When interviewing prospective Brain Highways staff, here’s the first question I ask: On a 1 to 10 scale, how goofy can you get?
So, how would you rate yourself in terms of being goofy? And . . . would that number differ from how others rate you?
Here’s why I think acting goofy at times—clearly, this is not the preferred default mode—is important.
1. When we’re goofy, we’re definitely in our cortex. In other words, it’s pretty much impossible to be goofy while we’re in the primitive, survival parts of our brain.
2. If we welcome being goofy, we probably don’t take ourselves so seriously all the time. That then reminds us and others that no one is perfect.
3. When we’re goofy, it usually prompts others to laugh and smile—and that triggers positive mirror neurons in everyone around us.
4. If we’re goofy in front of others, we probably aren’t real self-conscious or care what others may think.
So, as parents, how can we include more goofiness in our homes? Here are some favorite ways we had fun being silly when my girls were young.
We declared one night our “backwards evening.” After we figured out our names spelled backwards, that’s how we addressed each other (e.g. Jim became Mij). Each family member wore their clothes backwards to dinner, where we (of course) ate dessert first. After dinner, we re-wrote song lyrics so that they were now backwards (last word of the line became the first and so on) and tried singing them that way. We wrapped up the evening by reading the nighttime story from the last page to the first.
House Dress Up
We gathered items, such as shirts, pants, socks, shoes, scarves, hats, headbands, and jewelry to dress the furniture in a room (e.g. socks and shoes were placed on chair legs, hats were placed on top of lampshades, and so on).
We promoted a new, fantastic dog show, and then we (as the parents) became “the dogs” while the girls (our owners) taught us new tricks. (Yes, we were down on our hands and knees—and even barked here and there—as we learned to roll over, and more.)
Fifi from France
Oddly, a woman who looked a lot like me—but who had (if truth be known) a terrible French accent and was named Fifi—seemed to show up when the girls had friends over for lunch. Of course, Fifi loved to serve people their food as she told them of her days in France. (She was so popular that my girls’ friends often inquired if Fifi would be serving them when they came over.)
Human Christmas Tree and Presents
First, the kids made homemade wrapping paper from long pieces of butcher paper. We also made a large green paper pancho-like tarp that we put over my husband, who was designated to be the human tree.
Next, we wrapped the part of his legs that were still showing in brown paper. Combining both homemade and store-bought ornaments, we decorated our novel tree, complete with lights and an angel on top of his head.
After that, we wrapped the human presents (the kids and their friends) in the paper they had created so that just their heads and feet showed. We placed the human presents under the human tree, and turned off the lights, pretending it was Christmas Eve. After a few minutes, we turned the lights back on, declared it was Christmas morning, and the human presents burst out of their paper! Oh, and by the way, we did this in . . . July (just adds more to the goofiness).
Okay, so can you picture yourself doing any or all of the above? If not (and you’d like to bring a little more goofiness into your home), you may have been raised in a house where acting silly and goofy was frowned upon. Without realizing it, you may have now inadvertently passed on that subconscious message to your own kids.
But that’s hardly etched in stone. Any family can have a backwards evening, dress up furniture, teach (parent) dogs new tricks, be served by a foreigner with an accent, and create a crazy Christmas in the middle of summer.
And that’s just the beginning. The list of potential ways to be goofy and fun is endless. In fact, you may be surprised to discover that you have a lot of dormant goofiness— just waiting for a chance to surface.
I often ask kids what they like best about school. Hands down, the most common answer is . . . recess. Intuitively, kids know what science has now proven—both kids and adults need time to engage in pointless fun.
We used to call that “playing.” Yet in our current, overzealous, gotta-make-sure-our-kids-get-ahead-world, allocating time to play is often relegated to a back burner.
However, research on play shows that it makes us more adaptable, and it actually improves how our brain functions. For example, when we combine physical energy with a sense of joyfulness (i.e. when we play), we reinforce neurohormones. And when we engage in activities that free us from having a set outcome, there’s a positive effect on our mood and perceptions of time.
In fact, according to researcher Dr. Stuart Brown, we need play in our lives as much as we need sleep.
