Creativity, Performance and Play to help Families Develop

May 9, 2012

In our current over-scheduled, over-pressured world, families are confronting problems they have no capacity to do anything about. We can all get stuck in a narrow range of behavior. It’s like playing the same part in the same play on the same stage day after day. Family members become accustomed to thinking of these roles as fixed identities and believe they can’t do anything different.

 

Sometimes our children’s behavior or emotional and leaning difficulties can be so disruptive or dysfunctional that all we want to do is stop it.  As parents, educators and fellow child / family therapists, we can respond by focusing on getting rid of the most glaring and painful symptoms. In my work we focus on development as the key to transforming our lives and our children’s lives (including maladaptive behaviors).  We help children, parents , and families develop and grow emotionally and  socially.

 

In our current over-scheduled, over-pressured world, families are confronting problems they have no capacity to do anything about. We can all get stuck in a narrow range of behavior.  It’s like playing the same part in the same play on the same stage day after day. Family members become accustomed to thinking of these roles as fixed identities and believe they can’t do anything different. 

 

A child who has learned to have temper tantrums when she is angry, and her parents who have learned to punish or pamper her, are stuck in maladaptive, non-growthful environments—‘a bad play’. They have to find new ways of relating to each other where it’s possible to talk, to express, to impact positively on each other.  We can create new plays, try out new parts, change the stage, ie) reshape the environments we are in into ones that allow us all to create new possibilities and make new choices.

 

What if we considered our day-to day lives as an improvisational performance? I know it goes against the grain of valuing our identities / roles, knowing what’s coming next, staying in our comfort zones.   In order to develop though, to do things that are hard/scary/new, we of course need to have the skills and flexibly to handle what comes at us unexpectedly, to take risks outside of our comfort zones and to try on other roles. (imagine a toddler who never wanted to take risks and get uncomfortable an look silly – she would never learn to walk!). 

 

Our capacity to perform is very important to our emotional growth and development. Why? How?

 

As performers in every day life, we can constantly create and recreate what we do vs. being stuck in the labels, roles and having to know. This helps us create new meanings, new ways of doing relationships.   For example, we can  ‘take two’ ( I’m not sure if this conversation is going so well for us, can we take two/ try again/ start over”)  - Like scenes in the play of life.

 

The kind of creative qualitative growth that happens in infancy and early childhood can be reinitiated at any age and any stage of life.  Children who have been identified as having learning disabilities or Pervasive Developmental Disorders, or who are using drugs, or are having trouble getting along with peers, teachers or their parents, can, along with their families, become active creators of new learning and emotions.  How?  By learning to reshape the various maladaptive and non-developmental environments they inhabit into developmental ones.

 

The  A Family:    Three siblings  - Middle and Jr.  High school aged.  The youngest, we’ll call John, was diagnosed with  ADHD and ODD, has fits/ outbursts which were scary and very annoying to the rest of the family. John’s role in the family play was clearly the unmanageable ‘crazy’ one, even according to him. That is his label.   We had series of group sessions where we created other roles for one another to help shake up the stuck ness and change the increasing destructiveness between them.  Instead of getting ‘the bad boy’  to stop we worked on creating various ensemble performances  between them, including:  1 -  John as a positive leader to his older, ‘healthy’ siblings,  2- scenes where they all had fits in therapy then practiced various ‘take twos’ 3- a fit competition between one another.  This helped them see the choice making element to their lives, to take responsibility for working more effectively as a sibling team,  and to practice other roles.

 

In this way, we were stimulating development versus changing a particular behavior. It was no longer a problem that demanded a solution or a behavior that needed changing, but a stimulus and resource for development.  John didn’t get ‘fixed’, but instead became a creator of an environment in which he and others could learn about attending to one another and to the total environment.          

 

The problem with changing behavior rather than stimulating development is that it doesn’t teach anything about creating new possibilities; all it does is change the specific behavior.  Through the use of play,

improvisation, creative imitation and performance, we help children take responsibility for their learning and emotions.  Adults are able to break out of coercive methods that have little to do with developing children as active and responsible.  The Family Development Program helps children and adults to develop socially, emotionally and cognitively by supporting them in doing what they don’t know how to do.  Creating something new is what development is all about.

 

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