From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.
A couple months ago I posted this on Facebook:
“Annalyn gets so into character when she plays make believe that when she says, in a panic, “Mom! Where’d you put our helium tank?” I actually think, “Hmmm…where DID I put that helium tank?” (Guys, WE DON’T HAVE A HELIUM TANK.)”
Now, believe me when I tell you that I do not take credit for all the amazing characteristics my daughter has. Just like her strong will and curly hair, some things just came with her. And her vivid imagination and flair for the dramatic are two of those things.
[I suppose I could take credit and/or blame for those things, since they certainly came from my gene pool. But it's not like I intentionally passed on those traits anymore than I did my green eyes or seasonal allergies.]
However, I did recognize early on the benefit of encouraging my daughter’s imagination – and one simple trick has helped me more than any other. Ironically, it’s something I can’t do well in any other area of my life, but when it comes to pretend play with my kiddo, I’m all over it.
Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m not always the most FUN person. I’m practical and grounded and realistic. I think fast and I’m able to see what will work and what won’t, and I have a low threshold for the ridiculous. This is exactly what led to a lecture from my manager at the advertising agency I worked at following a brainstorming lunch. That’s another story for another time, but let’s just say I wasn’t exactly the best team player during that meeting. (In my defense, though? Their ideas were insane.)
My first reaction to silliness is to squash it, but that’s not the kind of mom I want to be to my girls. So as I’ve noticed my oldest daughter’s love of acting and pretend play grow stronger, I’ve worked hard to encourage her (and to be a little more fun). Though I mostly just reminisce about my role as Glinda the Good Witch when remembering my days in high school theater, I also learned a little about improvisational acting back then.
When participating in an improv exercise, you should never deny your fellow actor. This rule is the cornerstone of improv and, while never denying your child wouldn’t exactly be a wise strategy for parenting, going along with my daughter’s pretend play every chance I can has become nearly second nature.
The first rule of improvisational theater (improv) is to say, “Yes, and…” Accepting the premise one actor offers (the “yes”) and then building on it (the “and”) is the best way a scene develops. This Mad Lib-ish strategy can lead to hilarious results – and a lot of fun for your children. For example:
Child: We’re going to the circus today.
Mom: Great! Do you think we’ll see some elephants there?
Child: Of course we will. I’m the elephant trainer.
Mom: That’s right. That’s why we have elephants living in our back yard.
Child: Yes, and when it rains they sleep in my bed.
Mom: Sure they do – and they always leave peanut shells on your pillow!
See how much fun that is? And, at least at my house, a pretty drastic break from the norm! So even though fun and silly and pretend don’t come to me naturally, I’m learning to take that old theater lesson and put it into practice at home.
That means that these days, when my daughter runs into the house, jabbering about the fairies she found in the big tree in the back yard? I “yes, and” her. I ask her how many fairies she found and what they’re named and what color their dresses are. And, of course, I ask her if they can fly. And when we’re driving in the car, and she leans up toward the front seat and says, “Mom! Hand me the tools, please,” well, it usually only takes me a couple seconds to switch [mental] gears, realize she’s pretending, and pass the wrench and hammer to the back seat.
I’m pretty sure she’s not actually building a roller coaster back there.
How do you encourage your child’s imagination and creativity?