Birthday Party? Do it as you please!

  
It’s my son’s birthday this month and as we have some friends who were born in January too, we are entering busy birthday party season. I am looking forward to it, although I am also familiar with all the uncertainties which can make an innocent children’s party stressful. Of course it’s about our children having great time and celebrating together. But it is also about being exposed as a parent to other parents, who as we know, are sometimes harsh judges of our choices (or maybe we only think they are?). It’ s normal to be preoccupied about being accepted by the group and it’s also natural that the group is expecting us to conform to its norms and standards of doing things. Unfortunately it’s also the case, that conformity kills creativity and even threatens our identity. Group norms can be insensible, irrational, stupid. We might disagree with them completely and obeying them might hurt us. And yet, we still go with the group flow, because we want to be accepted and we want the same for our children. 
This reminds me of an article I read in Irish Times about birthday party etiquette.

http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/parenting/how-to-host-a-child-s-party-without-breaking-the-bank-or-your-kitchen-1.2416806

It answers in details what is an accepted way of buying presents, making guest list, serving sandwiches, preparing goody bags, etc.

It is the brightest example of social pressure which glorifies group obedience and doesn’t allow for any creativity. It fuels anxieties and supports the phantasy world of the group which benefits from all the members being exactly the same. The imaginary good coming from this homogeneous world would be lack of conflict, lack of confrontation, eternal peace and happiness. 

At first glance the article looks as a helpful guide through the common doubts I mentioned above. But when you read it through, you realise that it creates a strange world in which all parents and children want exactly the same environment to celebrate, eat and enjoy the same things and expect others to do what majority does. There is a real thread which can be read between the words: If you don’t obey the etiquette, you become an outcast, a weirdo, someone who doesn’t deserve to be part of the clan. 

Parents are surrounded by this kind of ‘do and do not’ guidelines, which are doing more harm than good, because they make us forget about the most obvious truth: we are adults, able to think independently and perfectly capable of making our own decisions regarding our children and ourselves.

It’s important to remember that the fear of being rejected is fuelled by the phantasy, that we all should be the same. We are all different and that’s all right. We can host the party which doesn’t obey any etiquette and most likely we will be appreciated for being authentic and honest. 

This post was First published on xpose.ie 

Image: http://www.aliexpress.com

Is Santa coming?

  

Last year my then 1,5 year daughter saw her first Santa and she was scared of him. I can’t blame her. All the children were waiting for a Santa, who was very late. Finally a man in training shoes came to the indoor activity centre, where we all gathered, went to the toilet to “change” and after a while through the toilet door came Santa, in that same previously seen training shoes covered with a piece of tape. He was a pathetic Santa. Presents provided by the parents were handed to the children in provisory grotto, placed in the darkest corner of the big hall. Santa’s helper was calling the name, child had to enter the grotto, get the present, get the photo and that was it. If you can sense lack of any engagement and imagination in this picture,you are right, there was nothing of this kind.

I came across some comments on social media from parents questioning the idea of Santa. Some are concerned about lying to children – why not telling the truth about who is bringing the presents – they ask. Why enter into the world of making up stories, which gets only complicated with time, when there are so many Santas in town and when child grows older and there is no elegant way to come clean.

Well, I was also asking myself these questions, especially seeing these all Santas walking around, who just can’t be believed and who should be ashamed to be putting up such a bad show!

And my husband helped me with an answer. If you don’t want to engage and enter the imaginative world, it’s not worth it. If Santa is going to be only about presents it’s not worth it either.  

Yet watching and helping your child enjoy the magic of Christmas is a delight for all, seeing their imagination unfold and entering their world of creativity is both fun and how children learn. Engaging with Santa is not one way traffic- it’s not about what Santa will bring for you, it’s how you engage with Santa. Writing letters, sending them up chimney’s, leaving out carrots for the reindeers, making up stories, reading books – this sparks the imagination and joy of Christmas. 

Children have amazing imagination. The world which they live differs a lot from the world most parents live. During the course of growing up, years of formal education, years of learning how to make mental shortcuts and think schematically, how to fit to mundane tasks and repetitive work, our imagination can become dormant. It then takes great effort to bring it to live and enter the world of pure imagination, where Santa brings presents, but also does many different fantastic things, and does them in style.

Santa is not all about a set up which parents invent and a child follows- it can easily become this way, when we are too focused on this presents-delivered aspect of “Santaism” which today is so driven by commercial advertising and puts unwanted pressures on parents and children.

