Sshhh....The Whisper Technique

The Whisper Technique. At this time of year, I give a quick nod to the national pastime of baseball (a favorite of mine) as teams are in the midst of wrapping up Spring Training (Go Braves!!) and kicking off a new season. A sport and team that has a unique and dear place in my and my family's heart. Another story for a different day. Back to whispering. 

I would be amiss if I didn't include a clip. Let's check out the memorable scene in which Kevin Costner hears the voice out in his cornfields in Iowa for the first time. 

CLICK (1/2 min clip) Scene from the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner, about a farmer who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field out in the Iowa country side.

CLICK (1/2 min clip) Scene from the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner, about a farmer who builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field out in the Iowa country side.

In this scene, the whisper gains Costner's attention giving him the first of several nudges or directives. When I am in the playroom working with a child, the purpose of whispering is quite the opposite. But before we jump into that let us look at a few more things.

First, let us consider what a child's play actually does:

  • Builds trust and mastery

  • Fosters learning and acceptable behaviors

  • Regulates emotions

  • Reduces anxieties

  • Promotes creative thinking and problem solving

  • Encourages open communication

  • Elevates spirit and self-esteem

Second, lets take a brief look at Erikson's stages of development

There are a couple themes I want to draw out from these two points above: personal growth and development as well as control and mastery.

Lastly, think about your most recent play interaction with your child, grandchild, nephew, niece, so on.

  • What did the play consist of?

  • Who truly decided what the activity was going to be?

  • Who led the play?

  • Who determined the rules? 

  • Who decided what everyone did, how they did, and when they did it?

When children are with one another they work together to determine these things, often taking turns to play various roles. That said, adults are used to leading and setting the rules. It happens at school, at home, on the athletic fields, and elsewhere. Children are constantly inundated with direction from adults. I have conducted countless parent-child play sessions. One of the things I see are parents who instruct there child on how to play, "You should put that there," or "No, that's used for this". It makes sense it turns out this way as it is natural, a habit. How come?

Well, we are in a different space developmentally than a child. As adults we were kids once, we paid our dues, right? Cognitively the thought process may even revolve around the fact that we are older, wiser. We have learned and have a better understanding and perspective on things, thus we know how things should work. However, taking the lead as a parent can begin to stymie a child's creative and explorative nature as well as their engagement. When a parent in session begins to take control of the play, most often their child checks out and begins playing with something else in the room. When I see the parent allow the child to lead, the reverse typically happens and the parent loses interest and excitement in the play. As adults, we are grown-up kids who still want things to be the way we want them to be. This is where the whisper technique comes in.

The whisper technique is not rocket science. There is no math or wild algorithm needed. It is very straight forward. It is about creating the opportunity for the child to lead. In the playroom, I'll use a whisper tone of voice to say, "What would you like me to do?" or "What would you like me to say?" I am returning responsibility for the direction of play to the child. I then listen and respond accordingly. And that's it! If a child pushes back with a, "Just play!",  I will typically respond with an empathy statement, "You are frustrated because you just want me play", and encouragement statements, "You get to decide what I do." Other times I will begin to play at their directive and they will usually respond by watching me and then jumping into the play and taking back over or give me coaching on what to do. At which point I resume following their lead.

So next time you are playing with your child give it a try. Channel your best Elmer Fudd when he would ask viewers to be very very quiet, because he's hunting wabbits. Let the child take the lead by using the whisper technique. If you have any questions feel free to post in the comments. We would also love to hear your story of how it worked for you when you give it a try. Happy WHISPERING!!!!! ;)