The following is an interview we conducted with Dr. Tian Dayton, MA, PH.D.,T.E.P. Dr. Dayton has a masters in educational psychology and a PhD in clinical psychology and is a board certified trainer in psychodrama. She is the director of The New York Psychodrama Training Institute where she runs training groups in psychodrama,
sociometry and experiential group therapy .
MwM: In your blog post titled “Adults Need to Play More”, you say, “Almost every species of animal engages in some form of play. Play helps all species, animal and human alike, to learn the adaptive behaviors that increase their chances of survival. But play can help us to “survive” emotionally and psychologically as well.” We obviously agree with that statement. You also say play is “bonding and preventative”. How can daily play impact the parent-child relationship and dynamic?
TD: Play requires engagement to be fun. It’s an experience that can be entered and exited at will so it promotes both autonomy and a choosing to engage, no one person is necessarily in charge and leadership can be fluid and spontaneous. Each person can feel that they are the “leader: in terms of where play heads. Because of this, playmates have to listen to and follow each other, they have to tune into each other’s movements and signals. Play also allows for expressions of love and closeness and even some aggression to surface in non threatening ways.
MwM: Time is a precious commodity these days. Everyone seems to be over scheduled. How can working parents make time for more play with their kids?
TD: Consider making moments playful, make dinner together in a playful way, laugh at the table, don’t make it a time for serious subjects but a time to chat about eachother’s days, what’s on everyone’s minds, tell stories and have fun. Play on the way to and from school, make it fun, walk hand in hand, skip, chat, notice surroundings. Have a cuddle time, a game of hide and seek, make climbing into PJs a race, hug, kiss and cuddle. Play games that take only a few minutes. Watching a TV show takes at least a half an hour. Playing cuddle or cookie monster can take five and will be remembered forever.Be inventive, every family has their version of these, Dad’s can be great at them.
MwM: We know it’s not enough for parents to “teach” their kids self regulation and stress management skills. They have to model the behavior as well. How do you suggest parents model and share healthy stress management with their kids?
TD: If parents are calm people and handle life in a relaxed manner, kids will absorb the skills of self regulation naturally through modeling. When babies and toddlers are small, touch, holding and rocking are important. When your child is upset, hold them so that they can move from a state of feeling overwhelmed to a state of feeling calmed. Through this holding, rocking and cooing from the parent the child will actually build the neural wiring they need to achieve these states on their own. But it takes years of this close, physical, comfort and contact to accomplish this task. As the child progresses, a parent’s nearness or even their voice will also have a calming effect. I go into this in detail in my book Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance.
MwM: In the article “Emotional Repair Through Action Methods” you mention that through action children can learn emotional literacy. Can you give a brief explanation of how children can learn emotional literacy through movement and the importance of it?
TD: Emotional literacy is essentially the ability to translate feelings and impressions gathered from our senses into language so that we can think about what were feeling and experiencing and make sense of it. Feelings are felt in and processed in the body, we feel “good all over”, “heartsick” or “lethargic”. Getting the body to do what we want it to do, getting it under our conscious control, helps us to regulate the intensity level of what we’re experiencing and make conscious sense of it.
MwM: As parents, we often try to shield our kids from life’s challenges. If we shifted our perspective slightly and focused our parenting more on equipping our children with effective tools to face their emotional struggles what do you think the world might look like for our future generations?
TD: If we teach our kids how to process emotions rather than shut them down, avoid them or medicate them, we would have a culture that is much more emotionally intelligent and resilient. The more we can process, the more alive we are, the more in charge of our self, our relationships and our work direction we can be, we’re more effective at living. In my book, The AcoA Trauma Syndrome, I illustrate how pain from one part of life can get played out unconsciously in another. We need to learn skills to resolve our own issues so that we don’t pass on to our children what is unresolved in us. So it’s not just about what we do as parents that teaches kids, but who we are. Children absorb our feelings as their own, the cleaner and more resolved we are on the inside, the less they will have to process from us and the freer they will be to learn their own lessons and have their own experience.
You can learn more about Tian Dayton and her work by visting her website http://tiandayton.com. She also has a column on the Huffington Post website that can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-tian-dayton/
Check out Dr. Dayton’s latest book on Amazon.com.