How To Talk So Kids Will Listen: No More Boxes & Ruts

Date June 30, 2008

The Mentorship Approach With Kids & Teens

The sixth chapter of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen is the final chapter introducing a category of skills and is the final unit in the training series. It’s titled “Freeing Children From Playing Roles.” I like to think of it as freeing children from limiting their lives into little boxes or deep, narrow ruts.

The problems with expanding children’s occasional patterns of behavior into a role may be pretty obvious, but they’re important enough to merit an overview. First, children are growing and developing and changing rapidly, but labeling them usually doesn’t acknowledge that fact. So the eight-year-old girl who has started learning about cleaning up her supplies and work area at school might still be regarded by her family as the five-year-old who leaves toys all over the house. When her mother says “She treats every room in the house like it’s her closet” or “This one was born to be rich; she expects a maid to pick up after her,” her daughter’s growing maturity is ignored and discounted.

Second, labels and roles become self-fulfilling. A child who hears that she’s lazy, or that he’s hard-headed, will start to assume that’s how he or she will act. Thoughts like “That’s how they think I am so it must be true” or “That’s what they think of me so I might as well act that way” make the label true by default. Children rise and sink to the level of our expectations. They may not hit the highest standard we set, but they are elevated when we truly believe they can accomplish great things and their achievement goes up. They can fall to the level of our negative expectations much more easily, not only meeting but often exceeding them.

The third glaring problem with labels and roles is the implied criticism that belittles the child and diminishes self-worth. There’s not much about “hard-headed” or “lazy” or “sloppy” or “forgetful” that feels good to a child.

Faber and Mazlish have many suggestions in the chapter for interrupting the pattern of expanding occasional behavior into roles with negative labels. One is useful to parents ready to make a change. We can consciously and intentionally look for opportunities to point out when our child’s behavior disproves the label. For example, with a child who has been put in the “lazy” role, we look for opportunities to comment on initiative and effort. We say, “Heather, I noticed you made your bed and put up your toys after breakfast. That’s what I call diligence.” If you think your child doesn’t understand the word diligence, just say it with excitement and enthusiasm and see how quickly she figures it out or asks what it means.

Another recommendation they give is to help break the cycle when your child has internalized a negative role and consistently sees himself or herself that way. Parents become a living scrapbook and historian, able to call on memories that refute the negative label. John says, “I’m too clumsy to be good at any sport.” His dad reminds him how careful he was helping with a woodworking project and how he rides his bike for hours at a time. Dad’s not arguing or disagreeing, which John can easily discount. He’s providing real evidence that John knows is true, and he’s doing it with love and respect which stand as champions against the negative words John thinks about himself.

Have I Mentioned I Love This Book?

Following the training units on the six areas of improving your relationship with your children through new skills, Faber and Mazlish include a chapter that pulls the skills together for more complex situations. They respond to questions mailed in from parents over several years. They take on some pretty tough situations and give examples of applying these skills with challenging kids.

This book and the system it describes are the best starting point for parents wanting to improve their interactions with their children. The system respects children’s developmental needs, strengthens parents’ communication skills, and nurtures relationships between parents and their children. It lays the foundation for life-long character in children. Other parenting books and systems are good, but none is as heart-focused, comprehensive, practical, and effective as this.

The difference is the spirit of Dr. Haim Ginott, the child psychologist who trained and inspired Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. They shared his passion for mentoring children. He passed along his commitment to honoring and valuing children. They soaked in his teaching, applied it, lived it, and found clear and direct words to explain it to others. The result is an engaging, easy-to-read book that is both simple and profound.

Comments are closed.