The following is a Guest Post on Improv Parenting from Keren Gudeman. Keren is mom of a 3-yr-old and 7-month-old twins, so daily improvisation is not just an important skill but a survival strategy. She believes in moms taking care of themselves, so she started a blog about it. And she plans to teach workshops on improv parenting someday when her schedule opens up.
Do you ever get bored (gasp!) while playing with your children? Do you lose focus or interest?
Welcome to the club. Sometimes it’s the sheer repetition, sometimes it’s the content (I dislike playing with Barbies), and sometimes it’s the effort (kinetic sand is super cool, but I really hate the clean-up). We all have our times when playing becomes, well, work.
Improv parenting can shake things up, in just the right way. Try these 3 approaches to dust off your play skills and bring some fresh energy to time with your child. With a little bit of yes, and here and a little bit of spontaneity there, improv parenting helps you break from your well-worn scripts. Here’s how:
Say Yes, And
The essence of improv is saying “yes, and”. If you haven’t heard of this, then you’re living under a rock. There are a ton of cool things to say about this, but at its core it means you are collaborating. You are accepting what your scene partner is saying.
This monster is jumping onto the vase!
(Child carries stuffed animal toward a glass vase)
Yes! And my monster jumps and spins off of the table, and asks your monster to show her his coolest move too!
(Mom has her stuffed animal do a cool spin-move in the air, while angling her body between child and fragile vase)
See how that works? You can actually say ‘yes’ to so much more than you think you can. Try it. Try letting the word ‘yes’ come out of your mouth first. And after accepting what your scene partner (i.e. child) has said or is doing, you get to add what you want to the scene. It’s a fun challenge, sometimes requiring some mental gymnastics to find a way out of a potentially hairy situation (like the vase one).
Be Spontaneous (i.e. Don’t Fear Mistakes)
This seems like an easy one, but it’s actually pretty challenging. I often find I can be spontaneous, until. Until I get distracted by planning what’s next or judging what is happening (Did he just say poop again? Ugh.). The challenge here is to stay in the moment and trust your gut. Here’s where you have to let go. Trust that you won’t teach a bad habit by saying poopy right back, trust that letting the first thing out of your mouth is valuable, trust that there are rich encounters and interesting nooks to be explored right around the corner. Try something you haven’t tried before (like wrestling or making tea for monsters or reading a book in a VERY silly voice). Often we fear that if we let down ‘too much’, we’ll either lose our authority or we might somehow damage our kids by not modeling proper behavior. But if you can laugh and be silly right alongside them, you earn street cred. If you can say poopy or get down on the floor and throw your whole body into a play session, and you also are able to set appropriate limits – I love wrestling with you but I don’t like being kicked – you are more likely to be successful in setting those limits. You’re fun, you’re playful, you’re silly – and you’re also ultimately the one in charge when you need to be. You are relatable and in the moment. Spontaneity opens up new spaces and new energy.
Drop the Agenda
In our high-efficiency adult worlds we get swept into thinking that we must pack everything in. So when we interact with our children, we believe – lovingly and with great intentions – we should be teaching them at all times. And without realizing it, this often results in a controlling dynamic. (Hey Freddie, let’s COUNT how many cars we have!) But Freddie was focused on driving one of the cars down the superhighway, so now you’ve distracted him from that (or not) and tried to control the direction of play. Let me reassure you that by ‘just’ playing, being immersed in the moment, the characters, the interaction, you ARE teaching. Arguably you are teaching your child more. Things like taking turns, listening, shifting leads, or sharing, and the list goes on.
We all have our go-to tools and habits in how we play with our kids. And our kids have their routines too. Of course routines and repetition are important to our child’s development, but sometimes we just need some fresh ideas. Improv parenting provides some new tools for our parenting tool kit to open up warm, authentic and fun connections with our children.