I was recently reading about Del Close who was a legendary improv pioneer. He mentored people like Bill Murray, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. His first and #1 rule was the principle of “Yes, and…”. Improv actors were always building on each other’s ideas. There was no judging another’s thoughts. No time to poo poo something as wrong. Instead you build on someone else’s idea. You trust and move forward. You roll with the idea, no matter how crazy. You breathe and take a leap. Then together you embark on a journey!
“No.” Powerful, isn’t it? It’s a show stopper. A momentum killer. It stops the flow of ideas.
“Yes, and…” Totally different. Speaks of acceptance. Being heard. Possibilities.
So, Betsy, how does this relate to kids, you ask? Am I a believer in kids never hearing no? Let me assure you, I very much believe kids need to hear no! We all, kids especially, need boundaries. But how could “yes, and…” change things for us when dealing with the pressures of parenting or even teaching? Here are some ideas to help shift from a no (Brain stomp!) to a yes, and (Brainstorm!)…
Your child is playing a video game and it’s time for them to wash their hands for dinner. Inevitably you hear, “But Mom I’m in the middle of….can I play longer?” Instead of throwing out a “No!” how about a “Yes, and in 2 minutes you turn it off or I will come in and do that”? 2 minutes later you follow through and walk in to turn it off without further conversation or your child quickly does. (Consistency is key along with not engaging in more dialogue about it.) Your child was heard and had a say, while you showed flexibility and compromise. 2 minutes is worth it, don’t you agree?
Your child asks you for something in the store that’s within reason for your budget. Instead of a quick, “No” how about, “Yes, and in exchange I would like you to for the rest of the week”? Again you show you can compromise and your child learns a valuable lesson that in life, most of the time, we earn what we get. Sure kids get a lot of freebies from parents but you can certainly pick times where they can work for something. I’m not suggesting every time you say this. Pick and choose! Watch how creative your child can be and also learn how important certain things are to your child.
Your child asks you to drive them to a friend’s house after dinner. Instead of, “No, I have to clean up the kitchen”, how about, “Yes, and I’d like you to help clear the table before we go, so I’m not in the kitchen all evening”. Again your child learns that you are willing to help and that they can return the favor. I’m not saying kids should have to “pay” for every ride or favor you do for them. But if you can help your child understand just how much you do for them everyday (how many kids realize your time spent cooking or cleaning up?!), this is certainly an option to teach them. I hear lots of stories of kids believing they are entitled to your attention, time, rides or whatever at the time of their request, without thinking about what you are doing or what you are giving up in order to honor their request. How else will a child learn if we don’t present them with the opportunity to do so?
You have a student who doesn’t want to complete his work and is asking you yet another question. Instead of “No, I’m not answering you until your work is done”, how about “Yes, and when I see your work is almost done, I’d love to come discuss that with you”? You open students up to flexible thinking, wait time and compromise, while also learning they need to do their work, before making more requests.
This idea takes some creativity and extra time no doubt. Sometimes “No” is just easier. You’re tired. Spread thin. In a hurry. But I believe giving this a try once in a while can go a long way in helping children feel heard. This is something I find every child I work with says in some form or another: feeling unheard. Kids can learn valuable lessons this way. And I believe it will help build a stronger connection between you and your child or student. If you think back to the reason this is used in improv: to accept and build on each other’s ideas without judgment, invalidating or refuting. How cool to do this with your child or student? Consider times when instead of just saying “NO!” and brain stomping, you can use “Yes, and…” and allow some brainstorming for your child. Who knows…you and your child might even have some fun with this and become your own improv comedy team?! If we can add more laughter to our lives, what a bonus for everyone!