Many people don’t realize how beneficial improvisational theater (improv) can be when it comes to parenting. At CARE Actor we understand how valuable and impactful improv can have on building confidence and character. This is why we use improv games in our camps and classes and also have a FAMILY IMPROV workshop. Recently, I sat down with our Director of Operations, Dina Saunders, to discuss re-learning how to play, creativity and how the spirit and techniques of (improv) has shaped her parenting.
Saunders has been an actor most of her life, but started to focus more on improv when she became a new mother and realized she was struggling to trust her instincts on stage. She began doubting herself as a parent and found that improv, especially classes such as CARE Actor Family Improv, became a great vehicle and safe space, for learning to be okay with failure or mistakes.
You have two boys who are 3 and 7. Do you do a lot of creative activities with them?
As a parent, I’ve had to learn how to play again. So creative projects and storytelling have been a big part of my parenting [in an effort to] focus on supporting speech and building communication skills with both of my kids.
[My older son and I tell stories together], where we add to each other’s sentences, or I make up a story on the spot. He then makes up a counter story on the spot but his challenge is to not make his story exactly like my story. We try to make each other laugh the whole time.
Dina leading a CARE Actor Family Improv Workshop
This storytelling you’re doing sounds a lot like an improv game used in our CARE Actor classes and camps, called “One Word at a Time.”
Yes, it is very improv based.
[For instance] my 3 year old son loves dressing up, costumes, role playing. As young as he is, when we do these small scenes together, he has very specific ideas about who he is, who he wants me to be, and what happens, which is a lot of fun.
I always try to unnerve/mess with them – to let them know things are not always going to go exactly like they want it to- that when you do incorporate someone else into the story, it might not end up like you had planned. This doesn’t always go well, but I enjoy doing it so that they can experience that.
It is disruptive, but it’s about being flexible. It helps with problem solving skills, because I might throw something in the mix: blow up their castle, or do something unexpected. They have to figure out what to do, even if they don’t like it, and then keep the story going. Plus it is fun, very fun.
It sounds like you’re [acting] as just another kid, playing an improv game who is enjoying it?
Sure. You can go into an improv scene, think you know exactly what is going on here, or maybe you’ve prepared your [opening] line, and the other person completely derails your plan.
You had this whole plan, and now it’s not going to work?
It’s not. Now it’s about finding your footing, and a way to make it work, and not end the story. Because you had to make your idea work and not let the story die. I think that’s a great lesson in what creative collaboration is about, which is a BIG part of what improv and the theater experience is about.
We can't stop laughing at CARE Actor's Family Improv Workshops!
I love this idea of creative collaboration in improv. As you know, I have a four-year-old son and recently he was playing dress-up at school with friends where he was a fire fighter. The other kids were super heroes and he said, “Mom, they were messing up my scene.” I thought, “he’s growing up to be a theater kid.” I then thought it was a good opportunity to ask why he couldn’t bring them into his story. Almost like an introduction to one improv concept we use in CARE Actor called “Yes, And,” which is the basis for a lot of games and all of improv.
The “Yes, And” concept has made a big difference in my parenting. Starting a statement with “Yes,”(my husband has started doing it too) really makes things much easier.
[For example] if it’s the end of the day and my son really, really wants to watch TV. I will say, “Yes, you absolutely can watch TV, but first, I need you to help clean up this mess.”
If it’s not going to happen until the next day or next week, or not at all it’s still “Yes, you can, tomorrow or next week.” The main point is you’re still starting with “Yes” by saying what you can do?
Yes! It’s not like it’s always magical, nor a cure-all because there can be disappointments in that statement. [However]I always try to reassure my kids that I am saying “yes” so, let’s be flexible, and let’s work with the “yes.”
Do you think this principle of improv, which is so important, is about validating the other person, or about including them?
I think it’s about accepting; That person. Their idea. I think it’s a statement of acceptance. [This is a key principle in improv.]
Any other principles of improv that you think apply to child rearing?
[Improv] has enabled me to be more flexible and, more forgiving of myself. When you practice improv, it’s a safe space to try things out. [Because] not everything is going to work and it might not be the best scene. Maybe you sat on your impulses, or you didn’t share ideas for some reason. You can try things out, and you can fail, but you can get back up on your feet.
Yes! I think the idea that it’s okay to fail, is so important for improv, and also for kids in general.
For kids, and for parents.
For people in general would you agree?
As a mom, I am definitely hard on myself, especially now with the idea that you’re supposed to be 100%, and balance everything perfectly. I’m okay with not having it all.
As soon as I think, “I’ve got this parenting thing down,” something is going to change with one or both of my children, and we are going to have something new to deal with. So I try to be flexible, and to be okay with failure, because I know I can get back up on my feet again.
If a parent wanted to get into improv and had never done it before, what would your advice be?
CARE Actor [has] Family Improv Workshops, locally (we have one soon on June 24th), which is a great way for adults to participate with children. I think anybody coming to the table with a willingness to play is wonderful. Adults can benefit from experiencing improv with children, because the children come to the table with that openness. I think that’s a nice way to experience it for the first time, to have that openness of children in the room.
So what do you think? Have you found ways to integrate creativity into your parenting? Share your stories with us in the comments section of this post or on our CARE Actor Community page on Facebook! Use hashtag #CAREActorKids in your comment or post, and your story may be featured on our social channels. Sign up for our free e-newsletter HERE.
If you’re interested in learning more about our FAMILY IMPROV events, click HERE!