Playful Parenting, Simplicity Parenting or Full-tilt Ferber?

By Brian Leaf



One day last winter, my family went out to the Lone Wolf café in Amherst, Massachusetts for breakfast. Noah, age six, loves the waffles, and I love the Lox ‘n Latkes Benedict. After breakfast we were to drive to the Amherst Indoor Farmer’s Market to shop and meet some friends. We finished breakfast, walked to the car, and got in, but Benji would not sit in his car seat. Benji is two.


To drive like this, with Benji not strapped in, is, of course, illegal and unsafe. So Gwen and I couldn’t give in on this one. We had to get him buckled in.


I have just read nineteen parenting books; surely I’ve got something up my sleeve.



I try Playful Parenting. “Benji, if you don’t sit in that seat, well, I’m going to sing Yankee Doodle until you do.”





I try Simplicity Parenting. I relax my body and sit in my seat. What’s the rush? We’re headed to the Amherst Indoor Farmer’s Market, for Pete’s sake. The kale can wait another ten minutes.




Benji does not budge.


OK. I try Attachment Parenting. His wants are his needs. Maybe he doesn’t feel like being strapped in because his body needs to move, to get out some pent-up energy. Heck, I’d resist if you tried to strap me to a chair. Or maybe he needs to be held in loving embrace. I scoop him up, eat him up, nuzzle him close, and he and I walk a few blocks while Gwen drives along side. Plus, I figure if we switch things up, surely he’ll move on.


Nope, he does not. I try to put him in his seat. He’s not buying it. Stiff as a board and now crying.


Just as I think we’re going to have to go full-tilt Ferber on him, I think to attune. To really pay attention. I look at Benji. He’s lost in a tantrum. He’s stuck. I don’t know why, and I don’t think he does either. I ask myself, “What could help Benji relax? What will interest him and fish him out of this mire?”


Answer: He’s social. He likes to interact and play with friends. Maybe thinking about that can shift the energy for him.


I ask him, “Benji what’s the name of your friend coming over later.” He looks at me. The first eye contact since the meltdown. His body relaxes. “Wavy,” he says.


My face lights up. “Oh, Wavey,” I say, as I buckle him into the car seat.


He’s happy as a clam.


Brian Leaf

About Brian Leaf


Brian Leaf is author of the yoga memoir, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness. You can find him online at

15 thoughts on “Playful Parenting, Simplicity Parenting or Full-tilt Ferber?”

  1. i’m an AP and i have no idea what that was you were talking about. what you did at the last? THAT was attachment parenting. you reinforced the bond betw you and your child – you acknowledged his need to be social and he acknowledged your obligation to keep him safe.

    as long as a parent isn’t all “my way or the highway”, parenting isn’t that complicated.

  2. I am not fond of the terms….You really are in tune with your child. And waiting is not an easy game , in fact one that many many parents find extra difficult. And it’s not all about keeping to a schedule. The child has a built in radar that sometimes we forget. Ever notice how much better it is when we tune in?

  3. not to flagellate an expired equus, but my 5-1/2yr old daughter has asperger’s. definitely more challenging than my middle child, who doesn’t (but is now nearly 24) or my oldest, who also has it, but had to suffer with me being utterly clueless and completely spun out.

    raising my oldest daughter would’ve been ***so*** much easier if i had just asked “what’s wrong?” more often, instead of always yelling at her to “get over here!” “stop that!” “pick that up!” “put that down!” etc.

  4. “ferber” refers to “Dr Ferber”, who devised a system of “sleep training” that is, 99% of the time, completely and absolutely misused and abused by parents who think they know everything about it from going on a forum and asking. the common answer is “you put the baby in the crib at night and don’t open the door till morning” or “you put the baby in his room and no matter how hard he cries, you don’t go in for [insert random variable] minutes”. it’s rather like asking on a forum why your car is making that noise and thinking you can fix it from what ppl tell you. i’m not into “sleep training” at all – there are certain things babies know how to do perfectly well: eat, poop, and sleep – but unfortunately, too many parents want the baby to sleep on their schedule instead of the schedule the baby needs, so this is a way of getting the baby to sleep in tune with the household schedule.

    to be fair, sometimes it has to be that way – too many parents are forced back to work too soon and unfortunately the boss doens’t really care why you got no sleep last night if he catches you drooling on the keyboard.

