Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What I'm Reading: "Between Parent & Child" by Dr. Haim Ginott

For me, this book read like a love letter from parent to child. It had confirmed everything I knew to be right and wrong about parenting communication regardless of what I was taught.

To be clear, I was raised in a loving yet strict environment. We were taught that questioning an adult is disrespectful and therefore questioning their authority, as many people from my generation have experienced. My grandparents grew up during The Great Depression, this generation had little time to worry about such things as "feelings" or "communication". They were taught to do as they were told, and not to ask questions.

I can only imagine it was a desperate attempt at maintaining some sort of structure within a family that could very well have been hanging on by a thread. Families were also much larger in these times, the average household could have as many as six to eight children (my mom was one of eight). Personal attention could have been an issue, this is a common story for many families from that era. It was also a time in which there was an influx of well-meaning albeit misleading research and opinions from groups of German psychologists and theories making its way into the United States as respected professional opinion. A lot of these researchers believed a child was a person that needed to be dominated, otherwise they would dominate you. A babies cry was an act of manipulation and must be ignored if the child was already fed and changed, in order to "set the standard" for who was really the boss. Hence, the foundation for practices such as the "crying it out" method that's become so popular. Making parenting a chess match of sorts, setting the framework for an "Us vs. Them" mentality. A dangerous way to think not only as a person but as a culture. You see, by conveying that we are on the same side of the problem in a moment of frustration and vulnerability, allows for a lesson in conflict resolution and problem solving.

Side Note: Coincidentally, a large number of these respected researchers and psychologists were practicing in the years leading up to Hitler's reign and the Holocaust that took place in Germany in the late 1930's - early 1940's.

Dr. Haim Ginott is thought to be the "Godfather" of empathic parenting. His influence far reaching and still very relevant in works today with author and co-founder of The Gottman Institute, Dr. John Gottman. Also with students who have their own literary contributions to conscious parenting such as Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (more on these authors in upcoming book recommendations). Ginott's approach showed respect for children's feelings while placing boundaries on their behavior, some believe he was ahead of his time.

At the heart of his method, he realized that by ignoring a person's feelings you only enhance them or create confusion. However, by acknowledging these feelings, we are able to move forward and become better problem solvers.
This is an in depth read based on conflict resolution and treating children with the dignity and respect they deserve. A form of discipline in and of itself. The theory is that true discipline is not taught, but modeled. The word itself "discipline" derives from the word "disciple". Being the example to children at the most vulnerable stage in their life is the best model we can give them. It sets the stage for true empathy and compassion, perhaps if we all had more of these communication skills in schools and at home already set in place our country would not be dealing with such a terrible bullying epidemic. Empathy is the foundation of effective parenting.
We cannot expect a child to feel empathy because we have always told them to, it's an intrinsic emotion that can only be evoked if the child has the freedom in a safe space to address ALL of their feelings. Not just the self-gratifying feelings we need them to have so that we can feel like we've done a good job parenting. "Go tell Johnny your sorry!", I hear this all too often at the playground. This child isn't learning empathy or compassion by force, they are learning to say something to appease adults within earshot (more on this sort of "punishment" in future book recommendations).

Dr. Haim Ginott's legacy and one of his greatest accomplishments may have been the classes he held with parent's in a town hall type setting, teaching these communication skills with compassion and empathy for where each of these parent's were in their own specific parenting journey.

Overall, this was one of the books that helped lay the groundwork for making a change in the "framework" of my parenting. These communication skills have reached beyond my parent / child relationship and seeped into every relationship in my life. A great beginning to better understand "feelings" in general. A great read even if you don't have any children!

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Haim Ginott and his work, go to: www.betweenparentandchild.com.

I look forward to sharing more books with you!

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