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Wit and wisdom on childrearing from Dr. Ray Guarendi.
BY Dr. Ray Guarendi
I’m a mother of three children. It seems like I’m nothing
but a talking machine. All the kids just
shut me off. Any ideas for making myself
Talk — the illusion of discipline. Nagging, lecturing,
over-reasoning, pleading, cajoling, arguing, threatening, screaming — forms of
talk, all frustrating and all imposters of legitimate discipline.
I suspect the succinct adage “Talk is cheap” was coined by a
As a kid, I liked when my parents over-talked and said in
93,000 words what they could have said in seven. Playing in the back yard, I’d
be blissfully ignoring my mother’s repeated calls for supper when the torrent
would begin. I never even looked toward the house until the 70,000th word. My
attitude was, “She’s not mad enough yet.”
If you talk 200 to 400 words per minute, with gusts up to
700 wpm, you can be sure of one thing. Most of what you say is for your ears
only, because a foremost reality of discipline is this: The more you talk the
less you’re heard.
A related reality: The more space between your mouth and
your kids’ ears, the less you’re heard, no matter how loud you get. It’s just
plan easier for DJ to tune you out when you’re standing across the back yard or
even just across the hall than when you’re looming over him.
It’s even easier to ignore you if you’re out of sight, in
other words, if there’s a ceiling, wall, stairs or a dirty window between you
and him. Voices without faces have little meaning to kids who operate from the
philosophy that “a parent should be heard and not seen.”
The final futility to endless talking is that talking
inevitably leads to yelling, which inevitably leads to anger. We get riled, the
kids get riled, the dog gets riled. Our original purpose, discipline, becomes
lost in the maelstrom of words and emotion.
I’ve yet to meet a parent who can calmly say, “Please, Rose,
this is the 11th time I’ve asked you to water the flowers. Another 10 or 12
times, and I’m afraid I’m going to have to raise my voice.”
For most of us, after four such requests, our voice is
approaching 110 decibels and our jaw is so clenched we can’t speak clearly
Why do we fall into the talk trap? First of all, talk is
easier than action, in the very short term anyway. Somehow we convince
ourselves it takes less effort to threaten Mercy 16 times with any early
bedtime if she blows her whistle a 17th time while we’re on the phone than to
leave the phone temporarily, pack her off to bed and weather 27 minutes of
It probably does take less physical effort, but the
emotional toll is much higher, not to mention still have to talk over that
Second, talk usually makes us feel les guilty than actual
discipline. We don’t feel quite so “mean” nagging Hazel through two game shows
and a mini-series to clear the supper dishes as we would if we fined her 50
cents. Again, in the short run we may feel less man.
But soon we start feeling meaner and meaner as our words and
polite requests go unheeded or challenged. And then, our words can become
meaner than a 50-cent fine could ever be.
Third, kids are crafty. They want to keep us talking. They
know that the longer we talk the more likely eventually we’ll wear down, give
in and shut up.
Of course, if all you have to do is smile sweetly while
whispering, “Dishes please,” and Chastity instantly drops the phone and rushed
to dry them, then talk serves you well. Stay with it and savor the envy that
all the rest of the world’s parents feel toward you. On the other hand, if your
words are having as much impact as ping pong balls thrown at the hull of a
battleship, then you need some action backing up your talk.
Now that you’re primed for some action techniques, I find
myself out of space because I’ve talked too much. Next column around, we will
talk action. You have my word on it.
More of Ray Guarendi’s wit and wisdom, talky though it may
be, is online at drray.com.