Authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish wrote their counter cultural book regarding tips and tactics for parents to use as they raised children before the term "counter cultural" had become politically correct. In 1974, when the majority of children were being raised under the questionable permissive advice of Dr. Spock, these authors focused on another aspect of child rearing. They were significantly influenced by child psychologist Hiam Ginott who believed that it was the emotional well-being of the child that would guide his actions. Ginott, quoted in Faber and Mazlich's book, said that he believed that "when parents are given the skills to be more helpful (to their children's emotional development) not only are they able to use these skills, but they infuse them with a warmth and a style that is uniquely their own. [parenthesis added]" (Faber and Mazlish, 1974
In their book, Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish begin by discussing their experiences attending a series of parent workshops given by Dr. Ginott, "As parents," Ginott says, "we have to make certain decisions that represent our best judgment at the time. And the decision-making process does not necessarily have to be shared with our children; nor do we permit their evaluation. When a parent is clear about his rights, when he knows that guilt is an inappropriate response, then he helps his child gather strength and learn reality" (Faber & Mazlish). This advice reminded one of the authors of a parenting incident in her life when she had helped her child gather strength by not sharing her guilt. The incident involved her kindergarten-aged son, David, who had asked for a drive to school because it was snowing outside. Because there were two younger siblings at home, David was told he could manage to walk the five blocks to school on his own. As the author explains, shortly after David left for school, the wind picked up and the snow worsened. When David returned from school that afternoon, he explained that he had been late to school because the strong winds made it difficult for him to walk quickly. The author admitted feelings of great guilt over the incident but instead of sharing these feelings with David, she responded, "Wow! What a walk you've had! All those long blocks in that bitter wind. That took endurance! That's the kind of thing you'd expect from Abe Lincoln, not a six-year-old boy!" Thus, instead of feeling weak and sorry for himself, David seemed proud of his accomplishment (Faber & Mazlish,)
What is notable about this example is not so much whether of not the parent passed along her feeling of guilt over making her young child walk to school in a blinding snow storm, but that the parent connected with the child on the issue. The child was not blamed over arriving late to school, which would have produced inappropriate shame in the child. The parent did not back pedal and apologize for her mistake requiring the child to brave the elements, which would have place undue power in the child's hands for a future time. Rather the parent accepted the situation and stood her ground in her position as the decision maker thus reinforcing her child appropriate dependence on her. Within the unchallenged confines of the parent and child relationship, she acknowledged her child's feelings, and encouraged him for a job well done in the face of difficult conditions.
Ehrensaft echoes Ginott's message to parents about accepting our position as adults. "We must stop abdicating the throne and accept our position as an adult," Ehrensaft says. "Children do not do well with deposed kings and queens for parents. To be good parents, we definitely must give generously of ourselves, but never give ourselves over to our children." (Ehrensaft, 1997)
This differentiation between giving of ourselves to our children, and giving ourselves over to our children is the delicate line which Mazlish and Faber walk throughout their book as they discuss skills for parents to learn to build emotionally balanced and self-secure children. The approach which encourages parents to remain in their authority role in the child's life, as well as equips the parent to connect with the child's feeling is the element of this book which sets it apart from other works. Dr. Spock taught parents to reason with their children rather than correct them. By doing so, the well intentioned doctor instructed parents to abdicate an important role in their children's development, which is the role of authority to which the child is accountable.
Mazlish and Faber answer the questions regarding how can we help a child change from undependable to dependable, from a mediocre student to a capable student, from someone who won't amount to very much to someone who will count for something. The answer is at once both simple and complicated. The child needs to be raised with the confidence that they can become dependable and capable by the way the parents treat them. Part of that process, identified by the authors, is treating a child as if he already is what we would like him to become. (Faber and Mazlish, 1974).
This quote is from pages 87-88. It is one of the best statements I have ever seen by authors of parenting books: "People have asked us, "If I use these skills appropriately will my children always respond?" Our answer is: We would hope not. Children aren't robots. Besides, our purpose is not to set forth a series of techniques to manipulate behavior so that children always respond. Our purpose is to speak to what is best in our children-- their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others. We want to put an end to talk that wounds the spirit, and search out the language that nourishes self-esteem. We want to create an emotional climate that encourages children to cooperate because they care about themselves, and because they care about us."
Tactics and Skills
The authors identify a series of approaches to use with children when interacting with them in order to build confidence, compassion, and character. The first is "When kids feel right, they'll behave right." Parents can help children feel right about themselves and the world by accepting the child's feelings first, and then working toward behavioral changes if needed.
Another approach toward building a child's self-esteem while at the same time directing their actions is an approach which I call "love the sinner, and hate the sin." When a child is having difficulty following directions, or just forgetting some of their responsibilities, the authors suggest stating what is acceptable and what is not. While the authors do not make this differentiation, the parent who uses this approach must remember to communication that the behavior is unacceptable, not the child. A child who brings home grades which are less than his or her ability should not be told "you are not acceptable when you have this level of grade performance." To do so would create less self-esteem in the child, and drain any motivation from him like water down the kitchen sink. Instead, the parent should approach the child with" I know you have done much better in this class than your current grades suggest. What are you doing differently?" This approach gives the child the ability to respond with his or her feelings without feeling demeaned for his poor performance.
The authors continually reinforce the parent's positional authority which is just as important to a child's well being as their own feelings of self-esteem. Another approach to simply approach the child without arguing, or attempting to re-reason the given task. By stating what needs to be accomplished with…