In the early months and years of life, children begin to understand the world through their senses; they see our smiles, hear our voices, smell their milk, and they touch and taste everything! Meanwhile, they also start to match their inner sensations, like their hunger and their energy levels, with outside cues. They begin to associate certain feelings with certain actions, and certain actions with certain outcomes.
All of this happens alongside human movement. We move in certain ways when we do certain things; we sway and bounce to settle, we swing and spin to play, we rush to get things done, and we stay still to rest. Babies are learning throughout all of this, creating their understanding of the world through the filter of our movements, our tone of voice, our facial expressions – It’s a big job for the babies, and a huge one for the parents!
The back and forward of this parent-child relationship can be seen as a dance. One person makes a move, the other responds, and on and on it goes! While learning the steps to a brand-new dance can be tricky, this process also often occurs without our explicit focus, because we parents get busy and tired! It’s important to know that that’s okay. Sometimes, we will step on toes, we will be out of time and out of synchrony, and that really is okay. In fact, it’s one of the most important things you will help your child learn – how to get back in tune with someone after we’ve all lost it. Remember, we’re in an improvised dance here, not a dancing with the stars finale.
This is why it can be so helpful to actually dance with your baby.
When we find moments to put down the needs and wants of the day, to move together to a favourite song (it doesn’t have to be the wiggles), we allow ourselves to take a moment and see what’s going on in the dance. We can zone in on how it feels when we move together and find out which moves we like the most; which ones are uncomfy; what works for them, and how do we even know? Slow this dance right down. Let’s just focus on a few of those little mechanisms, the ones busy making a world. How do both of you respond to different tones of voice… Are some tones fun? Some calming? What exactly is it that they do that lets us know what they need?
You are always dancing with your baby. Sometimes it helps to take a look at the steps and the patterns of movement that we’ve naturally fallen into, so we can see where it works and where we could move differently.
Remember, it’s just dancing. Experiment, be brave and try new moves!
Blog post written by Molly Flanagan-Sjoberg, currently undertaking Master of Creative Arts Therapy – Dance Movement Therapy at The University of Melbourne.