Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Raising kids and not my voice (or at least trying)

Wow! Improv has become such a source of inspiration for me as of late.
Gifts from Improv – here are some “insights” about how I use Improv in my daily parenting … but, I would argue that these gifts are applicable to everything from running a business to writing a story. And, by the way … I am far from the perfect parent and I really struggle to ‘practice what I preach’, but that’s ok.
The Gifts
Just Show Up: Be Present. Be attentive. Don’t anticipate; participate!
… when our kids ‘lose their minds’ and ‘all hell breaks loose’, I SOMETIMES have the presence of mind to ask myself the question, “Who am I being, that causes my ‘minions’ are behaving this way”. Almost always it’s because I (the parent) have disengaged from the kids. The solution, which always works, is to get down to their level … physically and emotionally. Listen to them and let them know they have been heard. The tricky part is being present enough to remember this strategy when emotions are running high.
Let Go: Let go of judging (yourself and others) and allow ideas to grow and evolve. Be surprised by where they end up …
… let’s face it, ‘control’ is an illusion for parents. We can’t manage and control our kids like we think we can. So, embrace your inner control freak, let-it-go and use what you have around you to influence them. Two things spring to mind:
1. Use the SPACE (and everything in it) – When paying attention to the space (eg. living room) it’s easy to conjure up something inviting that draws the kids in and allows them to use their imagination. Dare to be obvious!
2. Be the MIRROR – Our own behavior is mimicked/copied/duplicated by our kids so ‘Be the Change you want to see’ in them. Our own behavior is shaped by those around us and nowhere more than in the home. Have you noticed that the behavior that most frustrates you about your child is the same behavior that you demonstrate everyday! If you haven’t noticed this yet, try being more present and ask yourself ‘Who am I being?’ As a dad, I need to work on calming my reaction to the unexpected/unwanted stuff that arises (particularly when I’m tired) … AND …
… as a parent, the practice of ‘letting go’ reminds me to shed the default ‘parent role’. You know what it’s like … you walk into a shop on auto pilot and you play the role of ‘customer’ and the check-out person plays the ‘serve-the-customer-role’. Well it’s the same at home … parents play the parent and children play the child. It takes presence to let go of that role from time to time. A game I play is to become unpredictable and respond to their offers/requests in a way that catches them off-guard. Respond in a way that one of their friends might respond. It usually ends up with all of us falling about laughing and it can break that horrible ‘parent vs. child’ cycle.
Dare to be Obvious: Be you. Say yes to yourself and your ideas and allow your natural brilliance to emerge …
… as a parent, you improvise all the time! You have to because kids can be very unpredictable. In the moment, a parent has to respond decisively and promptly to situations everyday. This gift reminds us to trust our first idea and our instincts. If we make a mistake, as we learn in the last gift, celebrate it, learn from it and move on. “Don’t take yourself so seriously!”
Accept Offers: Say ‘Yes, and…’. Let others know that they have been heard. ‘Yes, and…’ is about acknowledging and building on the offer …
… practicing the first gift of ‘just showing up’ is critical here! So often, even with my attempts to practice this stuff, I find myself blocking my children’s offers and become the guy who always says ‘No!’ In other words, I’m playing that damn ‘parent role’ again! My kids get sick of hearing ‘No!’ and I’m sure it does their confidence and our relationship no good at all. So for me, ‘Accept Offers’ is a reminder to say ‘Yes!’ more often. Saying ‘Yes!’ ends up satisfying everyone and brings me closer to my kids.
Do Something: Solutions lie in actions – move! Try something. Anything. Follow your instincts …
… in parenting, I link this one closely to ‘Be You. ‘Do something’ reminds me to do something physical. The power of body language is way more effective than the dribble that flows from parent’s mouths! Without fail, what we say gets ignored or misinterpreted … our physical presence in doing something active is so much more effective. Quiet the mouth and move the body!
Make Mistakes: Mistakes are the flip-side to Creativity. Try something new. Acknowledge and celebrate your mistakes …
… this gift goes both ways and comes in many different shapes & sizes:
1. Parents make mistakes -The other day I misread a fight between my kids and sent my daughter to sit in the hallway to “calm down and think about what you’ve done!” It turned out her younger brother deserved what he got and I realized that I had been quite unfair to my daughter (who was a hot mess by now). I sat down next to her and hugged her. I asked her, “Did I make you upset by yelling at you?” Her quick and obvious reply was ‘yes’ to which I responded by admitting my mistake. We then talked about ways she can cope better when her younger brother rips up her puzzle!
2. Children make mistakes, too! – Our response to their mistakes is critical. I have a tendency to ‘over react’ and guess what … they mimic me. The moment a mistake (or failure) happens is a golden opportunity for parents! It’s all about building their confidence and resilience. Confidence doesn’t come from being right and successful … instead it comes from NOT being fearful of getting it wrong (I’m constantly trying to remember this). Celebrate mistakes with them! Help them to see the lighter side of failure and learn from it. Acknowledge when they turn previous failures into successes and remind them that we have to fail over and over in order to succeed.

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