Several years ago I heard a life-changing presentation on parenting by Chick Moorman, a well-known author and authority on the subject of parenting. The longtime educator gave a lecture on the 10 best and 10 worst things you can say to your child. His approach made total sense to me because it involved a concept that I have tried hard to stick to: mutual respect in parenting. Many of his examples reminded me to turn to my child and help foster a deeper sense of wisdom, accountability, insight and trust. When problem solving, don’t be “the voice” or “the answer.” Engage your child in problem solving with you. Help them rise up to their truest potential.
Ultimately ask yourself: do I want to help my child remember their backpack, or do I want to teach them to responsibility and initiative? Try asking your child to “check yourself” before leaving the house letting them come to what they need on their own.
Do you want your child to feel true accountability when they have wronged someone, or simply repeat the “I’m sorry?” Then ask your child to tell you what they have learned, what they would do differently next time and how they can improve the situation now.
Do you want your child to have hope that “next time” they can try a different outcome, or do you tend to leave your child with a sense that they have failed and won’t be able to create a better outcome in the future? Then stop saying “don’t do this, don’t do that” in every situation of correction with your child. Simply say “next time” please don’t interrupt me when I’m on the phone, for example.
Children develop a sense of themselves by the age of 5. They have a set of core values they associate with. What do we want these to be for our child? Confident, honest, respectful, good-natured, patient, kind, loving, empathic? And how do we get there?
We have to consider the way we speak to our children because what we say matters. Take the words “good job,” for example. According to Chick Moorman, this was listed as one of the 10 worst things you can say to your child. Why? Because what you’re doing is giving your child “evaluative praise.” You ultimately create “praise junkies” who either do not feel your praise is sincere because you overuse it, or are constantly seeking it for approval.
Instead, begin to use “descriptive” or “appreciative” praises. Just simply describe what the child did “Wow, I see you used lots of different colors in making that picture,” or “You really worked hard on your spelling words this week.” Or tell the child why you appreciate what they’ve done so they can come to the “good job” feeling on their own — not from you. “Wow, when I left here, all the leaves were all over the lawn, and now I see the lawn bags full — I really appreciate your help.”
As a parent myself, I often reflect back to this excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s words on children:
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”
Our parenting will feel more effective and more satisfying if we take time to consider what we’re saying to our child in a mutually respectful manner and if we remember that our children have a voice and a heart and an opinion that matters, too. Let’s engage our children in really interesting ways and help them foster their own inner wisdom, knowledge and beliefs to develop into responsible, respected and well-adjusted people.