Improv when Parenting

Posted by  admin —May 8, 2009
Filed in Being Present, Just observations, Yes!And Improv

Wow! Improv has become such a source of inspiration for me of late.

If you ask yourself “Improv … what is he on about?” … then read this great summary from Viv McWaters (who I must thank for all of her advise and wisdom over the past 8 years!).

Viv has designed these great Improv Gift cards and I was lucky enough to receive her very first set. Recently I spoke over Skype with Viv and Robert Poynton where we discussed our work and how Improv was a core part of what we do. Viv went a step further and said that Improv was like one of her key ‘Operating Systems’ … like a lens that everything else in life runs through. Viv describes Open Space as an Operating System here in this post.

Gifts from Improv – here are some insights about how I use Improv in my daily life … these example are about Parenting, but, these gifts are applicable to everything from running a business to staging a workshop! And by the way … I am far from the perfect parent and I really struggle to ‘practice what I preach’ below, but that’s ok.

The Gifts

Be Present: Show up. Be attentive, alert, listening, feeling…

be-present1 … when our kids ‘lose the plot’ and ‘all hell breaks loose’, sometimes, I have the presence to ask myself the (Ben Zander) question “Who am I being, that my children are behaving this way”. Nearly always it’s because we (the parents) have become disconnected 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 can be 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-go … 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. 2 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.

2. Be the MIRROR – Our own behaviour is mimicked/copied/duplicated by our kids so ‘Be the Change you want to see in them’. Our own behaviour is shaped by those around us and nowhere more than in the home. Have you noticed that the behaviour that most frustrates you about your child is the same behaviour 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 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 here 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 friend might respond. It usually ends up with all of us falling about laughing and it can break that horrible ‘parent versus child’ cycle.

Be Average: Do the obvious. Say yes to yourself and your ideas and allow your natural brilliance to emerge …

be-average … 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. This gift also reminds me of Ben Zander’s Rule #6 which says … “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 …

accept-offers … practicing the first gift of ‘presence’ 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 darn ‘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 boys.

Do Something: Solutions lie in actions – move your body! Try something. Anything. Follow your instincts …

do-something … in parenting I link this one closely to ‘Be Average’. ‘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! Invariably, what we say gets ignored or misinterpreted … our physical presence in doing something active is so much more effective. Quieten the mouth and move the body!

Make Mistakes: Mistakes are the flip side of creativity. Try something new. Acknowledge and celebrate your mistakes …

make-mistakes … this gift cuts both ways and comes in many different guises:

1. Parents make mistakes -The other day I misread a fight between my eldest 2 boys and sent one outside to “calm down and think about what you’ve done!” It turned out his younger brother deserved what he got and I realised that I had been quite unfair to the one outside (who was most upset by now). I went outside, sat down next to him and hugged him. I asked him “Did Daddy make you upset by yelling at you?” His reply was ‘yes’ and then admitted my mistake. When then spoke about ways he can cope better when his younger brother rips up his paper aeroplane!

2. Children make mistakes too! – Our response to their mistakes is critical. I have a tendency to ‘over react’ and guess what … they copy me! I can happily blame my dad for this because he modelled the same. At the moment a mistake (or failure) happens this 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. Counter-intuitive … maybe? Strategy = Celebrate mistakes with them! Help them to see the lighter side of failure and learn from it. Acknowledge when they turn previous failures into success and remind them that we have to fail over and over in order to succeed.

This video sums failure up nicely …


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