COMMENTARY: Getting Through to Kids

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 post a comment here with your ideas. Drawing from lots of unsuccessful efforts with my own children, here are my 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 response: “You don’t live your life perfectly — 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 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.

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