Parent and Child
Understanding children, encouraging them, and guiding them plays
a significant role in moulding their character. Very often your
ignorance results in unwelcome consequences. How should you
react when your child spills a glass of milk? What should you say
when your child comes home with a bad report card? ‘Parent and
Child’ shows us how to deal with such problems.
Talking with children is a unique art. Children are seldom naïve in their communications. Their coded messages are often in a code, that requires deciphering.
On his first visit to school, while mother was still with him, John, age seven, looked over the paintings on the notice board and inquired: “Who drew these ugly pictures?” embarrassed, mother told him: “It’s not nice to call the pictures ugly when they are so pretty.” The teacher, who understood the meaning of the question, smiled and said: “In this school you don’t have to paint pretty pictures.” A big smile appeared on John’s face, he had the answer to his hidden question: “What happens to a boy who doesn’t paint so well?”
An interested observer who overhears a conversation between a parent and a child will note with surprise how little each listens to the other.
To reach out to children and to reduce parental frustration, we need a new mode of relating to children. It is based on respect and on skill.
Andy, aged ten, came home in an angry mood. His class had been scheduled to go for an outing, but it had rained. Mother decided to use a new approach.
Mother : You seem very disappointed.
Andy : Yes.
Mother : You wanted very much to go on this outing?
Andy : I sure did.
Mother : You had everything ready and then the rain came.
Andy : Yes, that’s right.
There was a moment of silence and then Andy said: “Oh, well, there will be other days.” His anger seemed to have vanished.
What is so special about this approach, and what are its helpful components?
When a child is buffeted by strong emotions, he will not listen to anyone. He will not accept advice or consolation or constructive criticism. He only wants to be understood. He wants the people around him to understand what is going on inside himself at that particular moment.
When a child makes a statement about himself, it is often desirable to respond, neither with an agreement nor disagreement, but with details that convey to the child an understanding beyond his expectation.
Bruce came home with a failing report card. He said to his father that he was not good in mathematics. His father thought that it would be of little help to tell him that he was pretty lousy with figures. Nor would it be helpful to dispute his opinion or to offer him cheap advice such as: “Try harder and you will become better in maths.” Such words would only hurt his self-respect and the instant lesson would decrease his confidence. His father said in earnestness: “Mathematics is not an easy subject. Some of the problems must be very hard to figure out.” Bruce almost sighed with relief. His inner reaction was: “I must live up to my father’s faith in me.”
We find that parents have a tendency to pamper their children with flattery. To hit the nail on the head let’s consider the function of a mirror. A mirror merely reflects an image as it is, without adding flattery or faults.
The function of an emotional mirror is to reflect feelings as they are, without distortion:
To a child who has such feelings, these statements conveyed in a loving tone are most helpful. They show him clearly what his feelings are. Clarity of image, whether in a looking glass or in an emotional mirror, provides opportunity for self-initiated grooming and change.
It is a widely held belief that praise builds up a child’s confidence and makes him feel secure. In actuality, praise may and often does result in tension and misbehaviour, especially when it’s inept. Peter had behaved like an angel throughout the journey from London to Dundee. Mother thought that he deserved some praise. She turned to him and said, “You are such a good boy Peter. You behaved so well. I’m proud of you.”
A minute later the sky fell on them. Peter pulled out an ashtray and spilled its contents all over them. The ashes, the cigarette butts and the smoke came like atomic fallout.
Mother was terribly upset because all this happened just after she had praised him so sincerely. She wondered, “Isn’t praise good for children anymore.”
Weeks later Peter himself revealed the cause of the explosion. All the way home he had been wondering how he could get rid of his younger brother, who was snuggled up between mother and father in the front of the car. Just then mother had congratulated him on his goodness. The praise made him feel guilty and he wanted desperately to show that he did not deserve it. He looked around, saw the ashtray, and the rest followed instantly.
The single most important rule is that praise should deal only with the child’s effort and accomplishments, not with his character and personality.
Ivan aged ten accidentally spilt a glass of milk on the table.
Mother : You are old enough to know how to hold a glass. How many times have I told you to be careful!
Father : He can’t help it; he’s clumsy. He always was and he always will be.
Ivan spilt five pence worth of milk, but the caustic ridicule that followed may cost much more in terms of loss of confidence. Mother could have handled the situation calmly by saying, “I see the milk is spilt. Here is another glass of milk, and here is a sponge.” Ivan would surely have looked up at her in relief and disbelief.
When things go wrong it is not the right time to teach an offender about his personality but it is best to deal only with the event, not the person.
When a child is repeatedly told by his parents or teachers that he is stupid he comes to believe it. He starts thinking of himself as such. He then gives up intellectual efforts, feeling that his escape from ridicule lies in avoiding contest and competition. His safety hinges on not trying.
Thus it can be seen that the intellectual progress and the character development of a child depend to a large degree on the common sense of his parents, to judge accurately on a situation and then take action as needs be.