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updated: 8/15/2013 10:51 AM

Avoid sounding like adults in "Charlie Brown"

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My now-adult children all seemed to have been enamored with the videotaped version of Charlie Brown. I've watched it more than a few times myself; I've always identified a bit with the trials and tribulations of the Peanuts gang.

Adults play a strange part in the lives of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and the gang. Parents, teachers, etc., are never seen, their real voices are never heard. Instead, adults are represented by the blaring of a muted trumpet, which can capture the tones but not the words of the adults in the lives of these children. And those tones, I have realized, tend primarily to be questioning, demanding, critical, accusing, rejecting.

One morning as I was hurrying my youngest son through getting dressed, eating breakfast and some perfunctory play so we could get to an appointment, I became aware that my voice sounded alarmingly similar to the adult "voices" on the Peanuts videotape we were watching. And if those tones sounded so negative to me, how were my words sounding to my son?

Now, raising children is not easy. We may love our children dearly, but that doesn't always mean we like them or what they do. Sometimes what we don't like seems to far outweigh what we do. Even the best of children have their moments, occasionally very "long" moments, when they challenge all our good intentions and efforts as parents. And even when our children are relatively easy to get along with, that doesn't mean they are convenient.

Those are the times when we may start to sound like the adults in the lives of Charlie Brown. Most of our parenting energy gets absorbed in questioning, demanding, rushing, etc., and when our children actually are behaving, we are so relieved and weary that we just leave them alone.

The problem with such a pattern is that we neglect our most powerful tools as parents. Children -- all children -- respond best to encouragement, support, praise, gentle guidance. When all our energy gets used up in just trying to control our children's troublesome behaviors, we are, in fact, diminishing our overall parenting effectiveness.

For example, instead of demanding that my squirming child stand still long enough for me to put on his shorts, I might, instead, praise how well he has helped me to get him dressed on other occasions and encourage him to show me that he can help now. Believe it or not, this can work with a 3-year-old a good part of the time (when it doesn't, something similar usually will). And it certainly is a lot more pleasant for both of us than my trumpeting on about how badly he is behaving.

A final thought: The adults in the world of Peanuts also never seem to hug, hold, play, read stories, go to the park, etc. Yet often these are the very activities that lay the foundation for smoother parent-child interactions at other, more challenging times.

My children now have children of their own. I suspect they know better than I did that pleasant time together, encouragement, support, praise and gentle guidance are parenting tools well worth using. Try them out yourself and see what happens.

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