My father had a few pithy sayings that he liked to repeat. Some of these merely justified his personal preferences, such as, “Fruit juice is for sick people and babies.” But other aphorisms made sense. One of these came to me the other day.
“Address the behavior, not the child.”
My father was a child psychologist. He may not have applied all of his theories to raising me, but this idea, at least, I remember, and still find valid. Not only in relation to children, but to adults as well.
For parents, it’s tough raising children in today’s culture. They have a lot to contend with. So many labels in social media are out there, waiting to stick to a child: bad, fat, stupid, ugly, or smart, talented, etc. We even have a president who throws labels around, calling people “bad” or “nasty.”
Bad behavior or choices, okay, but just “bad people?” We can do better.
To say, “That’s good,” or “You’re a good _______” doesn’t help a child much. It’s more useful to be specific. “I like the way you _______ .” Arranged the pillows on your bed. Cleaned up all the Legos. Helped your friend who fell down. Used the yellow paint in your picture.
We let the child know specifically what was done well.
Adults also respond positively to hearing what they do well.
In my writing group, structured according to the Amherst Writers and Artists method, we give positive feedback to first drafts. We point out what was strong or memorable, what “stays with us.” Writers use that information to improve.
It works the same way with kids.