and then the grandmother had read my book and she just thought, “Oh, let’s play a scavenger hunt.” So, it’s like, “Is it here? No. Is it there? Is it there?” And it was fun. So, the little kid’s having fun, and they ended up finding the dress. It was in the dryer.

When you are stressed out, you don’t think properly. Whereas if you’re playful, you can think more rationally, and then you find things and things get done.

Action steps

Here are my action steps that I got from this interview. I hope you’ll find these useful as well:

  • Make a list of the things your child enjoys, and then try to incorporate one of those things next time you ask them to do something
  • Make a list of the difficult transition times (e.g., getting ready for school, going to bed) and then think about how you can add more playfulness to these occasions
  • Make a playlist of songs that your children enjoy on your phone, and then use those to make boring activities more fun
  • Visit her website,, and get a free printable of more quick playful parenting tips

This interview is part of How To Get Kids To Listen: Leading International Parenting Experts Reveal Their Best Secrets For Getting Kids To Cooperate, an ebook containing a collection of interviews I did with parenting experts from around the world.

I asked each expert one simple question: What is your best strategy for getting kids to listen and cooperate? and then listened as they shared their best parenting tips and advice.

How To Get Kids To Listen is available for free download here