So what is Brown’s definition of play? He says real play has no purpose. We do it for its own sake. It’s voluntary. We may even lose track of time or temporarily forget who we are in real life.
What’s the purest form of play? That’s when we improvise, where we make up whatever we’re doing as we go along.
So back to recess . . . where activities have little or no structure, where nothing is measured or ranked, where kids are free to be loud and move as quickly or slowly as they choose. Is there any surprise that kids fly out the classroom door as soon at that recess bell rings?
But then, that bring us to this question: Since playing has a natural appeal and is now proven to enhance the brain, why not create family recess time in our very own homes?
Yes, why not have the whole family take a break from household chores or homework or paying the
bills. . . to now play together?
Note this is not just time for our kids to play. The idea of family recess is for us to play with them.
And guess what happens when we do? We discover that even though we’re adults, we never really lost our zest for play.
We prove that all the time at the Brain Highways Center. Here, parents enthusiastically engage in playful activities with their kids as part of our curriculum. In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to decide who’s having more fun when observing, for example, a beanbag “fight” between a father and daughter.
So for my proposal of family recess, any unscripted, joyful movement works. Here are some ideas to get you started, but be sure to ask your kids for their input, too!
Note that family recess time is not viewed as procrastination, where everyone is just putting off what needs to be done. Rather, the mindset is one that suggests less work and more play is truly productive.
In the twenty-first century, that kind of thinking may be viewed as radical and revolutionary. But in our home, we can make such perspective a way of life.
When I watch kids at the beach, I always find myself smiling. It may be one of the few places where kids can be loud and dirty and run here and there—without adults telling them to lower their voice, wash their hands, and sit still.
So I’ve come to think of the beach as a safe haven for kids, a place where they can just naturally be their age without conforming to adult perceptions as to what is “proper.”
Camping in the woods also comes to mind as another safe haven for kids. Once again, in this environment, adults seem to “let go” of their need for quiet voices, cleanliness, and being still.
But not everyone has access to the beach or woods or, if so, there probably isn’t time to go there every day.
Yet, that doesn’t change kids’ need for daily downtime in a place where they truly can be themselves without adult restraints.
No, I’m not talking about allowing kids to run amok or do something harmful. I’m just advocating that we allow kids time each day where they go with their own flow, move at their own pace, and engage in activities that naturally appeal to them.
With that mindset, we can be creative and ensure our kids engage in daily safe haven time. So, how might we do this within our already hectic schedules?
First, we need to list our possible safe haven environments. On such a list, we may write: the park, the backyard, the bedroom, the beach.
Note that some of those possibilities include places within the confines of our own home. That then makes it easier to implement daily, rather than weekly, safe haven time. In other words, if we don’t have to do more than open a door (to go to the backyard) or close a door (to go in a bedroom) on our part, then scheduling daily safe haven time won’t be that challenging.
So, what might be some guidelines for safe haven time? Here are some suggestions:
If we do the last suggestion, we may (initially) experience that our child has no clue what to do. So, he turns to us for some ideas. If so, we say no more than, “Just go with your intuition. What sounds fun or interesting to explore?”
In such case, we may also ponder: Is our child’s life so programmed that he has lost his natural spontaneity? If so, then asking for help with safe haven time can be viewed as feedback to ensure that we implement this daily.
But more than likely, you’ll get a different response. Watch your child’s facial expression when you tell him he’s now going to have daily safe haven time, where no adults are going to be on him to do this or that. You’ll probably see a look of sheer joy.
And that expression and feeling is what we want to make sure is part of our child’s life—each and every day.
I was cleaning through an old cupboard when I came across a half-piece of paper written by my then seven-year-old daughter.
The paper said:
A paragraph about life!
Life is a wonderful thing. You can dance. You can play. You can jump. You can write. You can live. Use your life!
She’s now 26, and guess what?
She still dances (she is always enrolled in some kind of dance class). She has a high-level position—that she loves—at a prestigious company that requires her to use her writing skills daily. And yes, she makes time to play.
So how do we keep that child-spirit alive in our kids so that it stays with them as adults?
I’d like to say I had it figured out back then, with a set plan in place. But that wouldn’t be the case. So, I’ve pondered what (by chance) created such a lasting free spirit.
