"As children grow older, parents must give them greater freedom, including greater freedom to make mistakes. "

Manners More Important Than Resentful Child

“People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.”

So said 17th Century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. He meant that people are more likely to form opinion based on emotions than evidence.

I thought of Pascal’s insight as I read several excerpts from “PARENTSPEAK: What’s Wrong with How We Talk to Our Children—and What to Say Instead” (Workman, 2017) by California parent educator Jennifer Lehr.

The gist of “PARENTSPEAK” is that seemingly innocuous things parents often say to children—“Say thank you,” for example—are actually psychologically harmful. Other such apparently toxic comments include “Say you’re sorry,” “Give Grandma a kiss” and “Be careful!”

Lehr asserts that comments and instructions of this sort “are all about control.” Rather than taking time to understand children’s feelings, thoughts, and motivations, parents focus on obedience. What’s to understand? Children do not know what is best for them. Their feelings and thoughts, often a muddle, require as much direction as their behavior. They need adults who will take charge when taking charge is called for.

Lehr relates an incident when she instructed her 4-year-old daughter to thank a friend for having her over for a playdate. Although she did eventually mumble thanks, the daughter looked “kowtowed.” Lehr is convinced she caused her daughter to feel “demeaned and resentful” and to conclude that how Lehr looks to others is “more important than her [the daughter’s] dignity.”

How does Lehr know this? She doesn’t, of course. Pascal would say that Lehr’s psychoanalysis of her daughter’s response to “Say thank you” is based not on evidence but rather nothing more than Lehr’s own emotional state. Furthermore, it’s the sort of thing that often reflects a lack of emotional boundary between parent and child, also known as co-dependency. My mother—definitely not the co-dependent type—gave me similar instructions when I was a child. I don’t recall feeling demeaned or resenting her for lowering my sense of personal dignity. The simple fact is that when it comes to proper manners, children require tutoring until the manners become habit. Proper manners demonstrate respect for others. Therefore, instructing a child in proper manners is good and more accurately called direction, not control.

Besides, there’s nothing wrong with obedience to legitimate authority, no matter one’s age. Research finds what commonsense confirms: obedient children are happy children; disobedient children are not. In other words, obedience is of great benefit to a child. The inescapable, albeit shocking (to some), conclusion: Children should do what their parents tell them to do, including saying thank you and giving Grandma a kiss before she goes home.

On her website, Lehr identifies as one of her influences the “democratic decision-making principals (sic)” of psychologist Thomas Gordon, author of “Parent Effectiveness Training,” published in 1971. Yep, the professional community has been recommending this sort of hogwash for more than forty-five years, during which time child mental health has gone down the tubes. Ironically, the more parents have focused on their children’s feelings, the more difficulty children have had keeping their feelings under control.

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