These are my main takeaways after reading Dr. Ginott’s classic Between Parent and Child. All quotes are from this book. Dr. Ginott’s main message is that feelings are valid and to protect the important emotional life going on in your child: Don’t diminish their problems; Don’t insult them; Treat “discipline” as teachable moments; Watch closely how you speak to them, by giving information not insults; and so on. Your words, as the great Doctor says, can be like knives. Use them wisely.
I touch upon the major themes of the book, but, the below list are some of the more nuanced things I got out of his classic book.
- Dr. Ginott warns about excessive or over-the-top Praise, but he does say praise is important. He describes how it needs to be very detailed and genuine. I think of it as the “two a’s”: appreciation and admiration. Please read this book for his in-depth explanation of how to “praise” correctly. From Dr. Ginott, “For children to develop a worthwhile sense of themselves, they need to hear and overhear mostly positive remarks about themselves.”
- Never insult your child; Never insult your child; Never insult your child. “Many parents label their children stupid, lazy, and a cheat, yet expect such labels to motivate them to change into bright, industrious, and honest people.“
- Teach politeness politely. It is for instance not polite to admonish a child in public for not saying “Thank you.”
- Chores. To my surprise, Dr. Ginott says not to make children do chores–or, at least, to not wage war over it. “Parents who are in the midst of a declared or undeclared war with their children over chores and responsibilities should recognize the fact that this war cannot be won. Children have more time and energy to resist us than we have to coerce them.” I agree that it does little to aid in character development to strong arm a child into chores, but many Positive Discipline books, including Montessori books, have ideas of how to non-punitively gain cooperation from children to do chores: role model it, routine charts, cut down its complexity, let them experience the consequences to their action, and so on. I would think Dr. Ginott agrees with many of these non-coercive tactics. It is admittedly nice to think that it is OK if a child doesn’t do chores, and, if it’s a struggle, to just try again later.
- Dr. Ginott says this about homework, “The main value of homework is that it gives children the experience of working on their own. To have this value, however, homework must be adjusted to the child’s capacity, so that he or she may work independently with little aid from others. Direct help may only convey to the child that he or she is helpless without parental involvement.” I completely agree, and I wonder how many homework assignments fit this definition of being adjusted so that the child can work independently? My experience is that teachers are given a curriculum to give their students, and the homework is too hard for the children, and they thereby send the homework home, so the parents do it with the children, creating a nightmare for parents.
- If you already know an answer to a question, don’t ask the question of your child. So if the principal calls and said your child skipped school, don’t say to the child, “Did you go to school today?” You set the child up for lying if you do this. Instead, say simply, “The principal called and said you skipped school today.”
- On music, Dr. Ginott says it is more than just giving shape to melodies, but also as an outlet for feelings: “Music is one of the best avenues of release: It gives sound to fury, shape to joy, and relief to tension.“
- On friends, a delicate issue that is discussed in-depth in the book: “Special care must be taken to prevent children who glamorize criminal behavior from becoming dominant “friends.”“
- This was somewhat of a nuance for me in how to speak to children: “Limits should be phrased in a language that does not challenge the child’s self-respect. Limits are heeded better when stated succinctly and impersonally. “No movies on school nights” arouses less resentment than “You know you can’t go to the movies on school nights.”” This really goes back to “give information not insults,” but I am extra cautious now of the negative sounding “You should know better!” or “I already told you to … !” Just give information; give information; give information.
- Dr. Ginott says to bring things back to their function. “The couch is for sitting.” Not “You were already told to not jump on the couch!” There is a constant hum of this in our house, from both my husband and I, since reading this.
- Probably the most important point of Dr. Ginott’s work is to give children in fantasy what they want, but limit their actions (if they are destructive). You just have to read the book for this one.
- “Only when children feel right can they think clearly.” Clear out bad emotions before any lectures. “When things go wrong is not the right time to teach an offender about his personality.“
While we are not free to choose the emotions that arise in us, we are free to choose how and when to express them, provided we know what they are. That is the crux of the problem. Many people have been educated out of knowing what their feelings are. When they felt hate, they were told it was only dislike. When they were afraid, they were told there was nothing to be afraid of. When they felt pain, they were advised to be brave and smile. Many of us have been taught to pretend to be happy when we’re not.
Alright, there you have. Read this book!!!
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