This year’s theme for AP Month, “Parenting Creatively: The Art of Parenting,” gives us all an opportunity to look a little closer at the ways in which we are (or are not) fostering creativity in our parenting approach. It’s often easy to play creatively, but it’s a bit harder to find our creative flow in more challenging situations, like when the little one is starting to crumble in the cereal aisle. But if we can see past our adult rules, social pressures and parental blinkers, a little creativity can go a very long way in such situations.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the doctor’s face when little Bean started jumping, arms outstretched, and singing, “Laaaaaaaa!” because she wasn’t allowed to leave the room until our appointment was over. Or perhaps more memorable was the doctor’s expression when I said to my now calm and giggling toddler, “You felt frustrated so you jumped and sang! What a positive outlet for a difficult emotion!”
I should probably explain … when little Bean was about 18 months old, I noticed that she, like all toddlers, was starting to feel frustrated when she couldn’t do what she wanted when she wanted to do it. While in most situations I follow her lead to an extent that frustration is rare, there are times when we really must do something, like sit through an appointment. So I started to think outside the box: when I feel frustrated, what makes me feel better? I came up with exercise and singing, basically “letting it all out.”
I applied this to little Bean. I figured that while she can’t exactly go for a run in all situations, she can always use her voice, and she can usually jump on the spot. So I simply let her know that when she feels frustrated, jumping and singing is a really positive outlet for that very normal yet difficult emotion. Oh, and I started to jump and sing a lot, too. I jumped when I forgot my shopping list or dropped my keys. I sang when I broke a glass or was running late. I was the all-singing, all-jumping, crazy mama bouncing her way through her more difficult moments.
Once all of the jumping and singing was over, and the onlookers had moved on, little Bean and I would talk it out. On the occasions when there was an underlying issue to resolve and the mini endorphin kick hadn’t wiped out the frustration, it was so much easier to remedy, to explain and to work through the situation with a calmer Bean.
I’m not saying that our method is foolproof; there are times when no amount of jumping will prevent a mini-meltdown. But it slows the landslide and helps little Bean to start to recognise the emotion herself. She often sees me pre-mama-meltdown and says, “Mama, laaaaaa!” Ingeniously perceptive? Well, obviously. But bias aside, I believe that all toddlers understand these emotions and can recognise them in others–they just don’t know how to deal with them. And for how many of us adults does that statement still ring true?
Our sing-alongs help little Bean to deal with these difficult emotions. I wish these tools came more naturally to me, and I hope that by opening them up for little Bean while she is still a toddler, her toolbox for dealing with life’s emotions will be jam-packed full. Even if that means her toolbox is thought of by passersby as “outside the box.”