The Wrong Way to Speak to Children

Postmodernism has unleashed a wealth of woes on the world. Postmodern parenting may be among the most egregious.

Elisabeth Keyser, 1851–1898, “Expulsion from the Garden”
Elisabeth Keyser, 1851–1898, “Expulsion from the Garden” (photo: Register Files)

In my twenty-five odd years of covering and writing about family issues, I’ve come across a lot of bad advice for parents. But a recent article in the Wall Street Journal may take the cake for worst ever. Author Jennifer Lehr writes in “The Wrong Way To Speak to Children” that “parentspeak” is harming our kids.

Saying “Be careful!” when tiny tots are climbing, or “Share!” when toddlers want the same toy, or “Good job!” when little ones eat their broccoli is apparently all wrong. Why? Because, as Lehr puts it, “this way of speaking is all about control.” And not just control: compliance. Heaven forbid we should want to be able to control our three-year-olds and get our pre-teens to comply with our wishes.

The danger, she writes, is that such language “often keeps us from understanding the feelings, motivations, thoughts and behavior of our children. Rather than teaching them to communicate and problem solve, we are essentially teaching them to obey.”

I’m not sure what planet Ms. Lehr is living on, but I’m sure that the time she’s living in is now. When else could such claptrap be published as good advice for parents?

You may rightly be wondering if the author has any actual experience as a parent. Lehr does, and she shares a story about her daughter, Jules, when she was four-years-old. After a playdate, she asked Jules to thank her friend for having her over. No response. “’Jules?’ I asked more pointedly. ‘Thank you,’ she dutifully mumbled. My heart sank. My sparkling daughter seemed so kowtowed.” Lehr realizes how “demeaned” she’d feel if her boss said something like that to her and had this revelation: “Essentially, I was teaching her that because she’s young, she’s subject to my control.”

And that’s exactly as it should be! Children are subject to our control, for their own sakes! Does Ms. Lehr not realize that the only reason she knows to encourage her daughter to say thank you is because she must have been taught that when she was a child!

Lehr shares another anecdote, one she observed on a rainy day at preschool pickup. A fellow mom, in an effort to get her obstinate daughter to put on her raincoat, encouraged her by saying, “I know you can do it, sweetheart.” It worked. The little girl put it on. But the mother then had the audacity to say, “Good job! That’s my girl.”

What’s wrong with this picture you may ask? According to Lehr, the offending mother erred by praising her daughter’s cooperation. “Praising a child into wearing a raincoat that she doesn’t want to wear seems innocuous enough,” Lehr writes. “But played out time and again, these moments teach a child that how others feel is more important than how she feels.”

And that, Ms. Lehr, is precisely the point. Parents, particularly those trying to raise their children as Christians, should be making sure children know they’re not the center of the universe and that other people’s feelings do matter. Teaching obedience while at the same time doling out unconditional love is the quintessence of what parenting should be.

Postmodernism has unleashed a wealth of woes on the world. Postmodern parenting may be among the most egregious.

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