Bringing Play Back into Families
An interview with Amy Cox, Play Therapist and Founder Playful Families.
In this episode Angela speaks with award winner Amy Cox CEO and Founder of Playful Families. Parenting can be hard, it can be tiring but it is filled with moments of joy and fun. Amy discussed her ENJOY approach to parenting and aims to help ease the guilt of perfection that so many parents face. If you are a parent wanting to bring back the enjoyment to your parenting and focus on connecting with your child then this episode is for you. Enjoy!
parents child development families parenting parenthood motherhood
Angela Lockwood 0:04
Welcome to A Kid's Life Podcast. I'm Angela Lockwood. And for the last 20 years I have been working in schools, supporting teachers to build inclusive classrooms. Through A Kid's Life Podcast. My goal is to help us adults better understand the complexities of life as a kid. My guests and I share stories, reflections and simple strategies to support kids of all needs as they walk through life. So whether you're looking for inspiration, direction, guidance, tips, or just a laugh, a kid's life podcast is the place for you. Enjoy.
Angela Lockwood 0:43
My special guest today, she's colourful, she's fun, but she's super smart. She's committed to helping parents enjoy parenting, but also doesn't skim over the fact that parenting can be challenging. Amy Cox is the CEO and founder of playful families, she answers to mum to two boys and two girls. She's a play therapist and award winner and author and a self-confessed adventurer. Now offline, I was talking to Amy, we actually both had to stop ourselves talking and more like, quick, we're going to talk about this. We're going to talk about this actually, in the episode. So I know the next half an hour of our time is going to be so well spent talking to Amy. Welcome to A Kid's Life Podcast, Amy Cox.
Amy Cox 1:29
Thank you for having me. I am beyond thrilled to be here.
Angela Lockwood 1:33
I feel like I just want to go and have a playdate with you somewhere. Because I really do. For Amy and I this is the first time we've ever spoken and I've watched your stuff for so long. I love the value that you're providing to parents and the energy and the insights. So I feel very privileged to meet you.
Amy Cox 1:52
Likewise. Thank you.
Angela Lockwood 1:33
All right. Now we have to stay condensed here, apparently because Amy and I feel like we have so much to talk about. But I feel like I have so much to learn from Amy as well. So, Amy, I want to start with your by-line that I've seen in all of your stuff. It's “Let's enjoy parenting, one imperfect moment at a time”. I just love it. Can you tell me about how you came up with that? And what was the thinking behind it?
Amy Cox 2:18
Oh, absolutely. So I guess in a nutshell, Angela, like I had four kids in five years. So pre kids, I was this absolute high achieving change education, I was a former award winning teacher. So I had this incredibly concise view of what I was going to be like, when I had my children. And you know, they were going to be reading and writing and doing all of the things when they entered school. And so when I had my first son, you know, it was sunshine and rainbows. And it sounds a little arrogant, but it you know, it was okay, he slept through the night at 10 weeks, we had this, you know, dream child. But when my next children came, like I had these three kids and freeze for kids in five, and all of a sudden, all of these expectations, all of these things that I said, I was going to do these things I was going to try with my kids, the type of children they were going to be. It wasn't uplifting, it was actually strangling. And so and we'll dive probably a little bit into social media a little bit later on. But it is so important in my work to recognise that perfection is a unicorn, it doesn't exist. And I think so often parents may include we strive for this unattainable ideal when there's so much joy waiting to be found in the everyday micro moments. And so that's in a nutshell why I do what I do. Because even although we do have these moments, we're like, what did you just say that and what? And oh, my goodness, I've just got a handle on the stage. And then it changes. There are still so many moments of joy that are embedded in our day to day if we know what to look for them and if we put the emphasis on them. So that is the shortest answer about what I do or why I do what I do.
Angela Lockwood 4:11
So do you know what I'm going to jump straight to? I'm going to say probably the heart of what a lot of parents think when they think about playing joy is a lot of parents are tired. A lot of parents feel stressed themselves. They're just dragging themselves through the day. Now not every parent is like that all the time. But I'm sure we all have our moments. You talk about play and enjoy. How can we tap into that when we're feeling this tired this busy? Like sometimes we're running around like chickens with their heads cut off? How can we tap into that?
