Playlistening with Michelle Hartop
I recently signed my daughter up for a music camp. When I picked her up after the first day she told me there was going to be a performance at the end of the term and that she wasn't sure if she wanted to do it because it made her feel nervous.
Coincidentally, I'd just spent the prior week in my Listening Partnership talking about how much I should hold a limit around my daughter following through with activities.
I'd been asking:
- Should I just let her quit when she's afraid or nervous?
- When is it time to push and when do I step back?
- What's the best way to help your child keep commitments?
As I processed this with my listening partner I realized that when my daughter was afraid to do something AND she really wanted to do it, she would tell me so.
She didn't give up and back down just because of fear.
With that in mind, I told my daughter she did not have to do the performance if she really didn't want to. I said I would support her decision and help her talk to the teacher. She was relieved. She told me she would think on it and decide later in the week.
But then I wondered if her not performing would affect anyone else. I asked and she said she had a singing part with another girl. If she didn't perform then the girl would have to sing alone.
“Sounds like you need to make your decision before camp tomorrow so they can find her a new partner if you don't want to do it,” I said.
My daughter agreed.
Using Play to Ease the Process
Then she started telling me about this spoken word game they played and how some of the kids “booed” at her and some of the others kids if they made a mistake.
Although the teachers had tried to stop the taunting, some of the kids kept doing it, so during the rest of the drive home I listened and empathized with her about how crummy it feels to get booed.
Now that I had a better understanding of why she was reluctant to perform I thought I would try some Playlistening to loosen up those feelings and get some laughter going. This can help release fears or tensions a child has about a person or situation. Laughing about it can wipe out the negative feelings.
I thought about the situation and how the booing had affected her, and so I tried some play around that subject. I took a stuffed bear and had Teddy act silly and say “Boo.” Next I had our Slinky try and fail to go down a book of steps that we made.
But instead of laughter, Teddy's boo-ing made my daughter feel irritable. I thought about why and realized that while I was being silly, this kind of play didn't put her in the more powerful position, the position that often leads to good healing laughter.
She stepped in and took over Teddy's role and had Teddy “Boo” at me. She had a couple of small laughs over that, but the bigger feelings underneath took over and she ended up storming off to her room in frustration.
I followed and listened to her upset through the door for a bit. When her angry tone and crying slowed, I had another idea for some play.
I began passing notes under her door with words written on like, “Boo?” and “Boo poo!”
She passed notes back too, and eventually we got some good laughs going as she took charge of the play and the way Teddy said “Boo.”
The next morning she had decided that she did want to be a part of the performance.
Although I let her know that if it got hard I would help her work through it, I reminded her that saying yes was also a commitment to show up for her singing partner.
She agreed while I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of having to set a limit before the performance.
But she did an awesome job! Every day she told me how she was looking forward to the performance and on the big day, she was ready.
I was really proud of her for working through what she needed to so that she could show up for her partner and perform.
Why it Works:
Playlistening is a great way to release feeling and get laughter going around subjects your child feels tense about. Read about why it works in What is Playlistening?
When we listen to our children's worries empathetically, they can offload. Read about How Connection Helps Children Face Fear
Learn all about listening to children and how it can lead to less stressful, less reactive parenting with 5 Revolutionary Ideas That Make Parenting Less Stressful