LOVE CONNECTORS: Creative Contours

A Crafting Series

By: Jill Stockburger

A recent phenomenon began at our house, the youngest of our crew
began a ritual of nervously proclaiming, “I love you, Dad! I love you, Mom!” and needing a hug whenever my husband or I would leave the room, repeating the words and actions several times. With the first few interactions, my heart swelled at this new seemingly form of endearment from of our normally precocious six-year old, but by the next day, it occurred to me that I had missed the need behind the behavior. Within the past six weeks, our youngest has experienced a lot of relational transition as his daily routine, his world, has shifted and an underlying fear had crept in, ‘Could I lose them too?’ There was a rupture in our attunement with him and once we gained awareness, we were able to help name his fears while affirming our relationship through playful engagement.

The dance of attunement and co-regulation is illustrated well by the infant game of peek-a-boo. Within peek-a-boo, there is an established rhythm, one of a connection with the other (eyes opened) and one of a connection with self (eyes closed), developing interpersonal and intrapersonal awareness; healthy inner and outer connections develop. The caregiver is not meant to be in step with the child at all times. In fact, this form of intimacy would be invasive or inhibit growth. Enter D.W. Winnicott’s concept of the ‘good enough mother’.

Winnicott was a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst who observed thousands of caregivers and babies, and he came to realize that babies and children actually develop resilience when their caregivers ‘fail’ them in tolerable ways. In fact, the moments of repair create an expansion within the relationship through deeper connection, increased awareness, healing attachment opportunities, and outward growth through reframing.

“Fear of breakdown is the fear of a breakdown that has already been
experienced.” D.W. Winnicott

In short, don’t fear the breakdown; embrace the breakdown, not perfection. We are all having them within the scope of COVID-19, all of us aged 6, 10, 13, 40, and 41, and we are all stumbling a bit in the dark as new pieces of us emerge during this experience, feisty ones, sad ones, angry ones, pensive ones, glad ones, and tender ones. Be open to unexpected treasure surfacing.

Blind Drawing Family Portraits
Why do I love this exercise? Let me count the ways…

  • Blind drawing is the artist’s fastest way of breaking old habits and unlearning lifeless mechanisms in order to really see the thing or person they are looking at, and remember, we are all artists. Each of us creates within our daily routines.
  • Blind drawing is the perfect antidote to perfectionism because its first and only step is to let go of any hope of perfection. Anyone can play while learning to laugh with yourself, not at yourself.

“Play creates new neural connections and tests them. It creates a
low-risk format for finding and developing innate skills.” Brown &
Vaughan

  • Attunement between child and caregiver begins in the right brain; this is a specialty of the arts too. Creating visual art increases functional connectivity of the brain (right to left brain movement), leading to greater stress resistance, and psychological resilience. One could even call this exercise a playful arts-based version of peek-a-boo.
  • In a short amount of time, this exercise brings joyful seeing, fresh eyes of perspective, and whole-brain engagement. With this connectivity, words come, maybe even words to a specific rupture making room for repair, all while practicing the dance of attunement.

The creativity birthed out of arts-based play awakens a felt sense of love within us that reminds, yes, there is an urgency to life, but life is not an emergency. For when we are held, we are free to not take ourselves too seriously understanding the fluid grace of ‘mistakes.’ Holding emotional closeness, is a gift of attunement, co-regulation, and repair.

Ages: 4+

Supplies: Paper and pencil

Exercise:

  • Give yourself a set amount of time to draw using a timer depending on ages and attention span (5-15 minutes).
  • Sit across from your partner in order for each to be able to see the other.
  • Find a point on the paper to begin and set the tip of your pencil down.
  • Begin drawing your subject. As you draw, feel free to shift from one subject to the next, but don’t lift your pencil.
  • Resist the urge to look at the page.
  • When the timer goes off, share your images. I bet you end up with a unique caricature and who doesn’t love a caricature!
  • Don’t forget to bring awareness to sensations and feelings that emerge before, during, and after the exercise.

Other options:
Don’t stop with caregiver and child. Feel free to switch up the dyadic
relationships. For example, children might enjoy watching their parents
connect this way or two siblings might enjoy doing it together. At the end, you might even compile all your silly faces in to a fun-loving family portrait.

About the author: Jill Stockburger is a counseling intern with Memphis Family Connection Center as she obtains her Masters Degree in Mental Health Counseling and Expressive Arts Therapy through Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass.
Jill loves to see all the arts modalities of visual art, music, drama, dance, and creative writing integrated with TBRI principles.