Amy Cox 4:41
Like I love my analogies and I love songs I like every time I am thinking of explaining something Angela, I've got a song to just build it out. I'm not going to do that to you now. But my first suggestion is just get your Johnny find him on and take the pressure down like why is it that we feel this need to be a certain level, like you think about nature, just as broad concept, like you can't plant a crop and then just keep pulling out the crops all the time, like you have to allow that rest period, you think about women and how cyclical we are, there are going to be times that we feel like that we flow, there's going to be the ebbs and the flows. And so, so often without realising we've got these subconscious things in our mind thinking I have to be this way, I have to force myself through it. And when you do that, it's not authentic. And so part of what I do with my own children, and what I teach in my programmes, and to my communities, is that children can't be what they can't see. And if we're modelling like, Oh, I just have to force through, and I've got to be joy, and I've got to bring the joy and be playful and all the things when actually I just feel like curling up with a book on the couch, or having a bath, or just sleeping in or whatever the thing is, when we think about, like, at the very basic level with our kids, what we're modelling to them is that we don't have to be this, you know, unicorn human that just, you know, is skipping around every minute of the day thinking I love my life, because it's not authentic. If we force it, it's not authentic. And so that probably would be the very first thing I would say is that, if you don't feel like bringing the joy, I don't that, like teach that to your kids, because we don't need another generation of humans coming up that are addicted to all of these things like it is so important that we have, we slow down. And we just acknowledge and go with how we feel in ourbodies.
I love hearing this from women who are in this space as well, because I think what we hear too many times and see too many times in social media is that perfection. And the mum who looks like an Instagram model, and she's just gorgeous. And her daughter's matching, you got the matching dress. So the only thing that I have matching with my daughter is we both pull her hair back in a low pony. Because you know, we just can't be bothered sometimes. But I do want to touch on that with Instagram with you. Of course you have I think right at the time of this recording around 85,000 Instagram followers, I know I love your face just and people can't see that. I know. Amy's eyes just like bulged out of it. And then 85,000 followers now think that actually causes does that cause you as an Instagram influencer? Because you'd be the first influencer that I'd ever be able to, you know, relate to I think, Oh, come on, you got to learn that makes a difference, right? Why do you think like you touched earlier on connection. So you have this community. And I get this real sense from you that you're really wanting to add value for people and wanting to connect with people tell me about how in the world. Did you get that following? And what is it about your Instagram reels and the information you're giving that make people want more,
Amy Cox 8:00
I just want to rewind, because you said two things that I'm going to touch on in my response. Now the very first thing that I will say is that I live in a rural city. So literally 1600 kilometres northwest WA 40 degrees, four months of the year. So where I live, it's really hot. And we moved to this place when I had four kids under the age of five. So I had come from Perth like my hubby and I both were one of four we've got like 80,000 friends. And I think that like all the peeps that needed us all the time and I was this teacher I was working and I was running a small business and doing all of these things. And we moved to the Pilbara. For my husband's work he works advocating for the rights of Indigenous teenage boys. And so he is an incredible man, I love him too. Absolutely. But when we moved here, all of a sudden was and I'm using inverted commas here. All I had to do was look after four kids under the age of five. And so what I did in those moments, because humans are driven by you know, three psychological drivers connection, competence and control, like, I lost my sense of identity in a way when we moved here because that professional Amy, that award winner, that person that was going to make, you know, a big splash in the education space. I didn't have that anymore when we moved here. And so that was sort of the background I guess behind my instant when we first came because that was my outlet. I just started sharing snippets of my kids play among extremely passionate play advocate. Because I'm here to elevate play I'm here to show how important it is for children's lives. But what happened because this is like you're not that I'm like Instagram person you know, or do you know I'm not an OG but that was like to 2015 when I first started sharing all these things, and what I started noticing was this incredible like picture perfect image of clay that it was just this not toxic but it just was the opposite of everything that I knew about play.
