July 25, 2015

How To Parent With Attunement and Creativity

This article was challenging to put into words because parenting is not easily definable. Once we accept that there are no “perfect parents” and we all are in a process of learning and discovery, we will grow alongside our children’s development.

Tip 1. Be Present with your Presence

Parenting is messy and involves a continual process of being present. Parenthood is an act of doing and a state of being. Being present requires us to feel our own presence. This takes courage as we navigate through the inner landscape of our strengths and shortcomings. Those challenging parts of ourselves that are difficult to accept need our full attention like a crying infant or tantrumming toddler. When we neglect or avoid doing the hard “internal” work on ourselves, areas in our home and family life suffer. If we avoid the chaos within ourselves, how can we tolerate our own child’s chaos, struggles, and problems?

Our children are astute creatures and experts at reading our non-verbal cues. When we are suffering our children empathically know and sense it. If we are not able to role model our own set of ways to peacefully problem-solve and use emotionally intelligence, how will they feel safe enough to show us their pain? When we are not present within our daily lives it delivers the message to our children that we are not capable of being able to handle their struggles.

State your feelings to your child and the reasons behind the emotion, no matter his or her age. Empathy is learned. This doesn’t mean you can emotionally burden your child or use your feelings to manipulate or victimize. Your ability to name and express feelings safely is a powerful teaching lesson for your child.

Tip 2. Do your Internal Homework

Children are conditioned to complete and hand in their homework for a teacher to grade. As parents, we must initiate completing our own internal homework including asking ourselves questions like:

1. Would I want to be parented the way I parent my own child?

2. What messages (spoken or unspoken) were sent to me from my childhood from my family of origin? For example, some adults I work with share that they felt neglected, not good enough, ignored, misunderstood, silenced, abused, controlled, manipulated, and isolated as children.

3. How are the messages I learned from childhood shaping my role as a parent?

4. Am I parenting my child the way I was parented? If so, was this a conscious or unconscious choice?

Your responses will serve as a guide on your parenting journey.

Tip 3. Envision yourself as your Child

Parenting can be frustrating. Here is one activity to use for grounding your stress. One powerful and effective drama therapy intervention I use involves “role-reversal.” When we put our agendas aside and shift our perspective by thinking and feeling as our children, we gain a powerful amount of empathy and insight.

Imagining yourself as your child can provide you with specific answers about his or her worries, concerns, struggles, frustrations, needs, and wants. It is then our job to tune into what makes our child tick to inform our decision-making as parents. Instead of being influenced by outside forces such as your own parents, in-laws, neighbors, friends, and parenting books; when you imagine yourself as your child you will gain confidence in knowing what is needed to shape your child’s development.

Tip 4. Practice Mirroring in Movement and Sound to Create Attunement

No matter what our child’s age or stage of development he or she will alter negative behaviors, moods, and attitudes when we reflect his or her body language and speech. Consider times when we become highly in tune during conversations with people we value. We begin to model their body language, repeat similar themes, words, and may laugh at the same time. When our gestures, thoughts, and feelings are mirrored back to us, we feel validated. Our children have a deep need to be validated and witnessed by us. It’s our responsibility to do so.

Tip 5. Develop a Practice of Action

Our children are always in action, even when they’re still. When we develop a practice of action we allow moments to occur which bring our focus onto something outside of our child’s behavior and ourselves. Pass a ball, break out into song, get on the floor and play, turn the radio up, dance at home, read the book your teen is reading, play cards or your favorite board game. Even if your child’s action is slight, such as tapping a fork on the table or looking outside, take their cues so you can follow through with a seamless response. This shows them you are listening, you understand them, and you care.

Tip 6. Bring Creativity and Imagination to your Parenting Practice

People nowadays are concerned with how they are perceived and going with the status quo. When we go against the grain, we stand out and as a result may be rejected. Children, no matter the age or stage of development are wired to think and behave outside of the box because of such intense levels of imagination and ability to express themselves. Children may experience periods of feeling helpless and powerlessness. They can’t make all decisions on their own or be fully independent.

