4 ways we can get creative to better parent our Pre-Teen Girls.

Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD

The reverberations of thunder boomed through the window as my 8 year old grimaced and ran to me; scared. It’s an understatement to say that thunder and lightening are not her favourite things. Yet it’s also an unfortunate fact that we live in a place where it thunders … a LOT.

I have built a routine for this almost daily escapade: I start by lending an ear to her concern, offer a strong cuddle and wait out the storm; but on this particular day I decided to riff – to improv. I sat on the bed holding her hands and looking into her eyes and said, “I know the sound of the thunder scares you. It is loud. Would you be open to try a thunder meditation with me?” After momentary contemplation she nods with tears still in her eyes.

“Great” I say, improv in full process. “Well … it goes like this: when we hear the lightening we take a breath in. When we hear the thunder we breathe out. Can you do that? Let’s try together.” And we did. Her first few breaths were so short and raspy I wondered if she was actually even inhaling. But after four rounds I saw her chest making slower, bolder movements and knew it was working its magic.

Slowly, her face lit up (as she felt a bit calmer). I smiled and said, “don’t laugh, whatever you do!” To which, of course, she fell into a fit of giggles. I saw her shoulder drop as she began to move into relaxation and I took advantage of the shift. “Hey”, I offered “let’s draw the clouds we can see outside”. After half an hour co-drawing a crazy scene of the sky (including cloud characters and lightening parties) she stood up, hugged me and left to play with her dolls. I couldn’t help but smile, knowing that for her, she had learned something and felt proud of herself. And for me, this 45 minutes of spontaneity and connection now belonged with my all-time best moments with her.

As I sat for a bit and watched the sky clear outside I couldn’t help but think about how many opportunities we miss to deepen our connection with our girls because we stick to the same old strategies. Or because we get caught up in the frenzy of daily life. Today it just so happened that I had ample time to dedicate to her as I’d taken the day off. But it could have just as easily been another day – when I was strapped for time or juggling multitudes of things.

According to relationship psychologist Dr. John Gottman, within our relationships with our spouses, friends and kids – exist small windows of opportunity called “sliding door moments’. In these moments we can make a choice: to connect or not. He illustrates this with a powerful example from his relationship with his wife:

“One night, I really wanted to finish a mystery novel. I thought I knew who the killer was, but I was anxious to find out. At one point in the night, I put the novel on my bedside and walked into the bathroom. As I passed the mirror, I saw my wife’s face in the reflection, and she looked sad, brushing her hair. There was a sliding door moment.

I had a choice. I could sneak out of the bathroom and think, “I don’t want to deal with her sadness tonight, I want to read my novel.” But instead, because I’m a sensitive researcher of relationships, I decided to go into the bathroom. I took the brush from her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?” And she told me why she was sad.

Now, at that moment, I was building trust; I was there for her. I was connecting with her rather than choosing to think only about what I wanted. These are the moments, we’ve discovered, that build trust.”

Every day our girls give us moments to work with. And every day we can choose if, when and how we respond. Each situation is utterly unique. A moment we have never lived before (at least not in that exact flavour). As parents we can’t always respond to all moments equally. And none of us are really ever 100% prepared for what pops up. But when we can and are open, riffing with these moments and using a creative improv approach can bring great benefits – for our daughters and ourselves.

In our relationship with our daughters exist small windows of opportunity called “sliding door moments’. In these moments we can make a choice: to connect or not.

So how exactly can we create a more improvised space with our girls? Here are three of my favourite tips:

1. Start by listening wholeheartedly. To be able to creatively respond to our girls we need to start with what is happening. Ask and then listen – wholeheartedly. No judgment. And seek to understand: what is she feeling? What need is she trying to fill? What happened? Not only is this step of listening deeply therapeutic for our girls – through being seen and understood – but it also helps us know what ideas might work in the situation e.g. humour, art, movement.

2. Think laterally. Preaching the same words ad nauseam doesn’t necessarily help us get through to our girls and connect. The novelty of a new approach can help get her attention and can powerfully reframe the situation.

So where can we get ideas? What might work for her?

Is she visual? Get her to paint her feelings on paper. Or draw a mural of her frustrations in the backyard with chalk.

Does she need to move? Invite her to chat about the problem while jumping on the trampoline!

Is she creative or likes science? Invent something together to help her reframe or tackle the issue (e.g. a thoughts bin for unhelpful thoughts or a pillow mountain to release frustration).

The possibilities really are endless. Mix it up mama and see how you go!

3. Start a list on your fridge of creative ideas and look at it regularly. Creativity is a like a muscle and the more we think of these ideas the more they will come! And don’t forget to include things on your list that are your forte! I improvised around meditation because it is what I know, but yours could equally be cooking, sewing, dance, art or an array of other skills!

4. Practice new associations

When we come up with creative improv and try it new associations will inevitably form for our girls. They begin to associate connection, love, humour and creativity with problem solving. And some strong emotions may also become associated with positive ones. We can powerfully affect the neural pathways in our girls’ brains!

In the case of my daughter – her fear was triggered by the sound of thunder. When we began the thunder meditation, a new association was born: thunder-calm(breathe). Whenever I now have a chance I remind her of how creative we were doing that. How proud I was of her and how calm she was. Next time the thunder comes, she’ll know what to do!

The more we play with connection and show up to our girls the deeper the trust and foundation we set up for the teen years!

You’ve got this mama! Happy improv! Enjoy 🙂

Photo: Matilda Wormwood