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In the Beginning Were the Words
It didn't add up.
If what I was doing was right, then why was so much going wrong?
There wasn't a doubt in my mind that if I praised my children-let them know how much I valued each effort, each achievement-that they would automatically become self-confident.
'Men why was Jill so unsure of herself?
I was convinced that if I reasoned with the children explained calmly and logically why certain things had to be done-that they would, in hum, respond reasonably.
Then why did every explanation trigger an argu. ment from David?
I really believed that if I didn't hover over the children if I let them do for themselves whatever they could do that they would learn to be independent
Then why did Andy cling and whine?
It was all a little unnerving. But what worried me most was the way I had been acting lately. The irony of it all! 1, who was going to be the mother of the century I, who had always felt so superior to those shrill, arm-yanking, "mean" mothers in the supermarket I, who was determined -that the mistakes of my Parents would never be visited upon my children I, who felt I had so much to give-my warmth, vast patience, my joy in just being alive-had walked into the children's room this morning, looked at the floor smeared with flngerpaints, and unleashed a shriek that made the supermarket mother sound like the good fairy. But most bitter to me were the things I had said: "Disgusting ... slobs ... can't I trust you for a minute?" These were the very words I had heard and hated in my own childhood.
Whathad happened to my vast patience? Where was all that joy I was going to bring? How could I have drifted so far from my original dream?
I was in this mood when I came across a noticefrom the nursery school reminding parents that therewas to be a lecture tonight by a child psychologist. Iwas tired, but I knew I would go. Could I convinceHelen to come with me?
It was doubtful. Helen had often expressed her distrust of the experts. She prefers to rely upon what she calls "common sense and natural instincts." Unlike me, she doesn't make as many demands upon herself as a mother, nor does she worry about her children in terms of long-range goals. Maybe it's because she's a sculptor and has outside interests. Anyway, sometimes I envied her easygoing manner, her total faith in herself. She always seems to have everything under control.... Although lately she has been complaining about the children. Evidently for the past few weeks they've been at each others' throats, and nothing she says or does makes any difference. It seems that neither her instinct nor common sense are enough to help her cope with their daily running battles.
As I dialed Helen's number I thought that maybe, with the recent turn of events, she might put aside her prejudice toward the professionals and come with me.
But Helen was adamant.
She said she wouldn't go to another lecture on child psychology if Sigmund Freud, himself, were speaking.
She said she was tired of hearing those: pious platitudes about how children must have love, security, firm limits, love, consistency, love, flexibility, love....
She said that the last time she had gone to such a meeting, she walked around the house for three days afterwards nervously Measuring her output of "love.*
She said she hadn't recuperated sufficiently from that experience to expose herself to -any more anxiety-producing generalizations.
A scream came from Helen's end of the phone.
"I'm gonna tell! Im gonna tell!"
'You tell and Ill. do it again!"
"Mommy, Billy threw a block at me.!
"She stepped on my finger!"
"I did not. You!re a big dooty!"
"Oh God,"Helen moaned, "they're at it again! Anything to get out of this house!"
I picked her up at eight.
The speaker on the program that evening was Dr. Haim Ginott, child psychologist and author of a new book, Between Parent and Child. He began his lecture by asking this question: "What is it about the language I use with children that is different?'
We looked at each other blankly.
"The language I use," he continued, "does not evaluate. I avoid expressions which judge a child's character or ability. I steer clear of words like 'stupid, clumsy, bad: and even words like 'beautiful, good, wonderful,' because they are not helpful; they get in a child's way. Instead I use words that describe. I describe what I see; I describe what I feel.
"Recently a little girl in my playroom brought me a painting and asked, 'Is it good?' I looked at it and answered, I see a purple house, a red sun, a striped sky, and lots of flowers. It makes me feel as though I were in the country.' She smiled and said, Im going to make another!"
"Suppose I had answered, 'Beautiful, you're a great artist!' I can guarantee that that would have been the last painting she did that day. After all, where can one go from 'beautiful' and 'great? I'm convinced: words that evaluate, hinder a child. Words that describe, set him free.
"I also like descriptive words," he continued, "because they invite a child to work out his own solutions to problems. Here's an example: If a child were to spill a glass of milk, I would say to him, I see the milk spilled,' and then I'd band him a sponge. In this way, I avoid blame and put the emphasis where it belongs-on what needs to be done.
"If I were to say instead, 'Stupid. You always spill everything. You'll never learn, will...