I am a hippie at heart and I love this old song by Graham Nash recorded long ago with his band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was the first thing that popped into my mind when I sat down to post today about this subject.
What do we teach our children with our words, our actions (or lack thereof), and the way we live our lives? Bobbie Miller, a reporter at KFOR, tweeted the most astounding quote the other day that I feel bears repeating: “The dignity of your child, even in correction, must be preserved. Correct graciously.” Anonymous
Wow that says so much on its surface, but let’s go even deeper. There is a term in leadership studies called the “Pygmalion Effect”; in a nutshell the theory is that using certain words can create reality for the person to whom you are speaking or about whom you are speaking.
In my Servant Leadership class that I teach I hammer on this theory throughout the entire course because it is so important to learn and apply at home, at work, at school, and with everyone you meet.
The theory essentially says that if you call your child “lazy” or “worthless just like your dad” and you continue to do so time after time with that person, it will become his reality. He will think that he is worthless and lazy, and will act that way in the future! Negativity creates negative behavior whereas positivity creates positive behavior.
It’s all in the power of expectations – you tell someone that he is lazy; he will be lazy because he thinks you expect that from him. You add more on his plate when you tell him “you must just be stupid, you never learn how to do anything right”. Guess what – he will give up and not try to learn what you are teaching him. He thinks you expect him to fail and your words have destined him for failure!!
Why would you want to set your child up for failure? Why would you inflict such emotional harm or abuse on your child that you love? Yes, I firmly believe that talking to your child in that manner is emotional abuse. In my opinion, screaming, demeaning, and name calling is as harmful as slapping your child when he spills the milk or leaves the back door open and the dog gets out. Your words are creating a REALITY for your child!!! He thinks he is stupid and worthless just like you said – why should he try to change what you expect from him?
Please think before you speak. Choose your words wisely and effectively. I am not saying to let your child run wild or say whatever comes to his mind. I’m just saying take a minute, take a breath, and think how you would feel on the receiving end of what you are getting ready to say (in the tone you are getting ready to use). One goal of the relationship between the parent and a child should be to lovingly direct or redirect a child when it is appropriate so that he can be successful and can learn how to behave properly. Constructive criticism, redirection, and reflection allows you, the parent, to discuss the incident at hand calmly with your child, discuss your perception of the problem at hand, and provides you with the chance to share your expectations about how he can redirect his actions or stop the activity causing the problem. Later you should revisit the problem with your child reflecting on the situation, and then discussing in a positive and encouraging manner the progress that has been made. Isn’t that how you would like to be treated when you make a mistake? Doesn’t your child deserve to be treated like you wish to be? Of course!!
I have seen parents using this model of redirection and reflection with children from age 3 through high school with excellent results. Those parents are raising caring, loving children who in turn will raise the same type of children.
For those of you who don’t know me well, I do not have children. I was a middle-school teacher for a short (very, very short) time and have taught adults of all ages for the past five years as an Adjunct Professor. In addition, I have been in management for 12 years and have led 2 different very different organizations during those years. I believe in being honest, but kind, and providing people with constructive criticism and working with them through problems as they arise. For some employees, redirection and reflection works very well. For others it will never work as those employees have what I call a “mirror personality”; they have a mirror turned away from their face so that any criticism or suggestions are mirrored back at the person giving the information. These employees never do anything wrong in their minds – they are always the victim. More on that subject later…
Signing off –
p.s. Happy Birthday Tressa Witt, beloved Grandmother. Enjoy this one with my mom and your only daughter, Jo Anne. I miss you both!!