Improv techniques for reducing bullying

April 25, 2017

When my child started getting to the developmental stage where he wanted all of his ideas to be accepted by his playmate, I started teaching him the basic Improvisation technique of "yes and". Instead of telling him that he had to do what his friend wanted to do because we were at their house or because they were guests at our house, I invited them both to include both of their ideas. It's so simple that even 2 year olds can do it. You simply listen to your friend's idea. Then you acknowledge it. Then you add your idea. Then your friend is much more likely to accept your idea too and add something more of their own. Voila! Everybody is happy and creativity has taken on a whole new level. Using this technique, my child has wound up playing "Angry Birds-Trolls-Tranformers" or some other equally complex game of incorporating characters from more than one imaginary world into their dynamic play. It is amazing to watch these little ones effortlessly weave the various characteristics of these characters and worlds into one.


What an amazing lesson they are learning too! Aside from learning to include everybody, aside from learning how to preempt unnecessary conflict/power plays, aside from learning to listen carefully to each other, aside from learning to work together in small groups, they are learning how to live cooperatively despite their differences. They are learning that they have the power to make their own choices. They are learning that their ideas are equally valuable.


I was taking my turn the other day helping out in my child's classroom. There is a group of girls who tend to play together and one in particular who has decided that she is the director of the group all the time, every time. For some reason, the other girls just cower and do what she says. It bugs me. I bugs me because in allowing this girl who has undoubtably been dubbed as having "leadership skills" to walk all over everybody else, the environment by default is teaching the other girls NOT to use their voices and minds- to become subservient. They've just accepted that so-and-so somehow has the right to tell them what to do. So when so-and-so was called away to do her work at the table, I noticed an impending conflict between two of the other girls. One had approached and declared that she was the teacher. Another who had been playing with so-and-so declared that SHE  was the teacher because "so-and-so said so".  I walked over and asked "what's going on?" They explained that the new addition wanted to be the teacher but so-and-so had said that this other girl was the teacher. I pointed out that so-and-so wasn't even around and that they don't have to do what so-and-so says anyway. Then I said "I have a suggestion for something that can make playing much more fun. Are you interested?" I had their attention. "It's called 'yes and'. All you have to do is say yes to the other person's idea and then add your own idea. Like this, she said 'I'm the teacher!' so you say 'yes, you're the teacher and...'" She lit up and added "I'm the teacher too!" "Yes!" I said. Then another girl who was nearby lit up and said "Does that mean I can be the teacher too?" "Yes," I said "Schools have lots of teachers so you can have as many as you want." Bingo! Everyone was happy. Everyone felt empowered. Everyone was included. And when so-and-so came back they simply used 'yes and' to include her too. Imagine if this technique was taught as the default technique in every nursery school, pre-K, and Kindergarten classroom. Imagine what kind of future society we could build just by teaching "yes and."

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