  5. So why wouldn’t parents hold or cuddle their kids until they fall asleep and then put them to bed? I can’t imagine being able to fall asleep with my child crying.

  6. that’s from old skool thinking, that cuddling your child is indulging them and will result in a spoiled brat. you’re supposed to “put your foot down” and “maintain discipline” and they “have to learn” that they’re not going “get their own way all the time”.
    yeah, i know – it warps my mind that there are still ppl who think this way.

  7. I totally believe in attachment parenting. There are variables people always have to account for though. My daughter will NOT go to sleep when I am in the room. I tried for ten months to get her to sleep by rocking, rubbing her back, cuddling, nursing, laying in bed together…you name it. She refused to stay asleep this way, or she would wake up and then we’re back at square one. I HAD to let her figure it out by herself, I had done everything else I could think of. She is a wonderful sleeper now, 11-12 hours per night plus good daytime naps. She hardly cries at all now, I know why she cries 95% of the time and she is never left crying for long by herself. It took me leaving the room and staying out to help her sleep, not the other way around.

  8. that’s still attachment parenting – forcing your presence on a child who needs destimulating before they can sleep is just as wrong as refusing to go in to a child who needs you. attachment parenting is about learning from your child – EACH child – what works for him or her and working with it instead of imposing an arbitrary set of rules on them.

  9. I love the spirit of this article and ensuing dialogue. I feel this generation of parents is awesome; yes I am being self-congratulatory also 🙂 There is a lot of damage from the old school unyielding leveraging of positional authority, and I see so much more positive outcome from friends who are tuned into their children’s temperament & work with it.So far everything I’ve learned from AP style has been most helpful.

  10. @ threenorns: I know it’s attachment parenting and that’s the point. People are saying how horrible it is to leave a kid to cry in their room by themselves and some ask why people WOULDN’T cuddle a kid to sleep. I’m an example of why not, that’s all.

  11. I have had this happen to me and the problem with my situation is i have a 2 year old son and a 3.5 year old sister that i baby sit, and im not sure what kind of parent/ careprovider for them, i want to do attachment parenting but i dont really understand how to use it correctly, my kids just stress me out and i cant tune into them lately, and the 3 year old starting to act like i do, kindof authoritive, dose anyone else switch back and forth between parenting types and how can i learn to be a more attached parent, thats what i want to be from the begining

  12. There is no “correct” way to AP. It’s all about what works for you AND your kids. Its key point is about understanding the child you care for and attending his/her needs in a way that works for them. It’s about understanding, awareness, leadership, listening and teaching. A person who adheres to attachment parenting will more than likely be authoritative (a leader) as they need to be, as children need direction and leadership. When it becomes authoritarian (a dictator), then it deviates from AP because the focus is not leadership or understanding but the “because I said so” or “my way or the highway” type.
    Frustration and burnout are normal if you’re not taking the time to care for yourself, which you seem to need more than anything. So I say, do that NOW. Take care of yourself. The cost will be greater if you do not. Last, do that taking care of yourself thing MORE and regularly. You will be able to tune in and be the parent you wanted to be.

  13. I am trying to find the Mom who’s little one 15 months old will not sleep or take a nap.
    One Mom in the forum had a perfect idea, Milk allergy, I remember my daughter be allergic to milk from birth. I had to nurse her for her first year of life. Try a change of diet. Also I would read to her around nap time. This would relax her and she would fall asleep. I don’t believe in the Ferber method, I think that is cruel. They are little only once. We are adults we should have patience inorder to teach patience.

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