So I'd share the screenshot of oh, you know, this tiny snippet with a caption about how chaotic and all of the other things that were happening behind the scenes. But then this contra this trend, this thing started emerging where there were just all of these pictures of these perfect families and these perfect, you know, activities. And I hate that word. It's like nails on a chalkboard for me, but these perfect things. And I, in my mind, I couldn't share any more. So I co-founded a challenge account back then called Early Learning one on one, the goal of which was to really show and prove how important play was in the early years, that to this day, I think there's like maybe 190 - 200,000 photos that have been shared from that hashtag. So this combination of that, because we were so invested in that growth and advocating for play in that way. But when I started seeing all of these perfect images, I just thought I can't do this anymore. This is against everything I know, about not only you know how kids are but also what's happening in adults minds, because we're driven to try to fit in and without realising we're looking externally to all these images and thinking, Okay, well, if that chick is doing activities all day long, then that just must be how you parent, and if my kids aren't engaging in that the way that looks, then they must be broken, they must be wrong, they must be whatever the things are. But that's the opposite of what it is. And so it took me many years, I'm not going to lie to you, Angela to be able to show up like I have been doing over the last few years. But perfection, as I said earlier, I'll say to kajillion more times, it doesn't exist. It's a unicorn. And so I think that I've totally tended, what's going to decide. But the point is that Instagram and social media can be this powerful way to connect with other people. But we've got to be really careful with the weighting that we're giving it on. And the way that we're comparing our kids and stuff to other people's lives on there as well.
Angela Lockwood 12:05
I love talking about this, because obviously, with that amount of followers, a lot of people go like, Oh, my God, she's amazing. She must have so much strategy behind it. And but I love that that was actually about giving. It was about connecting with people and showing the real part of life which, you know, we all need as parents and one of the things with parents of modern day parenting is that sense of being busy. I know a lot of people talk about busy, busy busy. Tell me your thoughts around that. I just saw an actual visceral response from you then tell me I feel like I've just opened Pandora's Box go Amy Cox, tell me your thoughts.
Amy Cox 12:39
What I would love to just invite people to think about is like when you say to your friend that you haven't seen in a little while you're catching up with somebody in the school yard or you know, how are you? And that response is busy. Not busy isn't a feeling busy isn't like a how are you? That's not a feeling. And yet culturally, we're immersed in this toxic culture that more is better, faster is better and busy is worn as this badge of honour. It's worn as this. It's like, okay, well, you're busy, you must be doing it right. And so this is I guess, another reason for me showing and showing up in the way that I do online. Because I want to be the antidote to that darker side of modern life. Busy isn't a feeling I want when I see you and I made like a hard, deep, fast sort of friend like you do not want to have three word wines with me after like, 9pm? Because actually, I do now. Yes, I do. Likeit. Because I don't want to keep busy. How are you I want to heal. I'm feeling overwhelmed with the constant pressure to do more. I'm feeling like I'm trying my best and still failing. And I think that that's the thing. That's, it's so again, coming back to that social media thing that's toxic. Because we look externally, we look outwards, we look at what everyone else is seemingly doing, privy to these behind the scenes of other people's lives. When they're not the whole picture. It's not the way that it is. And so, my research so I'm therapeutic play practitioner, I'm on the journey to play therapy, I have got crazy passion to help parents enjoy the delicious challenge of raising awesome humans. But one aspect of my work is to elevate play as a highly relevant 21st century neurobiological activity, who the hell cares what those fancy words mean? But what it means it's the antidote to busy. It's that recognition that in between the space in between the things, that's when life happens. That's when you forge those connections with those incredible humans that have been blessed that you've been blessed to be their parent. They are the times and today I dwell in my background. I've got to have my kids home for Mental Health Day. because that spice is so important, but in our culture, it's just pushed through at any cost. And the cost generally is your mental health, which now we're starting to get a bit more traction, people are starting to say, well, this is actually a really important thing. All the relationships that you have with the people that actually matter the most to you, it just doesn't make any sense. Anyway, so that it gives me it does give me a very visceral response fizzy, because it's not a response to how I you know, and
I even liked when you mentioned those responses rather than busy. You just calm down, that would deep I could imagine what flows from there is actually a deep conversation about what's really going on. But busy is like, you know, the fine response, how are you? I'm fine. It's like, nice. Well, if you're fine, you're probably not and finds what sort of word is fine. It's like a middle ground fine. So those responses so that when people are really honest, you can have those deep conversations with people, can't you and you can really be there and support them. Now, in saying that the last couple of years, of course, you know, it's been different. It's just another phase that have different. Have you found that parents have been able to reconnect with their kids differently? Like, what have you heard with your communities, which have been your experience? Has there been a reconnection to the joy of parenting? Or is it been people going, Oh, my gosh, hurry up and go back to school.
