By Henry Close, Th. M.
My friend Kevin’s 5-year-old granddaughter is known for her dramatic snits, which can be of epic proportions. Once, when he was visiting, she was in the midst of exceptional performance: cringing under a table, clutching her blanket, sobbing with periodic outbursts of saying “NO!” or “GO AWAY!” All efforts by her parents to end the drama were equally futile.
After her parents left for an appointment, Kevin decided to try his hand. He wanted to engage Aurora in a way that did not demand a response. Standing in the doorway to the living room where her older sister was playing, he told a story loud enough for Aurora to hear.
“Once upon a time, two musicians were hiking in the meadows of upstate New York. Suddenly, they heard a beautiful sound in the distance. It sounded like an animal roaring, and it was rich, melodic, and lovely: ‘ROOOO…A…A…A…AR.’
As the two hikers stepped into a clearing, they saw a magnificent beast — a stunning white dinosaur, holding its head high and filling the air with music! It slowly nodded as the two men approached. One of them spoke quietly: ‘You know, you have a beautiful voice. In fact, I think it is the loveliest roar I have ever heard, even nicer than from animals that have had singing lessons. I think you could have a career as an opera singer, but there is one problem. When you sing opera, you can’t just sing ‘ROAR.’ An opera singer must also sometimes sing ‘AH.’
The dinosaur nodded its head and gave it a try: ‘AH…AH!’
The musicians nodded their heads, ‘Very good. Now try it again.’ ‘AH…ROAR…AH!” “AH…ROAR…. AH!’”
By this time, Kevin was singing fortissimo to his granddaughters. He glanced down, and there was Aurora wistfully looking up at him and smiling. He nonchalantly continued: “I never did learn the dinosaur’s name, but I know she sang a couple of times at the opera house. When she was taking her bows, someone in the audience threw her a bouquet of flowers, and she caught them in her mouth. Then she ate them.
My friend, Lettie Mohammed, once noticed a young boy in the corner, flailing his arms as his mother tried to corral him. “Come on, Tommy — we’ve got to go! We’re late already.”
Tommy showed no interest in going anywhere.
Lettie immediately sized up the situation and said, “Tommy just wants to stay in here where all the pretty ladies are!”
Tommy glared at her.
“If he stays in here long enough, we can all give him a kiss!”
With that, Tommy grabbed his mother’s arm. As she was being pulled out the door, she lamented. “He won’t even let me kiss him!”
There are at least three principles implicit in these interventions: (1) Nobody loses face when a power struggle is defused rather than crushed; (2) Cooperation is better than obedience, and there are many ways to enlist it; (3) If you don’t mind making a fool of yourself, you can have a lot of fun in life!
By Eric Greenleaf, PhD
When teaching therapists Ericksonian approaches, remember: If it works with children, it’s likely to work with adults. Similar to the work of Rogers – Carl or Mister – the three principles exemplified by Henry Close, as he brings the power of loving interaction to the world of families, is elegant and effective.