Getting Through to Kids 738.2

A listener wrote to say she was selecting some of her favorite commentaries to put into a notebook for her 12-year-old son. She said she was going to underline portions she thought were particularly pertinent.

I love it whenever someone wants to share my thoughts, especially with children, but I’ve come to realize how difficult it can be to successfully pass on what we think is great wisdom, especially to our own children.

I hope you’ll write with your ideas, but drawing from lots of unsuccessful efforts with my own children, I have some thoughts:

1. While it’s a parent’s job to positively influence attitudes and behaviors of their children, any form of preaching with a “you should” message or tone is generally ineffective. It invites an attack-the-messenger tactic: “You don’t live your life perfectly, so what makes you qualified to tell me how to live mine?”

2. Most young people get very defensive very quickly when they think advice is simply disguised criticism. And when they get defensive, they don’t process advice in a constructive manner.

3. Though it’s easier said than done, the most effective and rewarding method is to convey or elicit information and insight in the setting of a discussion. Ask an open-ended question as to what the child thinks, knows, or has observed about issues raised in a news event, movie, or a comment. Be sure the question is not just another masked way of conveying a criticism.

4. Don’t try to convey the encyclopedia of wisdom in one sitting. Break up your “lesson plans” into small pieces and be very selective as to the time and place you begin the discussion.

5. If you want real progress, tell the child about your own shortcomings and challenges both past and present. Moral humility invites reflection.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 4

  1. Advice that shares common thread with PET philosophy (Parent Effectiveness Training). And like 28 day muscle memory with any change in mechanics for the athlete, limiting critical comment to children takes conscious effort for a while

  2. I have shared some of your commentaries at my Girl Scout meetings. We discuss how we affect others feelings and how we ourselves would feel. They can always tie them back to something that happened at school. But because we do it frequently, no one feels singled out.

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