First of all, thank you for taking the time to read last week’s blog, Part 1, in this brief series on “Talking with Kids.” This is clearly a subject that interests many of you.
This past week the girls had their back to school night. The principal said that he and the teachers are reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. It’s a great book discussing the difference between a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. I’ve always said it is a must read for any teachers out there, and it is pretty much a must read for parents as well. The premise of the book, which I am oversimplifying, is that we are all far more capable of learning and doing more than we know. Not knowing something doesn’t mean we are “stupid”. It just means we haven’t learned it yet.
This ties in well with the next letter I want to discuss from The Art of Talking so that People Will Listen by Paul W. Sweets (1983, New York) and his chapter on talking with kids called “Establish Respect when Talking with Kids”. Sweets builds an acronym from the word RESPECT as a way to help us talk to children, making a number of really good points.
Last week we looked at “R – Remember your childhood.” (Check out last week’s post if you didn’t have a chance to read it.)
This week I want to look at “E – Encourage Self Esteem”, which, in some ways, we touched on last week. Out of this section, the sentence that grips me the most as a parent is one he cites from S. I. Hayakawa’s book Symbol, Status and Personality (New York, 1963).
“What you tell a child he is, he will become.”
Just let that rest a minute. Sweet explains it further (p. 106):
“In other words, children tend to become what they are told they are, even if that identity is negative! The psychological need for an identity – any identity – is greater than the child’s readiness to evaluate the information he receives. Thus, if a child is told he is a ‘crybaby’ or ‘bad boy,’ he will believe that is how he should act. Conversely, if a child is told that he has a good mind and can solve problems, he will think of himself as a problem solver and learn to use his mind creatively.”
Now please, don’t take this too far. There are parents out there who have said all of the right things and have still watched their children make bad decisions. There are parents who have said all of the wrong things and have still watched their children make good decisions.
Although this guidance does not give us parents the perfect plan to have the perfect children – it’s not that “simple” – it is a reminder that our words do matter.
One of the things I love about being a Christian parent is being able to raise my kids up with an identity grounded in who they are in Jesus Christ. Paul writes in Ephesians 1 that as Christians we are holy, faithful and blessed (read it, there is more). This doesn’t mean we always act in all of these ways. So we shouldn’t be surprised when our kids don’t either. What it does mean is that when we trust in Jesus, we have a new identity, an identity described as holy, faithful and blessed. We are seen by God in this way, and through the work of Jesus in our lives we can continue to mature. We can walk more and more as who we really are, and we can help our kids grow into who they truly are as well.