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Education Humor
With Regina Barreca

Don't Believe
Everything You Read


Books about how to deal with kids are as numerous as books on how to lose weight, and just about as effective.

Every year produces a new crop of them.

We get the All positive reinforcement all the time strategy, which ranks up there with the All Raw Food Diet. We get the Homework Kills school of thought, just as we hear that the intake of any dairy product will not only shorten your lifespan but increase your time in purgatory.

We are bombarded with statistics convincing us to abandon such fiercely competitive practices as tic-tac-toe and hopscotch for fear of causing permanent damage to those children who might be in danger of suffering from narcissistic personality disorder brought on by insufficient exposure to Mozart while in utero. But then of course we are also told that a diet composed exclusively of, say, surgical tape and lima beans will get us into those size 4 dresses in no time.

Obviously, were getting what can be called conflicting information.

In the February 2008 issue of Readers Digest, an article entitled Words to Inspire: 7 Things you should say to your Kids -- and 7 Things you Shouldnt prompted me to consider these issues. Okay, I thought, heres a new set of inspirational maxims for my educational philosophy! Surely I can learn what to say and what to avoid saying, especially since it is only seven of each! Even though I dont have young kids at home, Im always interested in learning what I should and should not say to those who inadvertently cross my path, and I felt certain that Id benefit from reading the essay.

I was also, naturally, interested in comparing any new strategies for dealing with children to those methodologies prevalent during my own youth.

Its this last set of comparisons that made me laugh so hard I spilled my coffee (a beverage in which I take dairy-based products, thus increasing my already lengthy stay you-know-where).

The article in the Digest makes several points with which I dont disagree, but it also makes me nervous because of its emphasis on the idea that we must speak to kids the way that Bill Clinton had to speak to Kenneth Starr: With great caution, diplomacy, and a meticulous attention to the possible effects of nuanced interpretation. I mean, I think we should be kind to people -- Im all for that -- but I also dont think that we need to speak to folks as if theyre being followed closely by their attorney.

Maybe its just me, but doesnt that cut down on the possibility for any sort of genuine connection?

The Digest article is based on the following idea, one I believe can indeed be useful in many situations: Kids dont always hear what you think youre saying. Fair enough. The article offers common phrases and suggests alternatives to get your message across in a better way.

For example: What you say: Make sure you share. Then they offer a sort of translation into kid-speak: What they hear: Give away your stuff.

The article then suggests a version that might be easier for the child to absorb: A better way to say it: Jesse would like to play with your race car for a while, but its still yours and he will give it back.

Okay, Im sold -- small children need to understand that sharing isnt the same thing as loss (although it is a lesson grown-ups need to re-learn when it comes to issues surrounding fidelity, but thats a subject for another column).

The most glaring departure from my own life experience was illuminated by the following example:

What you say: We cant afford that.
What they hear: Money is the answer to everything.
A better way to say it: The store is filled with great things today, but weve got lots at home already and were not going to bring home anything more.

When my mother told me, We cant afford that, what I heard was that my mom was being really, really polite that day.

More than likely, what she actually would have said would have been more along the lines of That Barbie Fun Kitchen Set costs what your Dad brought home for his paycheck last week and if you think your skinny little doll is getting nicer dishes than the ones weve used for the last ten years, youre nuts. Plus, if for some inexplicable reason my mother had launched into a discourse on how the store was filled with great things but how we also had lots of great things at home, I would have run screaming to the nearest stranger and begged for help. That simply wasnt how moms talked to their kids. It would have sounded like a piece of dialogue from The Twilight Zone.

And it still does.

Look, Im happy that parents and teachers, aunts and coaches, crossing guards and uncles, school nurses, and neighbors are eager to cultivate capable, curious, content, and cheerful children. I just dont think we need to speak to them in slow earnest voices, with falsely reassuring smiles, and without blinking to get across the point that we care, that we want to listen, and that we, too, want to learn.

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Article by Regina Barreca
Education World®
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