Parent AND child

Some parenting articles or books read like only the parent’s will matters — others like only the child’s will matters. Sometimes you find some with a good balance, recognizing that both sides of the parent-child relationship need compassion and respect.

I recently read an article called “Five Reasons to Stop Saying ‘Good Job’” — there’s a lot that’s good in this article, but it definitely falls on the child-centered side of unbalance.

I think the author is right about one thing overall — compassion and respect from parents to kids: parents should listen to their kids, observe them carefully, consider their perspective, and be specific and explanatory in what we say.

On the other hand, though, I think the author is too quick to censure parental convenience, evaluation / judgment, and “manipulation” / “control.”

Convenience is not evil in and of itself. Who deliberately seeks out inconvenience? Organizing our possessions, structuring our time, considering our moods, are all legitimate ways of pursuing reasonable convenience. Not that parental convenience should always trump every other consideration — but neither should it always be dismissed as the evil selfish choice.

There are times when judging what our kids do, positively or negatively, can be distracting or otherwise inappropriate. I let Amy choose her own clothes most of the time, for example, and I don’t criticize her artwork. When I praise her behavior, I try to be specific and truthful — often the “good job” goes along with something else like, “you cooperated with bedtime, and now you have more time for stories.” Even the author doesn’t seem to believe that all evaluation and judgment is always wrong: “engaging them in conversation about what makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are affected by what we have done — or failed to do” involves judgment and evaluation. It’s more thoughtful, relational, and engaging, but it still involves judgment.

Likewise, of course parents have the responsibility and authority to be in charge of their children — to teach them what behavior is expected, values of the heart and spirit, and so on. I don’t buy that it’s possible to exercise this responsibility and authority without some efforts to “control” or “manipulate,” which words seem, to the author, to include any efforts (other than peer-like conversation) to persuade a child to behave one way or another. I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’ criticism of progressive schools that didn’t punish bullies and the like, but only talked to them. I think we can punish AND talk.


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