Ever since I read this book for the undergrad course I am TA’ing for this fall called “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk,” I haven’t looked at people the same way realizing that the connection between how a adult was praised/punished was a determining factor in their own parenting communication, and how they performed in their job.

After reading this book, the befuddling nature of politics may not be about Democrats and Republicans but how certain groups of Americans experienced praise and punishment as children and what resonates with them in communication style as perceiving “leadership.” 

It is the method a parent uses for punishment and praise that either overtly or inadvertently causes the child to formulate what is right and wrong, what’s acceptable and what’s not, who is good and who is bad, what a good person is vs. a bad person, and helps formulate a world view for impressionable children who are continually searching for understanding.

The problem is, in the absence of understanding the results we are seeking as parents or admitting to the results we really want, and in the absence of communication strategies, parents rely on ineffective strategies handed down between generations either by unconscious reliance on all they know or conscious denial of what they know. Or they just avoid things all together. (There’s that, too. Which is it’s own strategy. Avoidance is an action, too and a common one.)

Since we don’t receive direct training on parenting, there are often two methods adults typically rely on:

  1. Parents who unconsciously rely on using their own parent’s ineffective methods (unaware they are raising children a generation behind, ill equipped for an ever evolving society).
  2.  Parents who consciously reject their parents methods of praise and punishment in their parenting (unaware they are ALSO bound by it, because they are trying to undo it in their own self created method).

So what’s the answer? Conscious, deliberate communication with the intention of raising problem solvers.To break this dynamic, the decision has to be to raise a problem solver.

In all parenting tactics, the intention is a hope that we will get results. But what results? Have we lost sight of the results we want? Maybe it’s quiet, a mess cleaned up, homework done, evidence that our child is moral, ethical and honest, or representing what our idea of our family stands for in the eyes of the so called public.

We punish and praise for a myriad of reasons. Praise/punishment makes the validation about the parent approval. Parents rely on praise/punishment because it helps control children, serves their own ego (need for validation) or to just “get the job done” in parenting (teach the lesson quick and dirty, as raising a problem solver can be timely and require more communication).

In regards to punishment: well what’s punishment used for? We use to solve problems, to correct mistakes, to teach lessons, to control our children, to make them understand, to show them what’s right and what’s wrong. Punishment is not “hitting” in this book (although it can be – many still use that tactic handed down from their parents) but can be lecture, alienation, shaming, yelling, admonishing, etc. The book outlines how to guide a child through communication towards children solving their own problems. Why is this important? I notice a lot of parents say they value problem solving as a trait they want to instill in their children but then solve their problems for them, or model ineffective methods themselves. Most parents would say they want their children to grow up and be great problem solvers. Parents say proudly, “Well when I was growing up, my parents…” or say in a way that they don’t want to emulate, “My parents used to___and I hated it and don’t agree with it.”

In regards to praise: Instead of “I” statements, or empty praise phrases like good job, statements that create a reflection of their behavior as successful, “You know who else practiced everyday like you are doing? Serena Williams.” Instead of, “I like how you are practicing everyday,” which is about parent approval. Why is this important? Because the praise is misguided. It’s about the behavior and how it will play out for you in the world, not about me agreeing with your hard work.

I had a lot of face palm moments reading this book. How many times I____ when I should have said _____. Then I forgive myself, “I was tired. I had a stressful day teaching. I am a single mom.” As a single parent, I know how quickly a day can go. Cleaning the house, making meals, and clean up, keeping the laundry going, making sure homework is done, doing my own work, creates the perfect conditions for these conversations with our kids to be pithy. No way is perfect or right for everyone. Sometimes, I just say, “This is what’s going to happen. Done. No discussion.” Because that’s all we have time for that day. The intention is to consider and reflect, as opposed to extinguish a moment.

There is always an opportunity for parents to make things right. It’s unwillingness or rigidness that’s the only sin in parenting because in order to change there’s the uncomfortable moment of admitting you made mistakes (it never ceases to amaze me how far some people will go to avoid admitting they made mistakes and make things right with their children!)

Buy the book How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk.

Strategies of types of responses instead of praise/punishment can be found here.

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Author of the Clueberry Book, Boston College, Lesley University, Ph.D. Student School Psychology
About the author: chrissyjane
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