Why good mental health is all about how you dance

Oasis Encounter is our therapeutic intervention designed to enhance the mental health of parents and children through developing stronger relationships. Whilst Encounter is focused on parent-child relationships, the insights on our course can transform anyone’s mental health!


What do Gangnam Style, The Macarena and The Cha cha slide all have in common? You can’t not dance to them!  

Perhaps you’ve been in this situation before.  

You’re at a wedding, party, or a particularly rowdy BBQ, and you realise you’ve been on the dance-floor for far too long.  

You’re flagging.  

What once seemed like an excellent idea when you were full of energy, adrenaline and no small dose of recklessness now seems like a laughable decision from the very distant past.  

You’ve got nothing left to give.  

But then, all of a sudden, you hear the familiar words, “This is for all the imitaters, prepataters and haters, this is somethin’ new, the casper slide part 2, featuring the platimum band, and this time…we gonna get Funky” followed by a bass line so catchy that even the most stiff-necked amongst us can’t help but snap a finger or tap a shoe.  

Suddenly what seemed like a knackering impossibility is now a life-giving reality. You know the steps. You’ve been here many times before. Your body goes into dancing autopilot. 

After one “slide to the left”, and another “slide to the right”, you drop an all-important “crisscross” only to follow with the heart pumping, jaw dropping, gut busting — “cha cha real smooth”.  

You’re lost in the dance.  

Oasis Encounter is our unique therapeutic intervention supporting parents struggling with their child’s behaviour. It’s about the transformation of mental wellbeing through the transformation of parent-child relationships.  

Encounter has a 100% recommendation rate from parents and has had incredible results from repaired marriages to resolved family conflicts.  

You might think that to achieve this the Encounter team have needed to enforce stricter discipline, stronger punishments and more intense timeouts for children. But the answer to Encounter’s transformative power lies not in enforcing consequences but in changing dance moves. 

Let’s explore why.  

The same dance on repeat

Encounter is founded upon a Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) approach to parenting drawing on the work of ground-breaking psychologist, Haim Omer. At the heart of Omer’s approach is a framework for understanding why relational breakdown occurs between parents and children known as the ‘Cycle of Escalation’ (CoE). 

The CoE outlines the different steps that lead to an outburst or ‘escalated event’ between a child and parent. These steps include a ‘trigger phase’ followed by an ‘escalation phase’, ‘crisis phase’, ‘recovery phase’ and a ‘post-crisis depression phase’. For a more detailed analysis see here 

The main point is that the CoE is exactly what it says it is. A cycle. A repetitive pattern that parents and children understandably get stuck in that perpetuates a problematic relational dynamic and therefore problematic mental health.  

In this sense, the cycle is like a dance. Both dance partners — parent and child — know the moves. Like dancing to the cha cha slide, they know where the moves are leading. They do them automatically.  

Jimmy swinging on his chair

Here’s a practical example of what this looks like.  

Jimmy is swinging on his chair in the kitchen. Jimmy’s mum, Sarah, says to little Jimmy, “Stop swinging on your chair.” But Jimmy continues. Sarah shouts. Jimmy throws his chair across the room. Sarah sends Jimmy to his room.  

The next day the same thing occurs. The day after that, Sarah just has to look at Jimmy sitting in the kitchen, and because Jimmy’s brain has already laid out the steps of what is going to happen next, he doesn’t even wait to be told off. He just throws his chair and goes to his room. 

Jimmy swings on his chair. Sarah shouts “sliding to the left”. Jimmy continues, “sliding to the right”. Sarah sends Jimmy to his room with a “crisscross” and then the “cha cha real smooth” takes full effect with Jimmy throwing his chair across the room.  

The dance has taken over. 

Colourful jumpers or singing Disney?

To prevent this cycle from endlessly repeating itself, Sarah needs to do something different. She needs to step out of the dance.  

Whether it’s coming into the kitchen wearing a different colored jumper or belting out the first verse of ‘Let it go’ from Disney’s Frozen, Sarah needs to change things up so that Jimmy’s brain doesn’t know what’s going to happen next and therefore Jimmy’s automatic responses — automatic dance moves — don’t continue.  

As the adult in this situation, with the more developed brain, Sarah has the most control when it comes to changing things. That’s why Encounter takes a parent focused approach.  

Striking whilst the iron’s cold

Whilst wearing a funky looking jumper or breaking out into song may be a dream come true (or a worst nightmare) for many of us, when we notice we are in a cycle of escalation or a problematic dance routine, these things aren’t always available or realistic. So, what is? 

For our Encounter team, the answer lies with unconditional love in the form of ‘gestures’. Gestures are acts of compassion where a parent shows love towards their child building what our Encounter team calls ‘parental presence’ – a known sense by a child that their parent loves them regardless of what they’ve done.  

Doing a gesture means “striking when the iron’s cold”. Performing an act of love when we least feel like it. Just after we’ve had an argument or been on the receiving end of an outburst. 

“This isn’t about rewards and consequences. We do gestures when we least feel like it, and often when our child least deserves it” says Erin Docherty, National Mental Health Lead for Oasis.   

Just when the dance is about to take over, we change our tune. 

For many of our parents this might look like making a hot chocolate for their child after an argument, leaving a random note in a child’s lunchbox saying, ‘I love you’, sitting with a child while they play their favourite video game or learning a new tik-tok dance with them.  

However, this does not mean that we create a fantasy land where consequences don’t exist. Whilst our Encounter programme wholeheartedly rejects the punitive “rewards vs consequences” model of parenting, we do embrace teaching children about the natural consequences of their actions.  

If a child smashes their iPad in anger, they will need to learn that it won’t be replaced straight away. They will be without their iPad for some time. Perhaps until their next birthday.  

This isn’t about punishment but allowing and encouraging children to explore their agency. To understand their own responsibility and the consequences of their actions.  

Compassion before correction

But of course, doing a gesture, whipping out your YMCA dance moves when Kylie Mingolue’s location is about to take full-effect, is not always easy and takes practice.  

At the heart of this practice is compassion. If you are a parent or just someone who wants to change your dance routine and step out of the cycle of escalation with someone you know, make sure you are kind to yourself.  

“It all starts with self-care. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If your cup’s not full, how can you do things like gestures that require love and effort? You have to be good to yourself so you can be good to others” says Bethany Woods, Primary Mental Health Worker for Oasis in the North East.  

Whether it’s buying yourself that extra nice cup of coffee or watching 30 minutes of your favourite TV show, make sure you are kind to yourself and have some form of rest so you can give to others. 

Love not punishment

Encounter shows us that unconditional love, not punishment, is the secret to relationship transformation and therefore mental wellbeing.  

If we want good mental health, we need to change our dance routines. We need to step outside of the cycle of escalation and strike while the iron is cold with gestures — acts of unconditional love that change our usual behavioral patterns and remind us why our relationships matter. 

Good mental health is all about how you dance! 

To find out more about our Encounter course check out our latest video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Nfv6P4TtNE