Connection is the Key to Aware Parenting – bring on the laughter play!
“Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.”
Henry Van Dyke
As my experience of Aware Parenting grows over the years, I find that connection really is the key to it all. It is the linchpin underlying attachment, empathic response, the healing power of emotional release, and democratic discipline.
When my children were babies, and when my daughter was an only child, I spent much of my time with them, engaged in what they were doing. As they have got older (they are now 8 and 3 and a half), they spend a lot of time playing together. I am still usually with them, in the same room as them, yet more and more I spend time doing other things (like writing this blog!)
For some time I’ve been playing with moving in and out of connection with them throughout the day. I’m experimenting with this, because if I don’t spend enough time connecting with them, then they don’t get their needs met, and because if I don’t spend enough time doing what I love, then I get resentful. Fortunately, each day presents a new opportunity for playing and experimenting with connection!
If you read my writings enough, you’ll see me talk about three strategies in Aware Parenting with children, and they all start with “connection.” The first strategy is pure connection. Simply enough, it means being present… which first means being present with ourselves in some way – for me it might be with my breathing, with awareness of my body, and remembering to really look out of my eyes (sounds funny, I know, but when I’m lost in thought, I don’t really see what is going on). When I do things that I love, things that make my heart sing, then enjoying those things brings me present too.
When I am present, then I can move into pure connection with my children. When I really am there, I notice a few things – usually, I really see their faces – I see the colour of their eyes, the freckles or clear skin, the exact shape of their nose. Usually their face looks really big, like when they were newborns and their faces took up the whole of my vision. There is a kind of timelessness to this kind of connection, a sense of being outside the limits of time.
Now, once I am in a state of presence, I can offer that to my children. If they are ready and available, then it’s as simple as that – they gaze back in my eyes, we have a cuddle, we play a game, we have a chat, etcetera, etcetera!
It is a simple choice for me to remember to prioritize connection throughout the day. I find that connection generally happens easily and quickly when I remind myself of this. I look in their eyes when I talk to them, watch when they want something to be seen, and warmly touch their skin, or have a hug. Even if I am in the middle of doing something, and they want to connect, I usually find that taking some moments to connect in these ways means we are all satisfied, and we go back to what we were doing until later, when we have longer connection time.
However, if I offer connection, and my children avoid it (and they are not otherwise engaged in some interesting activity, or needing time to connect with themselves), then chances are they have some feelings bubbling underneath that they are avoiding. Perhaps I am talking to my daughter, and she is not answering. Perhaps my son is sitting on my lap and avoiding eye contact at all costs. Here come the other two Aware Parenting with children options: connection plus laughter games, and connection plus loving limits. (With babies, it’s different, and I’ll also talk about that in later posts).
I’m going to talk LOTS about these two options in subsequent posts, because competence and skill in these when practising Aware Parenting with children is what Aware Parenting is all about!
For now, I’m going to briefly talk about connection plus laughter games, and I’d like to suggest that the more you learn to play as a parent, the more connection and joy you will have! Laughter games are the glue of family connection.
Play means getting down to the level of our children. It means really connecting with them as equals, and really engaging with them. Or, it can mean that we become the smaller, slower, less competent and less knowledgeable ones for a while – we literally swap roles. When we meet them as equals, or play the less able role in a mock-silly way, magical things happen.
Some simple games I like playing with my children are:
I scoop Sunny (3 and a half) up (if he’s not involved in something) and sit him on my lap. If he doesn’t make eye contact, I pretend that I’ve lost him. “Where is Sunny?” I ask in a mock-funny-questioning voice. I pretend to look all over for him. He looks at me, and I look at him, and I pretend to be really surprised to find him here. He laughs a lot. We play it again, and again, and the laughter goes on, and we are warmly close and connected.
The laughter police game is another favourite in our house. Suddenly I put on a silly voice, and say, “No laughing in this house! The laughter police are coming to get you!” and start running, very ineffectually (and often with a funny gait) after them to the other end of the house. They run away, laughing and laughing. When I get to them, I pretend to be happy to take all the laughter out of their bodies, and say something like, “All the laughter gone now”, and then they run to the other end of the house whilst we repeat the same thing. Over and over, until something shifts, and we all feel warm and relaxed.
My friend Chiara, who is my guru when it comes to laughter play, sent me an email today in which she wrote, “We had such a sweet day together and I found so many ways to get humour into our day – every blueberry popped into our mouths made us change voices, eating almonds became eating cockroaches at a witch’s ball……. it brings us so close! I also got the kids to look into my eyes, blink really hard two times and say clickching (and I did the same) and said that was like taking a photo of each other. It was a quick and fun game to have mini reconnections throughout the day.”
You can read Chiara’s article about laughter play, with lots of suggestions of fun games to play, here: http://www.parentingwithpresence.net/index.php?pageid=3992
You can read more about the use of games to release fears (laughter helps children release fear and powerlessness) on Aletha Solter’s website, here: http://www.awareparenting.com/answer2.htm
Aletha Solter also has a chapter on Playing and Pretending in ‘Helping Young Children Flourish’: http://www.awareparenting.com/books.htm#hycf
She also has a chapter on play which includes information about power-reversal games and separation games, which help children release feelings around powerlessness and separation, in ‘The Aware Baby’: http://www.awareparenting.com/books.htm#abnew
Another of my “bibles”, ‘Playful Parenting’, by Lawrence Cohen, gives a multitude of suggestions for connecting with children through play: http://www.playfulparenting.com/resources-books.htm
Finally, the Hand in Hand website has lots of free articles about helping children heal and connect through the power of play, such as: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/news/56/64/Playlistening
Here’s to more connection, more play, more laughter, and more fun!