For a brief time in my life, I was a professional magician. It sounds more glamorous than it was. For a few years in middle and high school, I would perform magic tricks for birthday parties. With an old battered suitcase full of tricks and a podium I made out of an old entertainment center, I would amaze and awe young children.
I still have most of those magic tricks (and the suitcase – the podium is now sawdust) and every once in awhile, I’ll take one out to amuse my kids. More importantly, though, I have the lessons I learned from being a magician. Lessons that help me be a better and more innovative parent.
Parenting Banter Is Important
Magicians talk a lot. Just think how much talking Penn does (the big one, not the smaller guy, Teller, who doesn’t talk). The few times that I’ve seen silent magicians I have found that I am less engaged in the show. The banter is really important in getting you to engage with them.
While silence as a therapist is a good thing, silence in the house is not (I get nervous when my kids are too quiet!) Language development requires conversation. Research has shown that children who are exposed to more language do better in school and could be one of the causes of the achievement gap. The more talking you do at home, the more words your child is exposed to.
Your banter should run the gambit. Use lots of feeling words to help them develop an emotional vocabulary. Talk about your mistakes and failures (the ones that are appropriate to share) to help them understand a growth mindset. Describe your experiences and help them learn to be better storytellers.
Misdirection Is Key
One of the skills that I learned as a magician was to draw the audience’s attention away from the slight of hand that I was doing and towards something else. This misdirection allowed me to make the “magic” happen. Magicians create illusions by guiding your attention away from where the action is happening to someplace else. It might be a flashy flourish or just talking about something else on the stage.
Misdirection works well with kids, too! Just like the tada trick that we use when our kids fall down, you can use misdirection to help a child recover from a tantrum, meltdown, or even a grumpy mood. The key is to use humor, a different activity, or even food (yes, it can be ok to give food in these situations – sometimes meltdowns occur because of hunger and kids can’t express that) to pull the child’s attention away from the cause of her mood or explosion.
It may take several attempts to get the misdirection to work and that’s ok. Unlike a magician, your child isn’t necessarily tuned into you and your first attempts may just be getting them to focus on you. The laughter, food, or change in activity shifts her focus and eventually creates a space to talk through whatever the problem was.
Kids Are Just as Interested in Failure as Success
As former (just barely) professional magician, I’ve had some tricks blow up in my face (not literally). The best magicians are able to recover smoothly from failure and move on which is a great example of flexible thinking and growth mindset. Even better magicians turn their failure into a moment of shared empathy with the audience and pull them in even closer into the act.
As parents, we fail too, but we are so hesitant to be open about our mistakes, particularly in front of our kids. Showing that you are not perfect, though, gives your kids permission to also not be perfect. If we want them to develop a growth mindset and know that they can learn from failure, we have to be transparent about our own mistakes.
When you don’t hold up your end of a bargain because you’ve changed your mind (or just forgot), let them know. Talk about the projects that didn’t work out as planned and share with them how you are thinking about trying again in the future. Most importantly, listen to them about their mistakes and failures and then reinforce the importance of their effort, energy, and engagement.
So polish up your magic wand and practice saying, “Hocus pocus!” Sprinkling a little pixie dust on your parenting might just give the extra push you need to bring innovation into your parenting.