Chaim Ginott -- the trailblazing teacher and psychologist whose ideas we have already referred to in other articles -- relates the following story:
Early on the Monday following Thanksgiving weekend, he received a phone call from a woman who was clearly very agitated.
"Try and figure this out,if you can!" she pleaded.
"There we were in the car, the whole family. We drove four hundred miles, from Pittsburgh to New York. In the back of the car, little Ivan behaved like an angel, quiet and deep in thought. I said
to myself, 'He deserves some praise.'
"We were just entering the Lincoln Tunnel when I turned to him and said, 'You're such a good boy, Ivan. I'm proud of you.'
"A minute later, the sky fell on us..
|A minute later, the sky fell in on us...
"Ivan pulled out an ashtray and spilled its contents all over us. The ashes, the cigarette butts, and the smoke kept coming, like atomic fallout. We were in the tunnel in heavy traffic, and we
were choking. If not for the other cars around us, I might have murdered him! And what burned me up was I had just praised him. Isn't praise good for kids any more?"
A few weeks later, in Ginott's office, Ivan himself solved the mystery.
All the way home he had been wondering how to get rid of his younger brother, who was snuggled up between mother and father in front of the car. Finally, the idea occurred to him that if their car
were jackknifed In the middle, he and his parents would be safe, but the baby would be cut in two!
Just then his mother had congratulated him for being so good. The praise made him felt guilty. He felt he had to show that he did not deserve it. He looked around and saw the ashtray. The rest
Adults entrusted with the character training of children have few weapons in their armory as powerful as praise. Just how powerful, we all know from our own experience. If we don't use this tool
as much as we should, it's probably because we haven't trained ourselves to recognize opportunities to do so. It's a skill that must be learned, like any other.
But a weapon that's not controlled is, of course, an instrument of destruction. The incident we have cited may be an extreme one, but it does make the point.
Praise is not something to be administered haphazardly. On the contrary, it has to be perfectly targeted. And the most effective praise is specific, appropriate and objective.It is targeted not to
the personality of the recipient, but rather to his or her achievements.
Global praise such as "You're a wonderful girl," may give a child the impression that her inherent worth is dependent on her actions. Again, if she senses that she does not deserve excessive
praise, she may reject it out of hand.
On the other hand, if the praise truly matches the deed, the recipient will, of his own accord, draw the appropriate inferences. (Incidentally, we have been talking mainly about children for the
sake of convenience, but these principles apply with anyone.)
If your son comes home from school with an outstanding poem he has written, it won't be helpful to exclaim: "Tommy, you're the world's best poet!" But perhaps you can tell him: "Your imagery is so
vivid that it's as if I can see the scene you're describing before my eyes!" He'll then conclude: "I can write poetry well."
Now - if all this is true when we are dispensing praise, how much more does it apply when it falls to our lot to rebuke someone!
Do you play football? The object of the game, irrespective of which variety you are playing, is basically to get the ball to the far end of the field. I'm no sportsman, but I remember that when we
played Rugby as schoolboys, it was legitimate to grab a player of the opposing team and cause him to fall, in order to wrest the ball from his possession.
Occasionally, an overzealous classmate would forget that this "tackling" was a means to an end, and not an end in itself! He would be duly reprimanded with the words: "Play the ball, and not the
Let's end with another true-life incident cited by Ginott in one of his books.
Seven year-old Sammy is sitting at the table, playing with a plastic cup.
"Don't play with that cup! You're always dropping things," chides Mom.
Sammy promptly drops the cap. It shatters into many pieces.
"Look, I told you so! You're so clumsy. Why are you so stupid?"
"You're stupid, too! Didn't you break Daddy's razor last week?"
"You're cheeky too! How dare you call your Mother stupid!"
"You called me stupid first!"
Mom grabs hold of her little boy to give him a good whacking. Sammy resists. In the ensuing struggle, Mom cuts her hand against some glass. The sight of blood unnerves little Sammy, and he runs
away in panic. It's late in the evening by the time he's found.
That night, no one in Sammy's household sleeps well.
Too bad that Mom had not merely said:
"Sammy, you dropped the cup. We can't afford to buy new cups all the time. Here's a broom and dustpan to mop it up."
Now what about YOU?
When you praise and when you reprimand, and communicate with others in all sorts of ways - do you play the ball...or the man?