Spence: Arguing with Kids

This is a troublesome topic for many parents, especially young parents. And Gerry Spence offers a unique perspective on how to do this in his book “How to Argue and Win Every Time”.

Gerry starts off with an assertion that many adults might find troubling. Parents are usually stupid when it comes to kids. They don’t know what kids  need. But kids — though powerless — are nearly always right when they talk. So parents have, but rarely use, the opportunity to learn from their kids.  Learn about what? About love, about creativity, about wonder. How about those things?

One of the reasons we don’t listen is a fear of spoiling a child.  So we attempt to control and punish. Doing that, and focusing on that, we fail to give respect, trust and freedom.  There is a “magic mirror” effect. We get back a version of what we give, but not what we expect. Give anger and you get it back. But give respect, and you get respect back. Give friendship and you get it back.

Gerry relates how parents can deeply scar children by using violence as punishment. Parents receive no training on how to be parents, and that is a problem. Worse still, institutions like the Church emphasize the need for children to see their inadequacies in the eyes of God. This can lead to a life time of self-doubt. And when we  take over the preaching style that the Church uses, we are taking over a dangerous power tool. A tool that can lead to teaching hypocrisy. For example the father who preaches about the evils of drink but is addicted to gambling.  Moral values, then are taught by example only.

From this vantage point, Gerry makes the case for why there is so much crime in society these days. The old fashioned glue that tied individuals to a tribe, indeed giving their identity as members of a tribe, is gone. It is replaced by soulless bureaucracy. Children — innocent children — are punished just because they are poor or brown or yellow. They are excluded. And even as the “super tribe” speaks of love and friendship, the words ring hollow. yes, this is an indictment of modern society and Gerry pulls no punches in making it.

How to argue with children who grow up in this setting? One does so using the language of love. Real love. “Love requires us to free our children and to trust them”. Instead, “we demand conformity which is to demand an end of creativity”.

So what do we want from arguing with our children? We want our children to be successful. Ok. But what is success in life? While this is often expressed in monetary terms, the truth is that success is to excel in the art of being persons – to live with joy, to grow and to become who they are – to fulfill themselves. To freely bloom. That is what we want to gain from arguing with our kids.

Exercising control and power over children has the opposite effect. Indeed, it creates a war between parent and child, which is deadly for both sides, over time. The only alternative is for the parent to take the side of the child – to argue for the child and forever end the war.

Gerry gets deeply into two subjects at this point – punishment and money. On punishment, he makes the point with a story about how children actually punish themselves. On money, children should not be taught that money and privilege are better than connecting with people.

Finally, parents should keep in mind that no matter how well they do their job, there will come a time when their child wants freedom. The child will take that freedom come what may. And that is the way it should be.  Parents win when this happens with joy and expectations of an adventure, rather than with anger.

Next – the final chapter – arguing in the workplace.

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