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.
Brooke Campbell, MA, RDT-BCT, LCAT, lives in Livingston, New Jersey, USA, with her family. She is a creative arts and drama therapist, and the founder of Creative Kinections.
Here are 11 ways to parent outside the box:
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
nonverbal cues. When we are suffering, our children emphatically know and sense it. If we are not able to role model our own set of ways to peacefully problem-solve and use emotional 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 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.
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:
- Would I want to be parented the way I parent my child?
- What messages, spoken or unspoken, were sent to me during 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, or isolated as children.
- How are the messages I learned from childhood shaping my role as a parent?
- 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.
3) Envision Yourself as Your Child
Parenting can be frustrating. A 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 child, we gain a powerful amount of empathy and insight. Imagining yourself as your child can provide you with specific answers abouther 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.
4) Practice Mirroring to Create Attunement
No matter what our child’s age or stage of development, he will alter negative behaviors, moods, and attitudes when we reflect his body language and speech. Consider times when we become highly attuned during conversations with people we value. We begin to model their body language, repeat similar themes and 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.
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 that bring our focus onto something outside of our child’s behavior and ourselves. Even if your child’s action is slight, such as tapping a fork on the table or looking outside, take her cues so you can follow through with a seamless response. This shows your child you are listening, you understand them, and you care.
6) Bring Creativity and Imagination to Parenting
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, enrolling yourself as a clown, or gathering leaves to create art, do it. Your children will smile and thank you because you gave them the gift of expression.
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 10 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 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.
7) Picture Your Child as an Adult
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 strengths, skills set, personality, and temperament.
How do you picture them as adults? Do they feel competent? Are they independent? Are they happy?
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?
8) Imagine Your Child Writing You a Letter
If your child were to write you a letter about how she experiences you as a parent, what would it say?
The thing 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?
9) Imagine Your Child Becoming a Parent
When your child becomes an adult, seguing into parenthood, what kind of parent will he become? Our children most likely will take on qualities of how we 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?
10) Develop Adaptability and Accept Change
A 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 — an ebb and flow. 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. This means we may need to alter our behavior, approach, communication style, actions, and life choices.
11) Take Your Child’s Lead
Children are born innocent, curious, and creative. When we accept that our children have equal rights as adults, you will notice
positive shifts in your parenting approach. Be curious about life, people, experiences, textures, colors, problems, seasons, and so on.
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 emotionally wounded child within and we strengthen our relationship with our child.
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.