To play it creatively we can reverse the roles and think of if differently: this is us who are joining the children in their world and we are the guests who need to become familiar with the rules and obey them.

When I get hesitant about the Santa, I just think about my daughter and realise that she’ll be happy to guide me in this play, if only I give her an initiative.

I intend to do so and I hope Santa will come also to me. I wish all of you the same.
first published on xpose.ie

Photo: http://www.rachelcharlton.org

Let the children be creative

Being a mother of a 10 month old girl, I pay attention to the messages dedicated to parents and I found myself surrounded by products, services and articles, which are suppose to boost children’s learning skills and creativity. I would say that creativity is on the top of the list of abilities which can be developed through interacting with toys, attending classes, playing specially designed games, and even – eating! I recently bought finger food, which apparently has a number of learning qualities, as the text on the bag stated. I pictured a baby, asking their parents who are looking for the signs of learning processes while the child is having a snack: ‘please, let me eat in peace.’

This obsessive attempt to influence and enhance babies’ experience introduces the pressure of competition in very early stage.
The holy Grail of our society is the underlying promise behind all the products and stream of information that as long as parents stick to the certain strategy, they will be able to develop their children in the ‘right direction’.

Lets focus here on the creativity at the early stage of children’s life. Parents want their children to be creative and they easily find the support in their quest of how to make them be more creative. I would argue that this is tackling the matter from the wrong angle and consequently, setting up wrong parental goals.

The most popular definition of creativity states, that this is the ability to generate novel outcomes that are valued in particular context. The playful way of explaining the subject is the ‘Laconic Definition of Creativity’, which focuses on the three types of spontaneous reactions for the creative outcome. These three are 1) Ah! 2) Aha!, and 3) Hahaha!, which stand for: enchantment, understanding and amusement. If we find ourselves experiencing those three reactions, that means, we are exposed to the creative outcome.

We can now recall any encounter with the toddler, playing freely with the world. Inventing words, games and jokes, making sense of the surrounding, discovering new things and giving them meaning – being endlessly imaginative. If we are just engaged with this kid, we can find ourselves with Ah! Aha! and Hahaha!, coming out of our mouth every second minute.

Creativity is the natural way of being for babies and toddlers. They engage with world creatively simply because they don’t know any other way. They don’t have schematic ways of thinking and cognitive paths which are adults’ shortcuts to solutions and quick answers. They make up the answer each time and they have fun doing it. They repeat their mile stone discoveries and they learn. The most spontaneous and obvious way of engaging with the world is play. And children’s free play is a pure creativity.

It can be inhibited though, by stress, emotional and psychological discomfort. This can have many different sources, child is affected by the difficult life events, as any other human being (even if is not able to fully comprehend the situation).
Melanie Klein, child psychoanalyst, discovered that stressed and troubled children played with toys in a very particular way, which was unimaginative, repetitive, and tense. When she named what was going on for a child (offered them her interpretation), the children came back to themselves and they were able to play more freely. We can assume what were the ‘curing’ factors, which allowed children to come back to their creative selves. It was an adult, being able to:
help them make sense of the difficult situation which affect them,
contain overwhelming emotions,
provide safety and trust.

I would draw an analogy between this difficult situation and parents’ goals in supporting children’s creativity. Parents’s objective is to provide comfort, safety, freedom and trust, which are basics for a spontaneous exploration of the world. Our task is also to help the children understanding their emotions and going through emotionally difficult times. This is how we can participate in our children’s development of creativity.

I therefore argue for changing perspective from trying to be an active agent, who provides children with tools for more efficient development, to being a good companion, ready to follow children in their creative endeavours and step in when it is needed.

I would like to make this point stronger by recalling one famous person, who was a genius student of creativity and wisely choose his teachers. Pablo Picasso was fascinated by children’s creativity and he learnt how to truly come back to this purely creative state of mind, which gets lost with time. He achieved a mastery in freeing his imagination from constrains and schemata, which force most of us to think, feel and see things in a right, acceptable by the majority way.
If we could reverse the situation and learn from children, rather then instantly attempting to teach them, both children and parents would benefit. Perhaps we resist this because we have an underlying fear, that as a side effect of creativity, we would become less conformist…. and that would force us to face ourselves in new ways…. Creativity is much sought after, but so is conformity!

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Pablo Picasso, Female Acrobat, 1930. http://www.studyblue.com