To be honest with you, it's a combination. And I think that there's so many limiting beliefs that we take on board as truth, one of the limiting beliefs that I have seen so many times again, and again, is that like to be a good parent, I need to enjoy every single moment of my kids forever and ever and ever. I mean, I just need to enjoy them all the diversion is like even every second because the but the reality of it is, it's okay, if you need a break, it's okay, if you need space. And so the beautiful polarity of life is that you can still love your kids and need space, you know, you can still have five minutes to yourself. But that doesn't mean anything about the relationship that you have a lot with your child. And I think that as a society, we need to make this shift, we need to change this narrative that we need to be on and busy and all of those things all of the time, because, and I think that that has been the gift. And I've used that phrase really lightly, because this time isn't, you know, it hasn't been a gift, there's been so many horrific things that have happened in the last two years. But the thing that I have found the most pleasing, maybe not the most exciting in a way is that it's shining a light on all of these limiting things that society we've taken on board as truth. When really when it's time to start shifting, it's time to shut putting more emphasis on how you feel as a parent, your mental health, that guilt, that mother lode, all of that sort of stuff, it started shining a light on this, and people are standing up and saying enough, I've had enough, I've had enough of this, you know, constant on I've had enough of all of this. And if there has been one good, loose, good thing, but we're starting to see this the shift in that paradigm.
To your point around near the space, it's okay not to always be with your children and on your children. And it was early this morning, I have my Pilates class, which is my you know, it's my thing. And you know, I take kids to training every night and doing things and weekend sports and school and all this sort of stuff. And it was interesting, because now there's a been a new sport has started of training prior to school. Now seven o'clock in the morning, my kids have to be at school for the AFL training, which is for those outside of Australia. It's a code of football. And I had to be at my Pilates class at six o'clock in the morning. And my kids were like, Well, can you come back afterwards and pick us up? And I was like, No, I can't actually you're going to come with me to Pilates. And they were like, well, what do you mean? And they said, it's like, that means we have to get up at 5.30 am and I said That's right. You know, they're my kids are older, they're teenagers. And I said, That's right. You do need to be there. I said because that's going to mean I'm going to have to do and I went through the reasonings why and what was really interesting is my kid started to go could do you think he could do that now try to come up with all these other ways and I said, you know, all of those solutions right now helping you they're not helping me. And what I love to read all that is Yep, they came and after I picked them up after training and I said how was that? And they said it was actually okay. And I was really proud of myself Amy because I think having that conversation with my kids about going didn't want right now this is about me and making my life easier because it's always making your life easier. And having those really honest conversations I think is so important with our kids no matter their age, right. You know, no matter their age that it's my life does not revolve around you. I am here for you. And I will support you but I also have aspects of my life, I need to take care of him. For me my highest value, one of my values is my health, you know? And so, yeah, so really to that point that's exactly this morning, how that played out for me. And I think having those conversations with your kids, allows them to see different people's perspectives.
Amy Cox 20:16
Absolutely, I just want to call out the guilt that we feel when this happens. Because, you know, when we have all this conditioning, thinking, you've got to be there for every second for kids and soak it up. And you're the one and all these sorts of things, there's, there's an incredible amount of guilt that's associated with that when you put your own needs first, well, first, but when you think about it, I love this conversation. Because when you think about the sort of human that you want to raise, I don't know about you, but I don't want to raise people who are martyrs, who give away their needs. The second life starts feeling like you know, it gets busier and busier and busier. But again, this point of children can't be what they can't see. And if you don't want to raise martyrs, then you have to show them what not being a martyr looks like. And a part of this is really calling out that guilt, and surrounding yourself and listening to things like this that really go against society and go against cultural norms. So yeah, I would love to tell a story. Similar thing, but about my son, who I just am the worst housewife ever. Like, if I was born in the 60s, I just, I just don't know what I would have done. I'm not even joking. I just do not know what I would have done. If I was born in the 60s. My kids now are 11 and 10, eight and six. And my 11 year old has been putting clean clothes in the washing to wash them. And I'm like, No, I do not like washing, and here you are putting clean clothes in. And no matter how many times I told him how I felt he still did it week after week. And so what we ended up doing was giving him the responsibility of doing the washing. And within one week of him doing that he stopped putting the things in. And I feel like it's a perfect, like, follow on from what you just said about that modelling and encouraging our kids to consider others perspectives. And from a holistic perspective in this society right now in history, we need humans who can see other people's perspectives that can look beyond themselves that can say, I see where you're coming from, and be able to have these respectful conversations. And that begins in the home and it has to start in the home.
