The “Yes, and…” Challenge

March 4th, 2014
By Billy Kaplan improvThose of you who have met me, or heard me speak about children with attachment and trauma difficulties have heard me talk about the first rule of improv theatre: “Yes, and…” You’ve heard me say that I believe “Yes, and…” is a critical tool in the therapeutic parenting tool bag. And I fear that I’ve not done a good job explaining what it means, because I’ve recently heard that some of you think it means you have to give your child(ren) permission to do whatever they want. Nothing could be further from the truth. You see, I think “yes, and…” is more like the opposite: it’s kinda/sorta a way of saying “no” without actually using the word “no.” Let me explain further:
  • The “yes” of “Yes, and…” is not saying yes to the event. It is not “giving in” to the thing the child(ren) wants to do/have.
  • It is instead agreeing to the meaning of what that thing is to the child. I’m suggesting we say “yes” to their desires and wishes, and we let them know we hear and understand that what is important to them is important to us.
  • The “and…” of “Yes, and…” is where we add to their interest/desire by exploring the realistic and logical path toward that interest/desire.
So, for instance, Fred comes home from school. You ask him how school was, and he says, “It. Was. Horrible! I have SO much homework. My teacher is a total freak. And Eddie got the new (fill in the name of a video game here), and he said I can come over to his house to play it with him so… SEE YA!” And he throws his backpack on the ground and turns… And you breathe. Now, we’ve all been programmed for this normal response: “No you’re not. You are NOT going over to Eddie’s house.” And he responds: “Yes I am! You can’t keep me here!” And so begins the power struggle (and you know who I think ALWAYS think wins a power struggle? the kid) that sounds like this: “No you won’t!” “Yes, I will” “No!” “Yes!!! And if you really look at all the words that were literally spoken, you said “No” and “not” over and over again, and he said “yes” over and over. If you used “Yes, and…” instead, it might sound like this: You ask him how school was, and he says, “It. Was. Horrible! I have SO much homework. My teacher is a total freak. And Eddie got the new (fill in the name of a video game here), and he said I can come over to his house to play it with him so… SEE YA!” And he throws his backpack on the ground and turns… And you say, “Oh, my poor baby (no sarcasm!), sounds like you’ve had a really hard day! Yes, I can see how you’d like to go to Eddie’s house to play video games. You’ve had to spend all day behind a desk, your teacher gave you a ton of homework, and going over to Eddie’s house and playing video games sounds like a great way to relieve some stress. And as soon as you’ve completed one, just one of your homework assignments, I’ll drive you over there so you don’t have to ride your bike in this freezing weather, and if it’s okay with his mom, we’ll pick up a pizza for you guys for dinner.” Does that help you to understand? You’ve said yes to what was underneath (having a hard day and needing to blow off steam), yes to his desire (to play video games and play with his friend), and yes to your relationship with him (by offering to take care of him by driving him over and buy pizza). Now, for the challenge: how about we have some fun? When you send me a brief summaries of a situation(s) with your kiddo, including what they wanted and how you responded (and let’s be honest, folks; we’re all doing the best we can!), I’ll post some of these situations (keeping confidentiality, of course), and my alternate, “Yes, and…” approach. I’m game for the challenge!!! How about you?