Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Questions by Judy Lyden

One of my GIANT pet peeves is a conversation gush that begins on the fly - mid sentence about something far removed from what I am thinking about. It's disruptive and annoying and it kind of jumps at you and then rattles on and on and never breaks to either draw me into the vocal stream of consciousness much less ask a question that might ultimately involve me - the recipient of the gush! What is usually well meaning is none the less I centered. I this; I that; then I; I guess; I know; I, I, I. I bring this up because this is how children enter the world. They are discovering "self" and they want to share that "self" with a safe receiver - Mom or Dad, and it's a steady stream of I, I, I.

When children are beyond two, their conversation should naturally change to include you, me, us, our, they, he, she, it. In other words, the focus begins to come of self and onto others. Children begin to ask questions about what they see around them; they begin to wonder and draw conclusions and voice an opinion by making comments that are funny, thoughtful and involve more than me, me, me. When that doesn't happen; when the focus remains on me, me, me, the child remains a toddler. Can't tell you how many toddlers are driving these days!

Children model their behavior on the adults they love and they live with. When parents are ego-centric because their own models were poor, the child has no one to model, and the circle of ego-egocentricity begins all over again with "me first, me second, me always and forever."

Breaking the me first mode is not easy because it means that parents' behavior must change in order to model a better more social behavior. And strangely enough, it all begins with a strange little thing we call a question. Questions are terribly hard for some people. It's a communication skill that is not encouraged in school or in a Walmart type of society that says, "Don't ask and you won't be responsible to know or to do." It's a formula that makes life a lot easier.

But kind questions actually bridge a communication gap between one cave and another. Questions build society and increase information. Questions allow people to express themselves and are a catharsis for many negative thoughts and problems. Knowing about other people increases friendship and charity. It increases love and affection between friends, and this begins in childhood when children need to inquire about lots of things to really understand the world and how to live in it. Children who live with people who ask questions are much more in tune with the world, better mannered, and more confident than those who live with people who can't muster a simple, "How are you? What are you thinking about these days? How are you getting along without your mother, without your husband, without a beloved cat?"

It's the same thing with praise. Some people find praise a poison pill to consume. Some find it as difficult to offer as a character dishing gruel from a Charles Dickens novel. It simply doesn't occur to some people that praise is necessary, and that again is a toddler personality - I don't have to because I'm too busy thinking about me. There is even an idiot named Alfie Kohn who says children should never be praised because it interferes with the natural rhythm of self praise or some ridiculous thing.

Praise is the verbal awareness that someone has done something well. Without praise in our lives, we are decreasing communication and limiting our surroundings. We are diving into an emotional "Fall of Rome" and separating ourselves from others. We are saying, "I can do this all by myself and I don't need you."

Praise and the giving of gifts is a corollary. People who have a difficult time giving or receiving gifts are usually those people who can't issue a compliment or ask questions about others. This stinginess is apparent in daily life. The formula is simple and much like the toddler's.

Now the question is; can the toddler personality so entrenched in self really be expected to congratulate, compliment or question another? The answer is no. Toddlers are not ready to do that because they are too busy discovering themselves. But at three, the child is ready to start applauding when they are happy and excited about something going on around them.

They are ready to ask questions about things that are pleasant to look at, pleasant to taste, pleasant to hear and about change. They are ready to say, "I like that" and then "I like that about you." Then they drift into the perpetually child thing, "That's cool."

Christmas time is a time of gift giving, Christian praise in song and practice. It's the beginning of a new year with Advent, so ask yourself, have I praised my child or someone close to me or even someone I work with? Have I asked that personal question, "How are you doing?"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Children need acknowledgement and encouragement, not praise. The type of praise that Alfie Kohn criticizes the most is the one used as a "positive reinforcement", e.g., praising good behavior to encourage a child to behave similarly in the future. In this case, the praise becomes a manipulation tool, the interaction between the adult and the child unauthentic, and the relationship between them suffers.

It is difficult for me to respect someone who demonstrates little respect for others. It's one thing to disagree with someone and quite another to insult them by name-calling. Perhaps, the author has not really tried to understand the theory and research behind Alfie Kohn's works.