The Wisdom of Mary Poppins

The Disney film, Mary Poppins was a firm favourite when I was growing up. A story to capture imagination and songs that are not easily forgotten. I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the new Mary Poppins film at the end of the year. Watching it as an adult with your own children, you can uncover the wisdom in Mary Poppins’ approach. It’s the words from ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ that strike the cord for me.

This has to be the number one tip for engaging children.

Play Connects Us

Children are wonderfully hedonistic in nature. They are motivated to do things that they enjoy and they find fun. Through play they learn and grow.

As Lawrence Cohen, the author of ‘Playful Parenting’ states, “Play is children’s main way of communicating, of experimenting, and of learning”. This means that one of the best ways to engage a child is through play. Everyday battles, chores, routines and tasks can be made easier with a playful approach. It’s not always practical or appropriate, but the ‘Playful Parenting’ approach is a nice one to have in your toolkit.

Connection happens in small moments and very often through shared laughs and fun.

Finding the Fun

Renowned Psychiatrist Dr Daniel Siegel promotes increasing the “family fun factory” as a strategy to connect with your child and understand and positively manage behaviour. By this he means making time to have fun together as a family and inject playfulness into their everyday lives.

We can’t all be Mary Poppins and have tea parties on the ceiling but we can try new ideas that can take away the stress of situations and inject some fun.

  • Use music and songs. Who says life can’t be like a musical?! If you want an instruction to be heard and remembered, sing it. We have songs for brushing teeth, tidying up, washing hands and bath time. Music grabs a child’s attention quicker than a verbal instruction. There is a surplus of children’s television shows, albums and you tube videos of songs and rhymes designed to make your life easier.
  • Give your child a challenge. Asking a young child to wait in line, keep still, hurry up or keep quiet can end in frustration all round. Inject some competition or imagination and you are more likely to get a better result because you have changed your request into a challenge. ‘Who has the quietest voice?’, ‘Can you guard the sleeping dragon?’, ‘Pretend you have been turned to ice’, ‘First one ready is the winner’.
  • Involve children in chores. Most kids love to be useful and will enjoy a playful approach to household jobs. Setting tasks engages even small children with the daily routines. You could try a laundry relay, where they race between rooms to fill the washing machine up; play ‘go fish’ or ‘snap’ when pairing socks; or tidy up against a timer.

Be Somebody’s Mary Poppins

At the end of the story, Mary Poppins opens her umbrella and flies away, because the family no longer need her. This is the wisdom shared by so many professionals who work with children and families. The wisdom to know that the answers and solutions to problems lie within the families and individuals themselves.

When we struggle to manage children’s behaviour as a parent or a professional, it becomes difficult to see solutions. We are too close to the problem. But intervention and endless advice is not always needed. The most beneficial thing may be for someone to offer a simple suggestion. A new spark that can ignite the flame of creativity and inject playfulness back into the relationship.

If someone you know is struggling on their parenting journey, suggest playdates, go to different places, be creative and share ideas.

To connect as a family, play!

Try out new things, create something together, be silly, be active, be fun. Insights and solutions to problems are more likely to appear when we try something new, relax and enjoy the moment.

Sometimes all we need is someone to tell us to ‘go fly a kite’.



Seigel, D & Bryson, T. P. ‘The Whole Brained Child: 12 Proven Strategies to Nurture your Child’s Developing Mind’, 2011. Robinson

Cohen, L. J. ‘Playful Parenting’ 2012. Ballantine Books Inc.

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