I recently came across Haim Ginott’s classic, Between Parent and Teenager. Published in 1969, his examples often relate to hippie teens and “square” parents but the principles remain the same. In his chapter on criticism, Ginott explains the long-term damage parents can cause by assigning negative traits to children like laziness or stupidity. Those voices can stay with you for a long time. He also advises against recalling past faults (“You always lose things”) or “futurizing” (“You’ll never keep a job if you can’t even remember to take out the trash.”) Here’s how he sums up dealing with teenagers who don’t behave as we like:
Don’t attack personality traits. Don’t criticize character traits. Deal with the situation at hand.
Failing a test, for example, is not the end of the world. Parents can express their emotions without blaming or attacking, listen with sympathy to the child’s point of view, and help the child take responsibility for doing better the next time. Ginott concludes the chapter with an inspiring quote from Tolstoy:
One of the most widespread superstitions is that every man has his own special, definite qualities. That a man is kind, cruel, wise, stupid, energetic, apathetic, etc. Men are not like that . . . men are like rivers . . . every river narrows here, is more rapid there, here slower, there broader, now clear, now cold, now dull, now warm. It is the same with men. Every man carries in himself the germs of every human quality and sometimes one manifests itself, sometimes another, and the man often becomes unlike himself, while still remaining the same man.