Monday, July 8, 2024

Yes, And Kids

My eleven-year-old daughter is a drama queen, in the sense that she loves the stage, the dramatic arts, and she's very good at it. She can be a little shy in person, but she seems to embrace being in front of the crowd, which is something that amazes me, since I don't like being in front of large groups of people, or small groups of people. Any people, really. 

A few days ago, I caught her doing something with her little sister that I never noticed before. We were all in the living room, and the five-year-old begging for attention, as usual, trying to get someone to join in her play fantasies. She'd come up to her sister, saying, "Pretend you're a big, bad, wolf." Without hesitation, the older sister would respond with something like, "I'm a big, bad wolf, and I'm going to eat your feet off!" Then she'd chase after her giggling little sister and try to snack on her toes. Or maybe the little one would say, "Pretend you're the queen," and the older sister would respond, "I'm the queen, and I hereby banish you to the dungeon." But then the little one would say, "No, you're a good queen, not an evil queen." Immediately, the older sister would say, "Down to the dungeon, Princess, and release all of the prisoners in time for the royal birthday party!"

I loved the way she would join in her little sister's games so passionately, especially because it meant that, for a while, anyway, I didn't have to play. But the pattern is what struck me, and I realized that she was doing the same "Yes, And" techniques that she had learned in her drama classes. No matter what her little sister asked for, no matter how silly or impossible the game, she'd respond with immediate affirmation and even add to the game with some kind of twist of her own. 

Against a dark background, a neon sign reads "Yes, yes."
Photo by Michèle Eckert on Unsplash

I got so impressed by the interaction that I started looking for it, and apparently, this is a thing between them, as well as the other littles, the grandkids. Granted, over time I also noticed that sometimes only the pattern stayed the same, even if the passion had gone out of the responses. Sometimes, big sister would sit on the couch, in the perfect preteen imitation of Ennui from Inside Out 2, and instead of joining in with excitement, she'd just say the words in that flat, bored tone, tinged with just a soupçon of sarcasm.

"Pretend you're a scary lion."

"Oh, no," without moving an inch or changing the inflection in her voice at all, "I'm a scary lion and I'm going to eat you."

She wouldn't move, but the effect was pretty much the same, with one exception. The little sister would run off giggling, but, this time, without anyone chasing her.

I loved the dynamic so much that I started doing it with the littles myself - responding to whatever game they wanted to play with "yes, and" energy. Sometimes, if I'm busy, I take another page out of my actress daughter's script and use the "and" to my own selfish ends.

"Daddy, pretend you're a supervillain."

"I'm Doctor Octopus, and I just need to type in the last lines of code to my evil computer so I can take over the city's water system and flood all the streets."

I'd been "yes, and-ing" for a couple of weeks when the time came for our planned summer vacation to Disney World. This was a unique trip - just me and my oldest daughter as the only adults, and all three of the littles, not one of them over five. Normally, I have everything planned down to the minute on these trips, meal reservations, ride itineraries, and firm showtime deadlines all set up in advance. This time, however, I decided to "yes, and" the whole trip. You want to keep riding and stop for food later? Absolutely, and the line for Dumbo is only ten minutes right now. You want chicken tenders and fries for the third day in a row? Of course, and I'm eating a salad in Magic Kingdom, because, why not? You want to leave the park at one in the afternoon, without even getting on Guardians of the Galaxy, because you're tired and "parked out"? 

Okay, this I take umbrage with, but, fine, I guess. Back to the hotel.

The thing is, even without doing every single thing that I wanted to do, the trip was one of the best I've been on. There was a marked decrease in arguments, because the littles were pretty much getting what they wanted, as much as I could safely make it happen. One five-year-old got onto the Avatar ride for the first time, while the other one got kicked off by the height police. She screamed through the entire thing - not happy screams, more like night-terror screams - but she tried it, and one good thing that came of it was that some other rides that would have scared her before, now felt to her like a slow crawl through "It's a Small World" by comparison. Conversely, the other five-year-old, Auntie Shorty, got on every ride with a fast track or a huge drop or splash, and loved all of them. She even wanted to get on Guardians, and this is after watching the ride video to see what she was getting into, but she didn't get the chance, due the the unpleasantness mentioned above.

I don't remember who came up with it, some really smart psychologist, probably, but there's a similar principle in parenting, and one I've also applied for years to teaching as well. The idea is that, as parents, we want to look for every opportunity to say "yes," every chance to be affirmative and encouraging, because the world forces us to say "no" so much of the time. There are things we cannot bend on. "No', you can't jump off the top bunk," and "No, you can't eat the half a candy bar you found on the seat on the rollercoaster." There are just some "No's" that have to be said, but a lot fewer than we think, and if we look for every opportunity to say not only "yes," but "yes, and," every opportunity to not only affirm our kids, but jump in with them, then our "No's" are a lot easier to take. 

Like I said, I've adapted this for the classroom as well, looking for every opportunity to say yes to a student. I had an epiphany many years ago, more than I'd like to count, where my technology failed or I was otherwise unable to proceed with a lesson, and I just got so frustrated and angry trying to keep a classroom full of sophomores absolutely silent that I couldn't even focus on fixing or circumventing the problem. It was one of those out-of-body experiences where you watch yourself doing something so stupid that you want to slap yourself, but, alas, you're disembodied. I didn't come across the "yes, and" principle of parenting until later, but I learned instead to just say, "This isn't working right. Talk amongst yourselves while I get this back online, and be ready to get started when I figure it out." It worked wonders. The kids talked, but they understood the assignment and kept it down, and I had prepared them for the moment when I would signal that we're getting back to work. It wasn't perfect, but life had intervened, and instead of fighting it, I "yes, and-ed." I felt the same way on this recent trip. We're on vacation for only five days, and it's supposed to be fun. Does every meal really have to have all four food groups properly represented, or can the kids eat what they want for once in their lives? Does each kid have to ride something they don't want to, just because someone else does, or can we take turns and let everyone do something they love, even if it means splitting up or waiting a little for someone else? Do we have to stay in the park from sun-up to sundown, just to "get our money's worth," even if the last four or five hours are, frankly, miserable, or can we just call it a day and take advantage of the pool, the arcade, the restaurant, and (thank God) the air conditioning back at the resort? 

Yes, and ... we had a great time, didn't have to hustle to get packed on the last day, and had zero meltdowns.

Except for that Avatar ride.

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