Amy Cox 22:33
I know I just I'm loving this conversation because it really is about having honest conversations for parents, isn't it not the I can remember when I wrote my first book, and I was sitting in cafes a lot. And I was writing thank you to the free Wi Fi my local cafe. And I can remember parents coming in and they were all dressed in their activewear they're all pushing their perfect prams and the kids were all sitting on their iPads. And it actually sparked my second book, which was “Switch off” because I started hearing these conversations. And what was really interesting, and yeah, I guess I was eavesdropping. I'm going to call it research. But ethics behind that. That was sitting close to me, you know, that would close. I can remember listening to these mums. And they were all talking about the kids or themselves how busy they were. And everything to me sounded like it was negative all the time, the experience. And obviously, they're thinking, Well, I guess they're sharing with their friends around how things are going. But I often didn't hear the moments of joy, which is what you talk about those moments in between. And for parents who are feeling like they're in that sort of a little bit of a negative spiral? How can they start to find those in between moments? What are the things that you see? And I guess it's bringing play into it? But how can parents take that little bit of a step back and reconnect to those in between moments?
Amy Cox 24:01
I love this so much. Because I think so often is a parent and again, not going to go too much into conditioning, but it is we're programmed to look for what we're doing wrong. We're programmed to look for how we can be better how our kids can be better how we need to move them forward faster, how we can be something apart from who we are right now. And so the antidote to this is always gratitude. It's always gratitude because guaranteed in your life right now. There's something that's good. And so thinking about and this could be as simple as what something that makes your life easier. You know, and thinking about it through that lens, it might be your cart. Now, this is not something we put our attention on on a day to day thing normally because we're so busy, you know, focusing on all the things but what is something that makes your life easier right now? Is it a car is it a truck? Is it a interest that your child loves? Is it something that you're finding exciting because there's guaranteed to be something right now in your life that makes it better. And when I would like I'm a bit esoteric, but where your attention goes, energy flows. And so if your attention is always on the deficit is always on the negative is always on that and that's expansive, you're going to see more of those things. But if you're stuck again, it tells me like, I had so much resistance to gratitude, cuz I'm like, I am grateful I love my kids, you know, all the things, but actively practising gratitude is so important. And there's so much research, Brene, browns, work, all of this research, how important gratitude is, that starts, you know, just with those little tiny things.
