Sunday, March 11, 2012

How Would You Feel If. . . .

Once again, I’m detouring from my usual discussion of signing with babies to some parenting advice drawn from my book with Dr. Susan Goodwyn entitled Baby Hearts: A Guide to Giving Your Child an Emotional Head Start.

“I’m so disappointed in you! Go to your room and think about what you did!”

These two sentences are hardly rare. Most parents probably have uttered them at one time or another. However, just because they are typical doesn’t mean they are a good idea! In addition to implying that love will be withdrawn, these messages leave out at least two very important pieces of information: (1) why what the child did wasn’t a good idea, and (2) what should have been done instead. The words succeed in making the child feel bad, but they don’t teach her how to be better in the future.

How would you feel if the same message was addressed to you? Suppose you had just gotten off the phone with a very disagreeable customer whose outrageous accusations caused your own temper to flare. Now suppose your boss, overhearing your end of the conversation, steps into your office and says, “I’m so disappointed in you. Go home and think about what you did.”

Can you see how unhelpful that is? You probably already know that you didn’t handle the situation well; what you don’t know is how you should have handled it: Called on your boss to take the call? Used some stock phrases to placate the customer? Claimed the call was breaking up and disconnected? Thanks to your boss’ choice of words, you still don’t know and may well find yourself in the same situation tomorrow. And to make matters words, you now feel humiliated as well as angry.

Well, guess what? Young children have the same reaction but with even less ability to think about alternative behaviors even if they wanted to! They need alternatives explained calmly and clearly. Keep this in mind the next time you are tempted to send this message—to anyone.

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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