My Father’s Wisdom

selective focus photography of child hand

Photo by Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas on Pexels.com

 

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.

Fear and Longing

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My granddaughters live three states away. I haven’t seen them since January. The enforced separation is causing tears and heartache—on both sides. For me, though, as the aging adult, the longing is confused and aggravated by fear.

I’m close to seventy years old. What if I die before we can be together again? This strange and virulent disease could be the end of me. Other younger folk are often less anxious. Today we ventured out to a D.IY. store to get some needed house supplies. Although most of the customers had on masks, there was an atmosphere of laxity that I found alarming.

I hurried through the store, flinging air filters and bug spray into our cart. On the checkout line, the man in front of us had no mask. I commented on this and pulled back further. My husband, whose dementia blanks out the crisis daily, made a joke about the fellow being a tough guy.

“It’s not funny!” I shouted. I moved our cart to the self-checkout lane and rushed out of the store.

I don’t know if we’ll attempt another shopping trip. I truly felt unsafe, and also angry that others’ cavalier attitudes force me to take risks.

When I asked my doctor about the advisability of visiting the family, he said, “Sure, you can walk with them outdoors.”

“Oh, no, but they live five hours away,” I said.

“Nope.”

If this social isolation lasts months longer, I may reassess the risks versus the emptiness. For now, though, we’re back in the apartment, too far away.

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