Angela Lockwood 25:40
And I think because parents really feel like they see images of somebody sitting meditating, or somebody you know, at some beautiful nature place dressed gorgeous, and they're all writing about how they're journaling right now. But I think that's the images that we see not just on social media, but that's what it feels like, even when we read it in mainstream media. You know, you see, this is how you practice gratitude, the 10 ways I know how you practice gratitude, is by looking at something and feeling greatly I have gratitude for it. And I know one of my things, Amy's I've always loved this, even since my kids were little tiny babies is I would read to them every single night. And I still do and they're teenagers, not because they have well and truly able to read, but it's that moment of connection before they go to bed, where I can sit with them. And I love watching their face read. And that for me is something where you know, their cheeks. Going to be like mommy said, what? But you know, the little face just feels beautiful, what are the things that you look at in your kids and just your heart just feel so full? What are the things that you're probably going to have to cut it down to like, just one or two, I know, but that's my things their little face, when they read, it just makes my heart sing
Amy Cox 26:56
a lot, but I just think leaning into who they are, not who we want them to be, not who the world says to me or anything, but just seeing them for who they are. And whether or not that's the innocence in their expression, when we're reading together, whether or not it's the laugh when they are engaging in something that you might think that's really stupid, why the hell you know, but actually, they getting so much joy from that. It's just, it's a perspective shift of what it must feel like for them in that moment. And so like for each of my kids, two boys, two girls, totally different humans say Mom, Dad, totally, totally different. Like for my son, it's watching him engage in sport and his passion for sport. For my second, he just loves writing, he gets so much joy from writing. And he's always got a book in his hands that he's reading in the series for my daughter that he loves drawing. And for my youngest, she loves playing with animals and anything around that. And I think just that lens shift from there from my to there, and seeing them in that experience, just really, it's just so expensive, because you can see the things that make them them. You know,
Angela Lockwood 28:10
I don't want to finish our conversation. I know. I just took that space moment, then just to listen, I all the listeners are doing that too. Because yeah, it's important to listen and to take in words like yours, Amy, because as parents, we often forget, we get caught in the detail of things, you know, really get caught in the detail. And then that's always been I had a break from working with kids for about eight years and was working with adults and I made a deliberate, I was always working somehow with kids. I shouldn't say that. But I made a very deliberate return to being fully working with kids, because I missed those in between moments, not with my kids. But I love that spark and that twinkle in a child's eye when they do something they didn't think that they could do. That's what lights me up. And I look and I go yes, you did it. You know what I don't want to finish up on what Sorry, what I finish on without talking about? There you go. I got it. So I get in my third eye space and get all tongue twisted when I talk about that with kids. Is you're enjoy approach. Enjoy approach, I really would love for you just to touch on what is that? And how does that sort of simplify all of this for parents?
Amy Cox 29:19
Absolutely. And again, I'll try hard. But most of the time, like I call these deliciously challenging things. But most of the time, the challenges in our life with our young people come from one of two things. They're either not doing the things that we want them to do, or they're doing the things that we don't want them to do. Now both of these things are embedded in control when we don't have control of what our kids are doing. And I think this is the perfect way to finish. And enjoy is an acronym for what I do for play for families. So I help families enjoy those imperfect moments. And the first part of that is being able to embody the highest version of you, the version of you that. You fast forward in a, you know, ideal world when your kids are all grown up, and you look back. And I get teary thinking about this, because this just takes you out of those details, like you were saying before, when you fast forward to when you're an old granny sitting on a rocking chair and your kids have got their kids, and they're reminiscing about their childhood. Like, you can guarantee that the things that they're not saying, I just loved it, when Mum, you know, was doing all of these things all the time. Well, it's about how we feel and how we make them feel. And I think that just takes so much pressure off, because we realise that so many of those things come from the moments when we're fight kissing the kid's neck when we're, you know, putting them in the car seat, or where you know, the gentle shoulder rub or the wrestle with our boys, or whatever it is. But that embodiment of the highest version of you. And that's part of what I do that enjoy approaches is how can you do that.
And the end is looking at the science of kids who actually learn we are so detached from how children actually grow and develop. And when we lean into the fact that you know you from a relational biological perspective is so important in building your child's brain. That's why it has to start with you and how you feel about yourself. But also that you build your child's brain. So looking after yourself has to feature in that. And all of a sudden, those weight of everything just dissipates. Because it's no longer about the jobs that you need to do. It's about the way that you're looking after yourself and the way you make them feel. And J is for being a joy seeker, I'd naturally just That's my disposition, but I'm looking for those micro moments every day that aren't the big extravagant matchy matchy, you know, balloon arches, birthday party, you know what I mean? It's those beautiful, simple things. And oh, to observe, rather than judge, observe, you see them in their experience, Judge, you put your opinion of their experience, and you project that onto them, and why it's just filling your toolbox. And I say that really loosely, but filling your repertoire of things that actually serve you like not pigeon holing parenting approaches, not pigeon holing. Anything is not dogma, it's not anything like that, what actually works for your family. And so that is our enjoy approach, and an absolute nutshell. But always and I think that this is a perfect way potentially to wrap up on but just thinking, How do I want to be remembered when my kids are all grown up? And just being that now, because you don't need money? You don't need time, you don't need anything, apart from yourself to be the embodiment of that person right now.