Families, communities, and nations are stronger when parents teach and discipline their children so both sides can win. Dr. Haim G. Ginott wrote in his book Between Parent and Child, “Certain patterns of relating to children are almost always self-defeating; not only do they fail to attain our long-term goals, but they often create havoc at home here and now.” He then listed the following patterns that he called self-defeating: threats, bribes, promises, sarcasm, verbal overkill, sermons on lying and stealing, and rude teaching of politeness.
Dr. Ginott says that threats are just “invitations to repeat a forbidden act.” When an adult says, “If you run into the street, I will swat your bottom,” the child hears, “run into the street.” Sometimes the child thinks that the adult expects them to do the forbidden thing. In other words, the parent’s warning becomes a challenge to the child’s ability to act for themselves (pp. 58-59).
Bribery has been used by parents and teachers for years to “motivate” children to do something. "If you do _____, I will give you ______.” One problem with bribes is the child may get the idea that the parent does not think that he/she can do thus and so. Another problem is that the parents become conditioned to giving the child a toy or something for good behavior. What if the parent forgets to get the toy? According to Dr. Ginott, “Rewards are most helpful and more enjoyable when they are unannounced in advance, when they come as a surprise, when they represent recognition and appreciation” (p. 60).
I ruined a freshmen Seminary class one year because I started to bribe them. The first quarter they were wonderful about giving prayers, thoughts, devotionals, and all types of things that I asked. Other teachers talked about how their students were earning tickets and having so much fun doing it, so I tried it the second quarter. My students soon learned the “game” and would not do anything without negotiating the number of tickets they would earn doing it. I did not make the same mistake again.
Dr. Ginott stated that parents should never make promises to their children or extract promises from their children. He said that when parents promise something, they admit that “their unpromised word is not trustworthy.” Extracting promises for future good behavior is like asking a child to write a check on an account that has no money.
Sarcasm should never be used with children because it creates a “serious mental health hazard” and “erects a sound barrier to effective communication” (p. 61). Dr. Ginott said, “Bitter sarcasm and cutting clichés have no place in child upbringing” because we “should not deflate the child’s status in his own eyes or in the eyes of his peers” (p. 62).
Dr. Ginott said that no parent should think the comment, “You talk like a parent,” is a compliment. It means that you are repeating yourself time after time without any obedience from your child. He said that parents should “learn economical methods of responding to children” (p. 62). He gave an example of a mother who said to her older child who was tormenting a younger sibling, “Ted, you choose. You can get the usual lecture or take care of the complaint yourself.” Ted got the message and went to find something else to do. Dr. Ginott also said that parents should remember that “less is more with children” (p. 65).
Almost every parent has dealt with lies from one or more children. Since children usually lie to defend themselves, “parents should not ask questions that are likely to cause defensive lying” (p. 65). Dr. Ginott said that parents should not “ask questions to which we already have the answers” (p. 66). If the parent is looking at a table full of dirty dishes after meal, there is no need to ask a child if they did the dishes. The answer is evident, and a statement is better, “I see that the dishes have not been washed.”
Sometimes children “lie because they are not allowed to tell the truth” (p. 67). If a child says, “I hate Grandma,” the parent should not say, “You do not hate Grandma.” The better thing to do is to acknowledge that the child is upset and discover what Grandma did that made him angry. Dr. Ginott said that we must “be prepared to listen to bitter truths as well as pleasant truths” if we want to teach honesty.
Sometimes children lie to tell truths. If a child tells Grandma that she has a unicorn, Grandma should not tell her to stop lying but “reflect understanding of its meaning” (p. 68). The Grandma could say, “You wish you had a unicorn. You would probably like to have a whole bunch of different animals.” By reflecting understanding, the Grandma would help the granddaughter to “distinguish between reality and wishful thinking” (p. 68).
Dr. Ginott stated, “Dealing with dishonesty: an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of investigation” (p. 69). Instead of an investigation, a parent should call a spade a spade. When a parent sees an overdue library book, she should state, “I see your library book is overdue,” rather than asking if the book has been returned or why it is still on the dresser. Dr. Ginott wrote, “In short, we do not provoke the child into defensive lying, nor do we intentionally set up opportunities for lying. When a child does lie, our reaction should not be hysterical and moralistic, but factual and realistic. We want our child to learn that there is no need to lie to us” (p. 70). He also said that parents should stop asking why questions and use statements. Instead of asking, “Why can’t you ever be on time?” the parent should state “I worry when you are late” (p. 70). The question puts the child on defense, while the statement shows love and concern.
Stealing is another problem that most parents deal with at some time in a child’s life. Dr. Ginott stated that “Learning the lessons of ownership takes time and patience” (p. 71). He suggests that parents remain calm when the “theft” happens and simply state, “This toy does not belong to you. It needs to be returned” (p. 71). The confrontation should always be unemotional but firm, “I expect you to put the chocolate bar back on the shelf” (p. 71). Dr. Ginott said that parents should avoid calling a child a thief and a liar or ask the child why they did what they did. This is another area that this rule applies: when we know the answer, we do not ask the question” (p. 72).
In teaching politeness, Dr. Ginott said, “Politeness is both a character trait and a social skill; it is acquired through identification with, and imitation of, parents who are themselves polite. Under all conditions, politeness must be taught politely” (p.72). He said that parents should model the behavior they expect from their child. If a child forgets to thank Aunt Sally for the gift, the parent thanks Aunt Sally and then teaches the child at home about showing gratitude by helping the child to write a thank you note to Aunt Sally.
Children often interrupt adult conversations. Dr. Ginott suggested there is a better way than to say, “Don’t be rude. It is impolite to interrupt.” He said that the parent should simply say, “I would like to finish telling my story” (p. 73). I heard of a mother who taught her children to put their hand on her forearm when they wanted her attention. She would touch their hand with her own hand to let them know that she knew they wanted to speak to her. She would finish her conversation and then meet the needs of her child.
Dr. Ginott said that parents should never tell a child that they are rude. He also made a good suggestion for handling problems in another person’s home. “Visiting should be fun for the parent and child. This can best be achieved when the burden of responsibility for the child’s behavior is left to the child and the host” (p. 74). When arriving at the home, the mother can say,
“This is your home. You know the type of behavior that is acceptable here. Please feel free to correct my child’s behavior when necessary” (p. 75).
Dr. Ginott summarized his chapter with these words, “Threats, bribes, promises, sarcasm, and rudeness are not the answers. The most effective solution is to make clear statements that express our values. We do not ask questions to which we already have the answers and, most important, we treat our children with the respect we expect from them” (p. 75).
Dr. Ginott provided ways that teaching and disciplining children can be win-win situations for both parent and child. When parents treat their children with the same love and respect that they expect from them, the family is stronger and can then strengthen the community and nation.