When adults want children to do something—put on coats, take a nap, etc.—they often say, “Let’s put on our coats, okay?” or “It’s time to take our naps now, okay?” That “Okay?” is a bad thing to say. Our lives with children would go better if we could learn to give up this way of talking.

The trouble with this “Okay?” is that it suggests to the children that we are giving them a choice when we really are not. Whatever people may think about how many choices we should give children, children should at least be able to know at any moment whether they have a choice or not. If we too often seem to be offering choices when we really aren’t, children may soon feel that they never have any. They will resent this, and resent even more our not saying clearly what we mean. By giving what we intend as a command and then saying “Okay?” we invite resistance and rebellion. In fact, the only way children can find out whether or not we are offering a real choice is to refuse to do what we ask. It is their way of saying, “Do you really mean it?”

Many adults feel that in saying “Okay?” they are only being courteous. But this is a misunderstanding of courtesy. It is perfectly possible to be firm and courteous while making clear to someone that you are not offering a choice but telling them what you want to happen or is going to happen. When I visit friends, I expect to fit myself into their life and routines, and count on them to tell me what they are. So they say, “We get up at seven o’clock,” or “We are going to have dinner at six-thirty,” or “This afternoon we’re going to this place to do such and such.” They are not asking me whether I approve of these plans, just letting me know that they are the plans. But they are perfectly polite about this.

John Holt, Teach Your Own

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 25, 2000 at 5:49 pm | Edit
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We adults destroy most of the intellectual and creative capacity of children by the things we do to them or make them do. We destroy this capacity above all by making them afraid, afraid of not doing what other people want, of not pleasing, of making mistakes, of failing, of being wrong. Thus we make them afraid to gamble, afraid to experiment, afraid to try the difficult and the unknown…. We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards—gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards, or honor rolls, or dean’s lists, or Phi Beta Kappa keys—in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do.

John Holt, How Children Fail

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 20, 2000 at 3:10 pm | Edit
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One day my sister wrote, "I am busy, but I can't figure out why I have nothing to show for it. I do a lot of driving and a lot of errands. (I really need to organize myself.)"

This could go down as the universal plea of the modern woman, if not all womankind. We blame ourselves (“I need to get organized”), our kids (“Juggling the needs of four kids is impossible”), our jobs (“Of course I can’t manage everything; I’m working 40 hours a week!”), our husbands (“Can’t he see I’m floundering? Why does he just sit there, staring at the TV?”)…but mostly we blame ourselves. A friend of mine once said that guilt is written right into the motherhood contract. I’m convinced that one major reason women like to work outside the home is so that, at the end of the week, they can say, “See, that’s what I accomplished!” Even if the job’s not going well, at least there’s the paycheck to point to. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, March 15, 1999 at 8:35 am | Edit
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