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Applying Improv Concepts to Parenting: Match, Mirror, and Duplicate

I confess: I used to be a bossy mom. I was constantly telling my kids what to do. I was frustrated that I said things and was ignored. It was even more aggravating when my husband asked the kids to do the same thing I had been asking, and they did it right away! This drove me crazy.

Finally, improv classes came to the rescue! First of all, improv taught me to really listen to the whole person. It gave me the skill of hyper listening. But once I had the skill of hyper listening, there was another step. I needed to acquire the next skill: match, mirror, and duplicate.

Sarah Johnson and David Raftery performing and improv comedy scene at The Bridge Improv Theater

In improv, you never know ahead of time what your scene partner is doing. You have to pay attention and act fast. One way we support each other and get on the same page is to copy each other. We match the facial expression and attitude of our scene partner. Then, we mirror what they are doing. We repeat the action they are taking and we keep doing it. It is a way for us (after we have hyper listened) to work on the same page together. We can portray a scene together. I have started many scenes with someone and had no idea what we were doing, where we were, or why, but it looked magical because I was doing the same thing as my scene partner. It is another way we nonverbally say, “yes, and..” to our partners.

I needed to match, mirror, and duplicate with my children. I was hyper listening to the body language of my children, but I was missing the next step. I was not meeting them where they were. I was trying to force my agenda, schedule, and demands on them. They were not listening to me, but I was not listening to them! I needed to really hyper listen, and then, match their mood, tone, and desires. I needed to approach them with connection, instead of commands. I learned to prepare them for things. I learned to say, "‘What are you doing right now? How’s it going? Can you be ready to stop and walk the dog in about 15 minutes?” Whereas previously I had simply said, “You need to walk the dog right now!” No wonder no one listened.

Once I became more aware of my children and connected with them, life got so much happier. We had interactions and conversations that were fun and edifying. We could work together with a positive attitude instead of stubborn force. Our relationship was not all about orders, commands, and work. It became about appreciation, connection, and love.

Obviously, I am still not perfect. Sometimes the kitchen is a mess, and I will not put up with it for one more minute! But other times, I wait until the kids are in the kitchen, ready to work, and ask them to put their things away. They often do it right away! It’s a lot more successful than screaming at a napping teenager, “Get up and do your work!” Life is so much better when we hyper listen and then match, mirror, and duplicate together. Even if you never practice this skill on an improv stage, try it in real life today!

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