“Yes and… Parenting”- Harnessing the power of Improv in Parenting

August 22, 2015

Want to know how to say “no” without a huge drama ensuing. Instead of saying no, say yes…and…


I know what you’re thinking. How in the world do I say no by saying yes?!?! They are opposites, duh. Well, you don’t really actually SAY yes, you acknowledge whatever it is your child has proposed and insert what you want them to do. So in a way it’s a form of distraction but it is also a form of validation. Your child feels heard and cooperated with and is therefore more likely to cooperate with you.


The concept of “yes and…” is a basic skill in the art of improvisation. Improv is when actors work together to create a scene right before your eyes that has never existed, never been written and never been rehearsed, usually based on a “form” and a suggestion that the audience gives in the moment. It is the perfect training for parenting. There are so many great skills including but not limited to being able to create funny characters on demand, editing story books on the fly, and of course the ever useful “yes and”. “Yes and” is basically taking what your scene partner has “offered” as a part of your reality and justifying it by adding details that make it seem to “fit” all the better. 


“Yes anding” your child can take on many forms. Here are a few.


You want your child to brush their teeth but they are busy playing pirate. Instead of insisting that they stop playing to come brush their teeth, simply join their make believe reality and justify WHY pirate Joey needs to brush his teeth RIGHT NOW or else something that might happen to a pirate might happen. Maybe the crocodile who is coming to eat you both hates the smell of toothpaste.


Your child wants to go outside but they are still in their pajamas. Instead of saying “no we can’t go outside because you need to get dressed,” say “sure we can go outside as soon as we have put our outside clothes on.”


Your child is jumping around as you wait in line at the post office. Instead of saying “stop jumping around”, ask them why they are jumping, who they are and where they are, then adopt their reality and come up with a reason why they have to be very still, or very quiet. For example, maybe they say “I’m jumping because I am a kangaroo in the zoo.” You might say something like “ I see Mr. Kangaroo. Look out. There is a really big tree that is just about to fall on us. If you keep jumping, it will fall and crush us. If you stay VERY still, we will be ok.” Then if they keep jumping, you can say “oh no! watch out! The tree is falling on us.” Both of you pretend to be trapped by the tree. Either way you win.


Your child keeps calling your name and asking you to hold them but your hands are full and you can’t immediately free them up. Instead of saying “No I can’t hold you. Stop asking me.”, say “I hear you. You want me to hold you but look at my hands. I am already holding so many things and I have no place to put them down right now. Would you hold something for me?” This also engages your child’s natural instinct to be helpful. If they choose to be helpful, you’ll have distracted them from wanting to be held for the moment. If they choose not to be helpful, their focus will be on keeping from having to hold something for you. 


I used this method just today several times. One example is when my child wanted to eat one of those fruit and vegetable puree pouches. He still can’t get enough of them even though he is almost 4. Frankly I don’t care because they are at least good food. They have nutrients he needs and lack bad fat, salt and added sugar. But they are somewhat expensive so we limit consumption to only when we need convenience food- when we are out. My DH had already engaged in a conflict over “no you can’t have that because they are only for when we are not home.” I jumped in with “I can make you strawberry applesauce. Would you like me to make you strawberry apple sauce?” He immediately dropped the conflict and got excited about having homemade strawberry applesauce. It wasn’t hard to do. We had frozen strawberries and homemade applesauce. I put some of each in the blender and even allowed him to push the button. Problem solved.


This won’t avoid every conflict. Conflict is a necessary part of growing up as children push boundaries as a part of normal development. There are sometimes when a simple “no” IS the answer, especially when they are in danger, but this is a technique that I use every day multiple times a day. It helps me pick my battles so that I am only engaging in ones that are truly worth going to the matt over because we all know that once you choose a battle, you have to win it.


Try adding “yes and” to your routine and see how it lightens the mood and actually makes it easier to get stuff done. 

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