Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beyond Lectures, Part 1

We often find ourselves talking most to our kids when things are going poorly.

Why can't you remember to do your chores on your own. You're 12 years old now. You've got to start taking some responsibility. Do you think that a boss would put up with always having to remind you what you're supposed to be doing? It's about time you start pulling your own weight around here.

The words have a way of flowing right off our tongues in these situations, don't they? Charles Fay of the Love and Logic Institute has quipped that there is a part of the brain that contains lectures that lies dormant until we either become parents or teachers. Suddenly the words come just like magic.

But in the chores example above just how much of that lecture is the kid likely to retain? Practically nothing. Do kids ever respond by saying, "Hey Dad, thanks for the wisdom. I was getting a little lazy, but now I can see that I do need to take on a little more responsibility for my own good. Not to mention that I need to be doing more of my share around here out of respect for the family"?

If that paragraph makes you chuckle it's because it is so unlikely. After delivering that lecture you're more likely to see are a frustrated, resentful or hurt look coming over your kid's face.

You can think of it this way. Any positive effects we hope that our lectures are going to have tend to ricochet off our child's cranium, but any potentially negative effects of having a way of seeping their way right through to the brain. Some of these negative effects include poor self-concept and less connection with the adult giving the lecture.

Another way of remembering this is to bring to mind the words of the wonderful child psychologist Haim Ginott, "When a person is drowning, that is not the time to try to give them swimming lessons."

So realizing that lectures don't work very well, and are even counter productive, what is it that we can do instead? The main thing is to talk at a time when we're feeling pretty calm, and when we're not in the middle of the problem. Right when we come across the problem is almost never the time to either talk about it or to invite our child to talk. Take some time until you have a sense of what you want to say, and until you have some perspective (this may involve some breathing).

Once you're ready, a good way to start off is to give your child some say in when you're going to talk. "Hey Chris, I'm going to need to talk with you a minute. When would be a good time for you?"

Now that we have a bit of a sense of the downside of lectures and how to get a conversation set up, we'd better take a look next time at how we might go about this sort of conversation.