How Tina Fey Taught My Kids to Play Nice

Sheri Reed

bossypants tina fey cover photoOver the years, the best parenting tips have come to me from all kinds of crazy places -- not just from watching the parents of the rotten kids on my son's baseball team and deciding what not to do. For instance, it's not like comedian, writer, and producer Tina Fey meant to teach me anything about parenting when she wrote about "The Rules of Improvisation" in her new book Bossypants. However, sometimes a smart person's greatest life lessons, if you listen hard enough, can be parenting tips in disguise. I totally love when that happens.

Fey's rules of improvisation are actually helping me with a big parenting problem in our house right now -- sibling rivalry.

My two boys -- even though they're only home together for full days on Saturday and Sunday -- seem to be able to find anything and everything to squabble about. It always seems to be a stubborn battle of wit and will with my two. Power, deceit, backstabbing -- it's one big bowl of fun times around here on the weekend. I often look at my husband and say, "I thought we had two so they could entertain each other. Wrong!"

Anyway, so I just finished reading Tina Fey's new book and then I saw her speak last night in San Francisco. At the engagement, she reiterated lots of the gems from her book, including one of my favorites -- her rules of improvisation, which she learned in her early comedy career as an improv actor. The first two rules for stage improvisation are:

  1. Always agree and say "YES!" (in other words, follow your castmate's lead rather than contradict her -- if she says "I hate being a waitress," don't say "Oh but we're astronauts, not waitresses")
  2. And not only say "YES!" but say "YES, AND ..." (meaning, add something of your own)

What does this have to do with sibling rivalry, you might wonder? Well, in our house, it has a lot to do with it. For one thing, there are not a whole lot of "YES!" bombs being tossed between my two boys when they're playing together. In fact, it's the complete opposite.

"NO! I'm the dragon!"

"NO! I'm the good guy!"

"NO! I'm not dead yet!"

"NO! You're not my brother! Mom and Dad actually found you in the gutter!"

However, by talking to my boys about opening their playtime imaginations with "YES!" responses, possibilities were born. Especially when you tell them to say "YES!" and then to add something of their own. Here's how it can play out:

Son #1: "You're the good guy! I'm the bad guy!"

Son #2: "YES! AND ... I'm going to kill you cause you're the bad guy."

(Let me interrupt here to say this is where things generally turn ugly for my boys, and the arguing begins. Someone inadvertently doesn't want to do what the other one says. But the "YES! AND ..." rule gives both of them more creative power to make the game head in a direction they've taken part in creating.)

Son #1: "YES! AND ... Then you decide you can't kill me because I'm so adorable."

Son #2: "YES! AND ... Then I turn you into a good guy."

Son #1: "YES! AND ... Then I steal your princess girlfriend."

Alright, alright ... you get the idea. Progress not perfection!

I can honestly tell you that I've seen this "exercise" work to a positive outcome. Just the other day, my older son was seething mad that my younger son was making one of his wingless creatures fly (he's a bit of a Type A, what can I say?). I reminded him that he could also choose to make his creature fly too if he wanted, and his eyes opened wide and he set his own creature flying through the air. Total freedom -- of the imagination and of at least three minutes of bickering with his brother. Brilliant.

Can you see how these tips from Tina Fey could play out in your parenting? Or maybe even in your own life?


Image via Hachette Book Group

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