ParentSpeak: What's Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children--and What to Say Instead

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9780761181514: ParentSpeak: What's Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children--and What to Say Instead
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A provocative guide to the hidden dangers of “parentspeak”—those seemingly innocent phrases parents use when speaking to their young children.

Imagine if every time you praise your child with “Good job!” you’re actually doing harm? Or that urging a child to say “Can you say thank you?” is exactly the wrong way to go about teaching manners? Jennifer Lehr is a smart, funny, and fearless writer who “takes everything you thought you knew about parenting and turns it on its ear” (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Backing up her lively writing and arguments with research from psychologists, educators, and organizations like Alfie Kohn, Thomas Gordon, and R.I.E. (Resources for Infant Educarers), Ms. Lehr offers a conscious approach to parenting based on respect and love for the child as an individual.

 

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About the Author:

Jennifer Lehr is the author of PARENTSPEAK: What’s Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children—and What to Say Instead. She’s also the author of Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex, an Elle must-read. She writes about parenting on her site, jenniferlehr.com, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“Good Job!”

“I was trained to make my mother happy. . . . [I am] addicted to attention, acclaim, validation.”—Howard Stern

“Hate to break it to you . . .” So read the subject line of a mass email from my friend Ana. (This is way back in 2007, before everyone and their mother turned to social media to spread the good—or bad—word.) “Read and weep!” she wrote and attached an article from Parents magazine called “Hooked on Praise,” by Alfie Kohn, a ruckus-making scholar in the worlds of education, parenting, and beyond. Even though I only had a precious few minutes left to get stuff done before Jules awoke from her nap, I was curious to see what news was so bad that Ana hated to break it to me—and all the other new-parent friends she’d cc’d.

I quickly skimmed the article, hoping I’d land on just the right sentences that would tell me whatever I needed to know—it seems nothing makes a person more ADD than having a baby. Scanning, I gathered that, contrary to popular belief, our national habit of saying “Good job!” to kids is not only not helpful, but it can be manipulative and can actually turn them into “praise junkies.” Praise junkies? I thought skeptically. Really? Isn’t that overstating things a bit? I didn’t quite think “Whatever!” but I certainly wasn’t reading and weeping. Then Jules woke up, so I quickly replied to Ana with a perfunctory “Interesting! Thx for sending” and ran off to get my angel. I figured that was that.

But she wrote back.

“I know! The article really hit home for me and Greg. We both grew up desperately wanting to please our parents. I was always trying to be the person my parents wanted me to be, grasping for the answers I thought my parents wanted to hear, molding myself into whatever person would elicit a ‘Good job!’ Believe me, it’s no surprise Greg and I met at Yale! It was our parents’ wet dream. Twenty years and tons of therapy later, I realized that I’d never really asked myself What do I think? How do I feel? What do I want? Oh, the wasted years! We’re definitely going to try to be really mindful about praising Tessie. Two people-pleasers in the house is two too many.”

Whoa! I should have actually read the whole article, I thought, hitting reply.

“Amazing how parents mean well but cause damage in ways they never could have imagined—to put it mildly. Wonder what I’m doing to screw up Jules. Isn’t it inevitable? Guess we should start a therapy fund now! :) I appreciate the heads-up. I’ll definitely be laying off ‘good job.’ See you soon? xo”

Then I hit Google. “What creates a people-pleaser?” I asked the great and powerful wizard.

“Parents do!” the wizard replied, just like Alfie Kohn said they do.

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