The two most powerful words in your parenting stress-reduction toolkit are “Yes” and “And.”
This is an amazingly versatile pair of words, especially when you integrate the mindset they convey. Watch, listen to the difference, and be amazed!
Your son is arguing with you about doing his homework. He wants to keep playing his video game that he’s about to take to a new record high level. Your daughter is arguing with you about going to bed, she wants to stay up and keep chatting with her friends online.
You say, in one manner or another, “NO! – Stop it right now and do as your told.” You tell them they can’t do it. You argue back and try to explain or rationalize, “BUT you need to get that work done, your project is due tomorrow and you’ve had all week” or “BUT you’ve got to get some sleep so you can do well on your test tomorrow/not be so grumpy/allow me some down time/be able to get out of bed in the morning without such a struggle/etc.”
Your child is being oppositional and defiant, you think. You assert more authority, sometimes effectively, sometimes not. Either way, you are unhappy with all the arguing and so are your children. You’re tired of fighting AGAINST them. They’re tired of being nagged by you, the enemy. You two (or three in this case) are BUTTING heads – on opposite sides of the argument.
There is a happier, healthier way. The way of “YES…AND…”
Instead, you respond to your son, “YES, I know that computer game is important to you, AND you still need to get your project done. So, you need to save the game and turn it off within two minutes, or I’ll turn it off for you. Then we’ll get your project out of the way…”
Your son starts with “BUT…” You don’t take the bait. You calmly, even compassionately, reply, “YES, I understand it’s hard to stop when you’re on a roll, AND it’s still time to be done and get back to work. Deep breath, you can do it. I’ll help if you need it. AND when you show me you can get off quickly and quietly, then you may return to the game when your project is completed. If you keep arguing, you’ll be done with the game for the day (or week). Your choice. I hope you make a good one.”
End of discussion. You disengage, and execute the stated plan, lovingly and firmly. You are at peace, clear with your intentions, and following through with what you say, appreciating the integrity of doing so. Yes, you are aware of your child’s struggle, and you’re helping them learn to deal with it.
You tell your daughter, “YES I know you don’t want to go to bed right now, AND it’s still your bedtime, so you need to say goodbye for now and log off within the next five minutes (set timer).”
She tearfully or whiningly or angrily starts with “NO, you don’t understand…” or “BUT you’ve got to let me stay up, my friend really needs to talk to me about this problem she’s having…” or “NO, I don’t need to go to bed now, that’s a stupid rule, all my other friends can stay up as late as they want…”
You earnestly and empathically reply, “(YES) I understand that you really enjoy talking with your friends and that you really don’t feel sleepy, AND still this is the rule we agreed on, it’s bedtime. So, let’s take a deep breath and call it a night calmly, so you can enjoy you’re computer privileges again tomorrow. I know you can, kiddo, and I hope you do.” [End of conversation, disengage emotional debates, execute the stated plan.]
With “YES…AND…” you’re on the same team. You’re not the opponent. You are working WITH your child to solve the dilemna, not working AGAINST each other. (Despite what he or she may say in the moment!)
You’re helping your child deal with his or her inner conflict, not making you the bad guy and externalizing the conflict. You’re helping your child become self aware of his/her feelings – reflecting those feelings and redirecting your child about what to do about them. You’re teaching your child emotional self-regulation and self-discipline. You’re empathically responding to their feelings or struggles, while clearly and firmly holding them accountable for their behavior choices. You’re teaching them how to do things, even when they don’t want to.
When you get sucked into the “NOs” and “BUTs” of an argument, you are fighting an ongoing battle of exclusion – us versus them. When you come from a place, an inner place of understanding and acceptance – which is reflected in the language of “YES…AND” – you are being inclusive. You are joining together to overcome a life challenge.
Now, the really cool part of this is it isn’t just for kids and struggles about their homework or free play time. It’s universally applicable to any internal conflict we may be struggling with.
“I wish I could have more me time or exercise or fun time with my kids, BUT…” Too often we let our big buts (!) get in the way of us living our best lives. Awaken to the possibility of “YES…AND.”
Become aware of what’s most important to you, what you really want out of any given situation, accept the limitations or pain or struggles that may be a part of that situation, and remain committed to following through on a course of action that gets you where you want to go.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. “BUT…” you may hear a stubborn old voice deep within you starting to rear it’s ugly head. Already you’re energy is defensive, ready to counter-attack or argue about why you can’t be happy or healthy or content or fulfilled with this or that part of your life. Those are self-limiting thoughts, mind traps keeping your soul in a prison cell.
YES, you need to deal with reality, responsibility, limitations – we all do. AND you can accept those things you cannot control, live with them peacefully rather than fighting them, AND turn your attention and energies to the solutions that are possible right now.
With the courage to change the things you can, you start taking your next step in the direction that feels better for you – that fits your values, your highest priorities and principles. You get where you want yourself – and your children – to go, one step at a time.
“YES…AND” will help you get there, more powerfully and peacefully.