Going a bit silly
Last week my 10 year old asked me to do a PE lesson with her in the garden. After rummaging around in the outdoor games box she ran triumphantly towards me brandishing the beach bat and ball set.
I sighed remembering her frustration and annoyance with this game on holiday last year. That had been on a broad sunny beach in France and I could only guess how this might go in brittle lockdown mode in a chilly suburban garden.
“Fab idea!” I said with a bright smile.
It turned out that neither of us were particularly good. We missed the ball, hit it everywhere except at each other, and it was ten minutes before we managed to pass it between us just five times in a row. I sighed as I bent to pick up the ball for the umpteenth time.
Eventually we made it to nine in a row but as she lunged ridiculously for the elusive tenth shot, the ball spurted off under the trampoline and she fell onto the grass laughing.
“Watch the ball!” I urged, frowning. “Try to hit it up, not at the floor, and … Concentrate!” Her face clouded and she got up slowly, shoulders slumped.
“Come on,” I coaxed, more encouragingly, “… let’s really try.”
We got to eight (rather scrappy) shots in a row when the ball pinged off the edge of her bat and into the flower bed. She danced around laughing at the crazy leap the ball had made but I was annoyed - this was supposed to be a PE lesson and she wasn’t taking it seriously.
“Come ON!” I said crossly. “Do it properly or there’s no point.”
Her bright eyed laughter disappeared, she looked cross, and then sad, deflated and small. I suddenly realised that in trying to instruct her, I had taken away all the fun in it. If she’d been playing with a friend they’d have made all kinds of peculiar and improbable shots, diving and scrabbling, chuckling and giggling until their laughter (or losing the ball) would have prevented them from playing on.
I looked at her tight little face and my heart felt heavy. What I wanted more than anything at that moment was for her to be happy - laughing the laughter I had crushed. Laughing the bent-double, giggling, screeching carefree laughter I used to hear when she was with her friends… so much more important right now than being able to hit a ball properly.
It’s hard to break out of the parental role of teaching and guiding our children isn’t it. Don’t get me wrong - it’s a serious responsibility and we’ve been doing it since they were born so it’s ingrained, but sometimes it’s not what’s needed.
I retrieved the ball and stood opposite her wiggling around stupidly, swiping at it and deliberately missing. She looked at me, with widening eyes. I think she thought I’d gone completely mad and wasn’t sure what to do!
I bounced up and down on my toes (feeling daft) and did the silliest shot I could. The ball zipped past her shoulder and landed in a flower pot. She spun round watching it and then swung back to look at me, eyebrows disappearing up under her fringe. For a millisecond we were both quite still and then she burst out laughing staggering around the garden, laughing, out loud, at me.
“Ooops!” I said happily, laughing too.
She scurried to get the ball and we hit silly shots all over the garden, laughing at each other, together.
I know I can’t be what her 10 year old friends are to her, and I don’t want to be a substitute either, because later I will need to sooth her when she is sad, be her rock when she is angry, and enforce boundaries when she pushes the limits, but at that moment, we were just two people being super silly together and having fun.
And there’s something else too…
It felt GOOD! And that’s because when we smile and laugh, the “happy chemicals” dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are all released into our bloodstream, making our body relax, and lowering our heart rate and blood pressure.
The tension and worry from the last few weeks slipped away for a while and I felt physically lighter. This freedom and laughter wasn’t only good for her, but it was doing me good too.
So I encourage you, however it works best for you, to give being silly a go!
Deborah Stephenson, trainee Ollie Coach
I’m not a scientist or a doctor, I can’t make a vaccine or heal the sick, but I was a BBC radio journalist for more than 20 years with a huge interest in mental wellbeing and how our minds work. I’m also a Mum of two, and I’m currently in training with the pioneering Ollie School specialising in child coaching and wellbeing, so maybe there is something I can do…
To get in contact with Deborah, email firstname.lastname@example.org