Dance Party Parenting
By Jenny Palmiotto, Psy.D.
Sometimes you just hit your wall. The sh*t has hit the fan. You want to get in bed and let the day pass you by, but the reality of it is, the day isn’t done. In fact, its barely past 10:00 am. Lots of parents know this feeling well, perhaps we felt it this morning or everyday for the last few weeks.
In this dark place, we have a decision making moment. We can continue to parent from a position of “my patience has been spent and you all will have to pay” or we can decide to do it differently. We can see the earlier interactions as a a fall, where we have the capacity to get up, dust ourselves off and continue on the journey, happily. Once choosing the latter, on occasion I can just simply move on. I acknowledge that my actions within my day are a decision to be made. The bad mood evaporates, my patience is restored and I move forward graciously embracing parenting my two children. On other days, dusting myself off from a burst of ‘foul mood mommy’ might take a little (or a lot) more effort.
Lots of times, the effort that I need to expend needs to include my children. I can’t take a leisurely walk on the coast alone, as restorative as that would be. My yoga class will have to wait till a day I have a babysitter. Even my showers aren’t really alone - as requests for toothpaste, two braids, and "did you make my lunch"? interrupt what could be zen.
What got me to my “breaking point” is sometimes trivial and other times more memorable; but truthfully the content of that isn’t ever important. What is important, is that we engage in a process towards wellness.
Recently, I’ve been delving in to Rupert Isaacson’s Movement Method. One of the reasons the interventions within this method appear to be effective is because the child engages in movements that activate a hit of oxytocin. Oxytocin is referred to as the love/trust/connection hormone and without getting all science-y, it just makes us feel good. Oxytocin not only just makes us feel good, it works within us for social purposes. We are more collaborative, trusting, and have more positive social interactions when we change our levels of oxytocin. We increase our levels of oxytocin when we laugh, dance, hug, and engage in more amorous activities. In fact there are so many ways to boost our levels of oxytocin like jumping on a trampoline and riding horse back, as Isaacson discovered when his child was a toddler. (Read about it here)
For the last three months I’ve been more aware of inviting my children to engage in activities that might raise the levels of this love neurochemical. We’ve gone hiking more, wave jumping, going on rollercoasters, skateboarding, even climbing trees with the intention of getting our bodies into their most collaboratives states. Of course, I can’t measure their actual levels of oxytocin, I can just measure their smiles, laughter, and sense of wellness; and it seems to be working. In fact, its not just working for them, its working for me. Lots of these activities require a little effort like packing the wetsuits for the beach and when its 8 am and I’ve raised my voice more than 8 times, maybe the beach isn’t our option. But I have found one way to give our family a collective boost to our brains that seems to be almost always readily available, dancing.
Although my kids have many dance song requests, sometimes I choose the songs to set an intention for ourselves. When I put on these songs, I focus in on the collective feeling of joy that we can share together. I get centered on the lyrics that my brain/body/soul needs in that moment. I give myself the gift of oxytocin and I invite, not demand, my children to join me. For whatever reason, it works. It’s really hard to hold on to that bad mood when I’ve let myself sing, dance and experience joy.
Here’s my play list. Use mine or create your own. For me, I focus on what feels good for us. I don’t over think it. Just get the music going, start moving with my kids and let ourselves find joy together.
1) Better Together -Jack Johnson
Lyrics that I love: “Well, it's always better when we're together. Yeah, it's always better when we're together.”
Why: It reminds me of my values. This song is any easy one to sing together and let’s us feel the goodness of our togetherness.
2) Shake it Off -Taylor Swift
Lyrics that I love: “But I keep cruising, can't stop, won't stop moving. It’s like I got this music in my mind sayin it's gonna be alright.”
Why: This one is a crowd favorite in our house. We don’t know all the words but we sure do pretend like we do. Easy burst of the right kind of energy.
3) Redemption Song -Bob Marley
Lyrics that I love: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.”
Why: This one is more of mommy’s jam and my children allow me to have my time center stage. We play this one when I’m feeling like bringing us into a peaceful place of collective calm.
4) Sorry -Justin Beiber
Lyrics that I love: “Is it too late to say sorry.”
Why: Sometimes mommy’s mess up and this song (not really parenting specific), let’s me sing about apologizing. I just kinda skip all the other lyrics. Oh, and I like Beiber.
5) I can make your hands clap -Fits and The Tantrums
Lyrics that I love: “That I can make your hands clap. That I can make your hands clap.”
Why: That one line repeated over and over, it almost becomes engrained in my brain. When we want vibes that are silly, wild and free into our home, we put this song on. It may not be for you, but this is couch jumping music in our home.
6) Wagon Wheel -Darius Rucker
Lyrics that I love: “Hey, momma, rock me.”
Why: My children and I take the song literally, and I pick them up and rock them like babies. Its ridiculous and it works.
7) These are the Days -Van Morrison
Lyrics that I love: “There is not past, there is only future. There is only here. There is only now.”
Why: This song is our mellow vibes song and centers me in the present.
I’m eager to discover more ways to invite my littles to experience joy and togetherness. As much as this is something I’m exploring at home, I am also bringing Movement Method into my clinical practice for families with autistic children. There is so much more to Movement Method than boosting levels of this feel good hormone or simply getting our bodies moving.
In just a few weeks, Rupert Isaacson will be in San Diego to give us an introductory workshop on Movement Method. Although initially this method was developed with autistic children in mind, it’s reach is also greater than children with neuro-differences. Its good for family wellness, regardless of diagnostic labels. It might be worth a few hours of your time on Saturday, February 10th at 9:00. Find out more here.
Here’s a little journey thought my family’s boosts of oxytocin through movement. Share with us your favorite ways.