I is for Improvisation
I’ve performed, taught, and directed improv for a long ass time, both in Chicago and LA. I thought my improv muscles would never be used again when I became a parent but actually, I use those skills every day.
I started writing a book Improv for Parents and here is an excerpt. Let me know if it helps you or if I’m on the right track.
The improviser’s mainstay is “Yes…and”. It is an incredibly difficult concept to master. “Yes… and” means, saying yes to another actor’s idea and building upon it, not forcing your idea on them instead. If an actor comes out on the stage and says, “Good morning sir!” and his partner on stage says, “It’s not morning, it’s night! And I’m an octopus!” Actor #1 has just been verbally kicked in the nuts or “denied” as we call it. Consequently, the scene has been derailed until they agree on whom they are and what time of day it is. As an audience member, it is painful to watch.
How different would the scene be if Actor #1 said, “Good morning sir!” and Actor #2 said, “Yes, Good morning Senator. We are making history today!” See, “Yes…and”. Actor #2 agrees that it is morning (“yes”) and heightens the idea of power in Actor #1’s choice of “sir” to make them Senators and that today is the day of a big vote (“and”). This scene is going to be so much more fun for the actors and the audience.
I use this theory when engaged in creative play with my children. The worst thing a child can hear during playtime is “No.” “No, you are not a robot” “No, sharks don’t eat pizza.” “No, you are not a football player, you are a girl. Be the cheerleader.” Don’t deny during play time. Kids hear “no” so much during the day; play time is a time of freedom. After all, the imagination is an endless closet. But a child won’t discover who she is if you lock that door or limit what she can see inside.
We want to further our children’s ideas. We want to “Yes…and”. Keep in mind, there are many ways to say yes. As you begin, keep it simple:
“Daddy, I am a robot today.”
“Yes, you are and I have a special robot breakfast to make you.” See? Simple.
Driving home the other day my daughter said, “Mom, I think I want to speak differently”. Now if I was tired or distracted I could have easily said, “That’s silly” which is a somewhat disguised denial. But, instead I asked, “So you want your voice to sound differently?” to clarify where she was going with this idea so I could “and” effectively. “No”, she said, “I want to talk with different words.” “Why not?’ I said, “Maybe you could make up unique words for things- create names you like the sound of?”
Has she since created this language? Not yet. Like any kid she jumped on something else in the next moment. But in that moment, sitting in the back seat of the car watching traffic, her imagination took her there and all I did was validate that place. Because I validated that place, she was able to move forward from that place to the next one. If I would have said “No”, she would have been stuck there, questioning her choice and my rejection.
You also want to encourage “yes and” in your child. When playing with a sibling, it is common for one or the other to say, “No” to an idea, especially when they are extremely different personalities. That is a moment to step in and say, “Say yes. Don’t deny her idea, build upon it. Then we can explore the idea you have after we explore hers”. The more you do it, the more it will sink in. The best moment in my parenting was when I heard my 5 yr old say “Don’t deny” to her sister and they readjusted and kept playing.
Here is today’s challenge. Say “Yes” when you usually would say “No”. This doesn’t mean letting your children play with chainsaws. It is to be applied to creative ideas during moments of play, during art or craft projects or during playful discussion. Trust me, this is going to feel hokey at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will see how easy it is and you will surprise yourself with how creative you become when you have to constantly build on someone else’s idea. Every time I “Yes…and” my children, I get a smile in return. What a great reward. By the way, it is also helpful in marriages. But for now, start with the kids. ;)
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- areallifegrownupmom said: You are awesome. My day job is in developmental play therapy and I have used this improv rule in trainings. BUT my only experience with improv is from a class I took in jr. high. I’m glad to hear I am not completely off from a real expert
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- raisingaidan said: Love this! What a refreshing outlook on reacting to children’s ideas and playtime suggestions.
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- mammalingo said: Awesome!!!
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- undercover-mama said: Excellent! I’d really like to see the ‘marriage’ version of this to ;)
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- bridgettesxo said: Really like the analogy. It’s too easy to say “no” all the time and it’s such a huge let down for a kid.
- lostwithoutthem said: I think that was helpful. Now i jsut hope when eddie gets a little bit older. don’t think i can work on that too much with an 8month old
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