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Checking In

Wow. A lot has happened since our last blog post. We have been busy trying to provide our Vital Spark family with classes, support, videos, stories and crafts. We understand that online classes do not suit everyone, we understand that the challenges will be different for each individual family and as a parent myself, I understand that it's a constantly changing situation. We could have called a pause to everything but there is one vital reason that we did not do this; the children. Most of you know that I'm part way through my training with PTUK to become a fully qualified and accredited Play Therapist and while this will inevitably take a little longer now, this time has reinforced to me the reasons why I started the journey in the first place. Storytelling and creative arts are powerful tools in maintaining good mental health. Good mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. Whether or not your child faces struggles at the moment, by promoting creativity you can help build resilience. Using metaphor within storytelling and play, lights up more brain responses than any other form of communication. This way of exploring feelings and emotional responses can help children to process things that they may otherwise find difficult to verbalise. Play is the natural language for children. The best thing about this language is that they do the work; it is empowering, therapeutic and quite frankly magical.

A few parents have been in touch with me during this time regarding the difficulties that their families are facing and while I can't respond as a therapist (still way more training, reading and learning to be done there) I feel I can respond as an arts practitioner. If you feel like your child is struggling or their behaviour has changed, look after yourself. You can't be the best parent you can be if you are not ok yourself. Are you stressed, tired, worried? While you may not be able to change these feelings, by acknowledging them you can be aware that your experience will also become your child's experience sometimes, no matter how hard you try to hide it.

Know that you do not have to constantly play with your child... it's can be exhausting and we may have forgotten how to do it. That's something we can take time to reconnect with but in the meantime, if we provide open ended play stimuli to our children they will instinctively know what needs to happen. By open ended I mean clay, sand, water, figures... things without a prescribed outcome. Rather than a dress up costume of a specific character from a film etc, how about a piece of fabric or an old sheet that can become what they need it it to be.

Vital Spark have always tried to connect with nature as part of what we do with our outdoor adventures and storytelling workshops. It has been scientifically proven that spending time connecting with nature helps our body to release dopamine (a feel good hormone) and reduces cortisol which is known as the stress hormone. What birds can you spot or hear on a walk, how may types of flower can you notice?

Anger can be a really difficult emotion to be on the receiving end of but remember, even feelings that we find uncomfortable or painful need to be given space to be expressed. I find this a particularly difficult one but I have notice that the more I try to lean into sadness and discomfort the quicker it can pass without a build up of unacknowledged suffering. I used to feel like a hoover bag that had sucked up too much dust and was bulging, threatening to explode and ruin everything when I least expected it... that's a pretty uneasy feeling!

Some parents have called me the child whisperer... I am not. It makes me feel uncomfortable to hear that because I am so far from perfect and with my own children have made countless mistakes on my parenting journey and will always continue to do so because that's what being a parent is like. Have you heard of the "Good Enough Mother"? I hadn't until my second child turned one and I was making myself ill with guilt and expectation trying to be a perfect mother... it was having the opposite effect, I was being a worse parent because of it. Paediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott coined the phrase to express this point. Accept that you will not be perfect and by reducing the unrealistic expectation on yourself you will do a better job.

I am at present uncertain of the future for Vital Spark Theatre. We are unsure when a return to weekly classes may be possible and how the impact of this time will play out. However, I am sure of one thing. I want to continue to be here to support and help families in any way I can and I am constantly listening to what that may involve. This week in our adventure class we went on a maze adventure. Getting out of this will be a maze. We will face obstacles, challenges and uncertainty. We may not all take the same route out, we will have to face choices and need to be respectful of the choices of others. There may be disappointments and set backs, celebration and release. I'm in the maze with you, so if you see a turn I need to take, please help me out. What do you need from me? We have set up a YouTube channel which has become a platform for our stories, mood boosting dances and craft ideas please support us by subscribing and sharing our content with your friends who may find it helpful or enjoyable. If you'd like a story to help with a particular topic or issue please drop me an email and I'll do my best to cover it. I'll be trying to add more nature based crafts in the hope that you'll be able to easily source the resources. If there's something else you'd like to see, let me know and I will listen. These times have once again highlighted the power of the arts and creativity and I'd love to think that a light will continue to shine on their worth as we come out the other end. Thank you for your support, I'm so grateful for it and for all the sparks of joy and imagination your children bring to my life.

Books that I've found interesting (though never had time to read when my children were little so absolutely no pressure!)

Together - Vivek H. Murthy

Radical Compassion - Tara Brach

Braving the Wilderness - Brené Brown (and everything else by her including her fantastic podcast - Unlocking Us)

No-Drama Discipline - Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Permission to feel - Marc Brackett

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