Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Parenting like an anthropologist

For me, parenting is like being an academic in that it all feels like almost a fraud at times. One day soon, the person in charge will realize that I am just passing at being competent.

I hear myself teaching a class and I am surprised that I sound like I know what I am doing. The same goes with the raising and rearing of my children.

Aside from my academic interest in parenting advice literature, I typically disdain it. I might not always know exactly what to do, but I also am not convinced that anybody knows that much better.

That said, a book that I like is Betsy Brown Braun's Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents (2008).

For starters, I can relate to the title.

What I like is that this book starts with the recognition that so much of parenting involves talking with and listening to children. In other words, skills that we have learned - and that we need continually to hone.

Braun's advice is based on recognizing the strategies and tactics of conversation that both parents and children use. For example, in a discussion about telling truths and lies, Braun offers specific suggestions:

Set your child up to tell the truth. If you are quite sure that your child has committed a misdeed, don't ask him if he has.

Never ask a question to which you already know the answer. If you know who spilled the milk, don't call out, "Who spilled the milk?"

We need no training in anthropology to recognize the importance and meaning of language in parenting. Yet, I think we parents could take more time to consider. This kind of reflection comes too often to me as an after-thought about what I should have said.

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