Which sounds supportive?
1) “Wow! You tried hard. Let me help you.”
2) “Clumsy! Here’s what you do …”
Which encourages a child?
1) “That was hard. I’m proud of you for trying.”
2) “You can’t do that. I’ll help you.
Which shows respect?
1) “Why do you want to change your name? We gave you a perfectly good name so why are you insulting us? “
2) “Help me understand the reason you want to change your name. It’s a very big decision.”
If you think that you need to insult a child to keep away “the evil eye,” “the devil” or some other superstition, please think again. Words are powerful.
When we call a child “stupid” or “lazy,” “dumb” or “careless,” a child does not have enough self-confidence to withstand the insult. If you are an important person in the life of a child, your words and your actions are more powerful than you realize.
Think back to your own childhood. Our parents always meant well as they tried to guide us into an adulthood that they would be proud of. Good intentions are not enough. The best parenting skills may not come naturally, depending on how we were raised.
More from Charna Cohn:
Here are some comments to think about:
1) "What do you mean you want to be a police officer and help people? You’ll get killed. You won’t make money."
2) "If you want to be an engineer, I’ll pay for your education. Otherwise, you are on your own."
Let’s rephrase these issues:
1) "You want to be police officer? You must have some strong feelings about doing that. Being a police officer could be dangerous work. How did you decide on that career?"
2) "Before you make a final commitment to your major, I want you to take lots of different courses and open yourself to other ideas. Let’s keep talking about this."
The bottom-line message your child needs to hear is: I am your parent and I will always be there for you. I may not agree with you and we’ll need to keep talking. If what you want to do doesn’t hurt other people and is legal, we’ll stand with you and try to understand.
For centuries, parents have used too much guilt and fear to control a child’s behavior. You win the battle but, eventually, lose the war. That approach does not produce a kind, caring, responsible individual with the self-confidence to withstand dangerous or controlling adults. Autocrats control with fear and manipulation.
Sometimes it is necessary to use fear or shame to teach a lesson (“No! You can get hurt if you do that!” or “I can’t let you do that. You could get hurt” or “How would you feel if someone did that to you?” or “How do you think Janey felt when you did that to her?” are examples)
If the approach to parenting that I am suggesting is problematic, please think about what makes it uncomfortable for you to respect and support your child.
This is the latest column in a series on parenting by Charna Cohn, a retired adjunct Santa Fe College faculty member who lives in Gainesville. She has a M.Ed., specializing in early childhood and human growth and development.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Charna Cohn: How to talk in a supportive way to children