Our experiences of powerlessness and helplessness have a vital need to be expressed. Our expression needs a safe place to land. If this means blowing bubbles in your house, ripping paper up to get frustrations out, doing an impression of your child when he or she is mad, enrolling yourself as a clown or child or gathering leaves to create art; do it. Your children will smile and thank you because you gave them the gift of expression.

Tip 7. Break out of your Patterns

Children do thrive on routine, but they also need us to break out of ours in order to witness their needs and challenges. In my ten years as a Drama Therapist, I have encountered parents who kept forcing their children to fit into squares when they were clearly circles. This analogy is used to inform us that we need to break out of our patterns, ways of operating, behaving, and thinking to be attuned to our children. Parenting is not about convenience. It’s about commitment to positively shaping their development. If our pattern also matches our child’s pattern of operating, then what we’re doing is working. If we are imposing our control on our child to meet our needs at the expense of our child, then we need to make some important changes and make them immediately.

Tip 7. Imagine Fast-forwarding your Life: Picture your Children as Adults

Children grow before our eyes and I know how challenging it is to accept our child’s fast-paced development. If, for a moment you imagine your children as adults what kind of life do you envision them living? Do not imagine how you want them to live. Base your child’s imagined future on his or her strengths, skill set, personality and temperament. How do you picture them as adults? Do they feel competent? Are they independent? Are they happy? The information you have now about your child will guide your ability to envision your child’s potential future as an adult. If you have a strained relationship with your child now, how will that affect his or her future as an adult? You are laying the foundation for the house of your child’s life. Is your child’s foundation built on quicksand or steady ground?

Tip 8. Imagine your Daughter/Son wrote you a Letter

If your child were to write you a letter about how he or she experiences you as a parent, what would it say? The things is, you know the areas in the way you parent that need work; the parts that you may be ashamed of or feel out of control about. If your child wrote about your need for control, your shame, your fear, your anxiety and your rage how would it feel to have someone know your truth? What changes would you make as a parent now to work through your parenting challenges?

Tip 9. Imagine Your Child Becoming a Parent

When your child becomes an adult, seguing into parenthood, what kind of parent will he or she become? Our children most likely will take on qualities of how you parented them, since our treatment toward our children is a learned behavior. Yes, we as humans are imperfect beings. Where can we make positive shifts in our own parenting choices to implement a strong framework for our children for when they have a family of their own?

Tip 10. Develop Adaptability and Accept Change

One tip for parenting and for coping through life’s struggles is developing an open approach to adapting and accepting change. Parenting, like childhood is about fluidity, flexibility, and change, which also mirror the ebb and flow of tidal waves.

Practically speaking, this means that we may need to alter our behavior, approach, communication-style, actions, and life-choices. When children enter our lives, they metaphorically hold a mirror up to ourselves and encourage us to change just like they transform as they grow.

Tip 11. Take Your Child’s Lead

Children are born innocent, curious, and creative. When we accept that our children have equal rights as adults do you will notice positive shifts in your parenting approach. Be curious about life, people, experiences, textures, colors, problems, seasons etc. Activate your sense of touch, sound, sight, taste, and smell. When we jump into our child’s world of imagination and curiosity, we heal our wounded child within and we strengthen our relationship. The message here is take your child’s lead. Usually when we take our child’s lead, moments transform and negative behavior and moods shift.

About the author

Brooke CampbellBrooke Campbell is the Founder and Director of Creative Kinections, LLC with locations in New York City and New Jersey.  She is a licensed creative arts therapist, registered-board certified drama therapist, professional actor, director, and writer.  Brooke recently contributed a chapter for a book about trauma and drama therapy, which is pending publication.  Brooke holds a Masters in Drama Therapy from New York University.  As an actor, she is a proud member of the Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and Actors’ Equity Association.

www.CreativeKinections.com

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