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Expressive Arts Practices to Encourage Yes’s!


Do you work with children or teens who like to say no rather than yes?  As I watch my 2 year old develop, I notice that “no” is a favorite word in his vocabulary.  In reflecting on my own life, I must admit that when faced with a new or unfamiliar activity, what usually emerges first is some resistance to that activity.  Even after many years of facilitating groups, performing as an actress, and trying wacky things of all sorts, I continue to watch the resistance machine in my own mind turn itself on when something new enters the game of life.  If you can relate to this, then you will may appreciate my first bit of advice when it comes to learning how to encourage children, teens or adults to find a “yes” with regard to trying new things:

– Give space for their “No.”

Yes, you read correct.  Give space for their “no.”  Indeed – lots of space.  Let them play with their “no’s” by making them bigger, making up stories about them, or even telling them that their “no’s” are absolutely perfect!  When you follow their “no’s” with a sense of honor, ease and lightness, you will eventually find a yes somewhere in there.  What do I mean by all this?  Let me give you an example:

Today, as I was working at juvenile hall with a group of 13 year old boys, I asked the boys to portray an emotion through their body posture.  “No way,” one of the boys quickly shouted out.  Instead of resisting his “no,” I joined him by saying, “Yeah – no way am I going to do what I just asked you guys to do – absolutely not.”  Amused, the boy looked at me and said, “You mean you’re not going to make me do anything?”  “No way,” I replied.  “Why would I?  You’re already doing it.  You’re already portraying an emotion – do you know what it is anyone?”  With my question came a handful of replies.  “Annoyance.”  “Anger.”  “Boredom.”  “Curiosity.”  Suddenly, the boys were interested in what was happening.  They were engaged in the moment along with me, as I was working with the moment rather than pushing against them.  As we continued to find their “no’s” together, we – little by little – found some “yes’s” in the mix.  And then some more “yes’s.”  And before the end of class, the entire group was laughing and enjoying themselves and opening up to one another – one “yes” at a time.


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