"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." — Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim G. Ginott

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Summary: By mirroring your child's frustration back to him or her, you express empathy and understanding.

This parenting book opened with a charming example of how to parent your child:
What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say, "What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it's not one thing, it's another. Why can't you be like your younger sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You're forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I'm not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you'd forget your head if it weren't attached to your shoulders!" That's not what we say to a guest. We say, "Here's your umbrella, Alice," without adding, "scatterbrain."
Parents need to learn to respond to their children as they do to guests. 
How loving and what an inspiration to parents. But the rest of the book seemed incomplete to me. Perhaps it's because my children are too young to respond or perhaps the advice does not offer enough follow through.

The principle piece of advice in this book is that you mirror back your child's frustration, often putting words or ideas in their heads. "You seem disappointed. " or "That must have made you so mad!"  But what I felt was lacking was any form of trying to help the child figure out a solution for next time. Just expressing sympathy doesn't seem like enough of a response to me. The next step was missing. I tried this with my son and he whined even longer and harder. "You really want a gum ball and you're sad that you can't have one." Any parenting advice that extends the tantrum won't work for us. This also seemed to focus on children who are in school full-time, a situation not yet appropriate to us.

Another valuable piece of advice was to avoid blank statements like "That was bad." or "Good job." What would be more helpful would be to express characteristics you would like your child to embody. "You shared your toy with your sister. How kind." or "Look at you, you did it!"  This is advice often found in other parenting books I've read, including Easy To Love, Difficult to Discipline.

One skill I'm still working on:
When children interrupt adult conversations, adults usually react angrily: "Don't be rude. It is impolite to interrupt." However, interrupting the interrupter is also impolite. Parents should not be rude in the process of enforcing child politeness. Perhaps it would be better to state, "I would like to finish telling my story."
Originally published in 1965, this book did seem out of date, with just the basics mentioned in more recent parenting books. It's not that the advice wasn't good, it just wasn't complete enough or relevant enough for my life. I considered three stars, since this book is not bad, but found that if I were to recommend any parenting book, this one wouldn't even make the list.

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