Here’s what I came up with:
Those are pretty easy “doables” for any parent to adopt.
So, here’s a challenge. Ask your kids: What would you say in a paragraph about life?
If your children’s answers reflect joy and a carefree spirit . . . smile, and know they’ll take that mindset with them when they leave home.
But what if you get a different kind of answer? Well, maybe that’s an invitation to try one or more of the above. After all, any paragraph on life can be rewritten.
My dad just recently started to age. Truly. A year ago, he was still playing golf twice a week—even though he was 93 at the time. He only started using a cane six months ago (and it’s one he personally created out of a dowel stick, with a golf-ball-handle on top), and it’s just been a little over two months since he stopped driving altogether.
So it’s entirely new for me to watch my dad . . . finally age and require some modifications in his life.
But rather than focus on what he no longer can do, I decided to see what kinds of lessons I might learn as he enters this new stage of life. It turns out this was much easier to do than I thought. Here’s some of what I’ve gleaned.
Experience 1: My dad’s vision has diminished somewhat, so I recently bought him a phone with extra large buttons and offered to copy his personal phone directory in large, bold font. But while the time-worn book was filled with lots of names, he only wanted me to copy the numbers of these few people: his daughters, sisters, and grandkids. That was it.
The Lesson: Most people in our lives come and go, yet a small inner circle will remain with us for life. So the next time a coworker or neighbor or teacher upsets us, we can ask ourselves: When I’m 94, is this person going to make the cut in my new phone book? Could be a helpful guideline for deciding who’s worth getting distressed over right now.
Experience 2: I’ve never known my dad to drink wine, and he has probably had a total of a dozen or so beers in his entire life. But recently, he started drinking wine with his “girlfriend.” (My mother died after they had been married for 50 years, and he’s been with his girlfriend for the last ten years.)
The other night we were all out to dinner, and they were both having a glass of wine. While she has always enjoyed wine, I confess it was such an odd picture for me to see my dad drinking out of a goblet.
So I nonchalantly asked why (after all these years) he had now decided to drink wine. Without missing beat, he raised his glass and toasted it against his girlfriend’s glass and said, “So that I can do that.” And then with a twinkle in his eye, he added, “I couldn’t do that if she was drinking alone.”
The Lesson: With my dad’s new changes, he can no longer help his girlfriend in some of the ways that he previously did. So, he has found a new way to make her smile. Bottom line: If we’re willing to explore possibilities, there’s always a new option.
Experience 3: Since I started taking my dad to his doctor appointments, I noticed a disturbing theme. The doctors turn their back on my dad and talk to me—as though he isn’t even present. After the third time this happened, I brought it up to my dad. I was getting pretty huffy about it, but he merely shrugged his shoulders and said, “They just don’t have experience treating a 94-year-old patient.”
The Lesson: Insight over indignation is always a much better way to go.
Experience 4: My dad does not talk about what he can no longer do or what he now does more slowly than before. Instead, he proudly shows off what he can do—and that’s a lot.
For example, while he’s no longer driving to the grocery store, he does all his own shopping once someone takes him there. While he has some difficulty seeing the line to sign on his credit card, he whips it out of his wallet right on cue. If you shake his hand, be prepared for a grip that rivals young twenty-year-olds. The list goes on.
The Lesson: There are always going to be negatives and positives in our lives. That’s a given. However, we can choose which of those two we decide to focus on.
Experience 5: For as long as I’ve known my dad, he has eaten the same breakfast, for which he preps each night. He’s still doing this; however, he recently asked me, “How would you define optimism for a 94-year-old man?” His answer was: A guy who prepares his breakfast . . . the night before.
The Lesson: It’s important to have a sense of humor at any age.
Now, it’s not as though my dad has lived a charmed life. Not at all. He’s a WWII veteran with some pretty horrific war experiences. In his forties, he was robbed at gunpoint. He has had cancer not once, not twice—but five times.
Yet, he never complains about anything. There is something to learn from that, too.
So as I spend time with my dad in this new phase of his life, I’m going to keep focusing on the positive and see what other life lessons I can extrapolate from our time together. That’s because I want to feel joy, not sadness, as he continues to age.
And that . . . seems the best way to honor how he’s lived for over nine decades.