Sunday, February 18, 2007

How guilty are you of this?

I got a free copy of "P.E.T. in Action" a few years back and never really sat down to read it. I have read T.E.T. (Teacher Effectiveness Training) and loved it, despite having fallen away a bit from what it suggests. I have not yet read P.E.T. but have it on request at the library. I sat down with it this morning and started reading. It was interesting what I hit, because I'd noticed this just yesterday with a mom and her daughter ("Come on! You're as slow as a 3-year old! Would you hurry up?") and thought about all the times I behaved the same way (although I don't recall using name-calling with my kids). Here's the passage from the book:

Most parents firmly believe that if they make a critical remark that puts down an adult, that person will be hurt and the relationship damaged. Do the same to a child, and they believe somehow the child won't be hurt, nor will the put-down do damage to the relationship. In fact, most parents even argue that children need criticism and put-downs and so it is the duty of a good parent to give kids a generous dosage of such messages--"for their own good."

And another part a little further down:

Also, parents are universally bilingual--they use one language for people and another for children. [Hey, Chrystal, are you reading this? Sounds like what you were talking about on Friday!] Should a friend drop and break one of their dishes, most parents would never want the friend to be embarrassed or guilty, so their message would be some variation of, "Oh, don't worry about that dish--accidents will happen." Let their 8-year-old drop that dish and we hear another language--such as "Damn it, my good dish is broken--why do you have to be so clumsy? Can't you ever be careful?"
How many of us have lived this type of scenario, as the children or as the parents?

While I'm not quite so 'offensive' in how I talk to my children, I do catch myself, especially when tired and grumpy, treating them as though they really ought to know better and really rather rudely. They're kids! They're people who do not have the experience we adults have had. Key word: they are people And this same idea leads to Gordon saying that to change parenting patterns, parents "must stop seeing their children as a unique species and being to perceive them as persons."

Because I'm so ready to explore this idea further right now, this is being added to my reading list this week. (I've got two John Holt books out, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this book and yet another book on motivational issues in kids. I'll be busy!)


Lisia said...

I'm not convinced that the examples mentioned can be entirely explained by adults' attitude to children. I think there's another phenomenon involved, which is our attitude to our nearest and dearest, whether they be child or adult.

Despite my commitment to Montessori principles, I do criticise my children in ways I wouldn't criticise a friend or stranger. But I also criticise my husband more than I would criticise a friend or stranger.

If my children break a dish, I'm likely to heave a frustrated sigh, which is maybe as unkind as saying something critical. But if a visiting child broke a dish, I would behave exactly the same as if a visiting adult broke a dish - reassuring them that it doesn't matter and it could happen to anyone.

I need to work on better self control in my interactions with all those I'm closest to, not just my children.

Daisy said...

You're absolutely right, Lisia. What's that saying? "Familiarity breeds contempt." I think, though, adults do tend to treat children even worse than their nearest adult. No adult would have gone on about "You're as slow as a 3yo!" and comments like that to their husband. I've seen, and partaken, in plenty of instances where adults are treating children far worse than they would another adult. I've seen parents yank their children's arms to get them going--I've yet to see one (non-abusive) spouse do that to the other spouse. I've witnessed and been subject to the whole, "Now see what you've done!" and the ensuing anger. Yet I've never seen one adult do that to another.

I still haven't figured out where this all came from, this idea that kids are somehow supposed to be even better behaved than adults and super obedient. As though when they come out of the womb, they've got some internal thing telling them they're to be obedient and any apparent lack of obedience (including un-said rules) is worthy of outright contempt.

Lisia said...

Very true - we treat our nearest children even worse than we treat our nearest adults :(

That's an interesting point that the level of self control and obedience we expect from children is too high. Somehow, teaching our children what is good and bad behaviour takes over and we insist on good behaviour in every detail, getting to the point where we comment negatively on behaviour that is okay but not perfect or that is not wrong at all but bothers us in some way.