Director’s Column: Believing in Children By Jeanne W. Lepper, Director
One day this spring I had a wonderful surprise. During a visit to Bing School, Helen Bing presented us with a typed, one-page document that her mother-in-law, Anna Bing Arnold, used when she taught parent education classes in Los Angeles in the l950s. Suddenly, it all made sense. A genuine interest in young children and parents must have motivated Mrs. Arnold’s 1966 decision to fund, with her son Peter Bing, this comprehensive school, research laboratory, and training site.
Parents at Bing often report that one of the greatest benefits of their child’s enrollment is the opportunity to learn from the teachers about providing an emotionally supportive environment for children. Our staff strongly believes that parents know their children best, and we listen carefully to information parents share with us about their children. We know that it is important to acknowledge what children say and do and how they feel. Often we ask parents to provide a narration about their child’s work and activities so that we can interpret the child’s thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally.
Neither teachers nor parents can always say or do exactly the right thing for children, but we can do our best to provide genuine support. Consider this example of a three-year-old at the breakfast table who pours his own juice. “You tried so hard to pour your juice into the glass!” says the child’s mother. “Next time it will work better.” The child intuitively understands that his mother is his advocate and that she has confidence in his developing skills. (She may provide him a child-sized pitcher!) The child drinks his juice with a big smile on his face and pours a second glass more easily, with nearly all the juice falling into the glass. Contrast this scenario with one in which the parent scolds the child for spilling, thus setting up an adversarial relationship that reduces the child’s self-confidence.
The Bing philosophy is predicated on many of the same principles articulated by Anna Bing Arnold’s memo a half-century ago:
Guideposts in Living with Children
By Anna Bing Arnold, Parent Education Leader, Los Angeles Schools, 1950s
Discipline shows what is desirable; punishment only shows what is undesirable.
Enjoy your child. This is just as important as your devotion, and shows the child that you love him or her and that it is good to be a parent.
Accept your child as he or she is, without trying to remold your child to fit your family’s or your own “ideal.” Inform yourself about the growth and development of children, so you may know what to expect and set comfortable standards for your child, within his or her ability.Look behind your child’s disturbing behavior to see the “why” of what he or she does. Ask, “Is this normal at this age and characteristic of most children, though annoying to grownups?”
“Normalcy” is a wide range. Keep in mind that each child has his or her own unique timetable of development.
Establish flexible routines. Children of all ages want reasonable controls for their safety and security. Too much restriction can cause rebellion or deceit, but too much freedom appears to children as indifference on the part of their parents.
Give positive, instead of negative, directives.
Give choice whenever possible, but do not offer it if there is no choice.
Consider your child’s natural tempo; avoid hurry and constant urging.
Praise good work or good behavior so your child will take pleasure in his or her effort and also learn, through it, what is desirable.
When disciplining, try to avoid adult moral judgments. A little feeling of guilt stimulates a child to try to do better, but a lot of guilt makes him or her feel unworthy and can make him or her feel hopeless.
Try to avoid severe criticism; it only arouses resentment and negative defense.
Try to avoid comparisons between children. They can create smugness in the one child and envy and hatred in the other.
Adopt a problem-solving attitude. When a difficulty occurs, try to attack only the problem, not the child.
Show affection. Though your child may have done something you think requires discipline, don’t let him or her think that he or she has lost your affection because of his or her behavior. Your child needs to know, always, that he or she belongs and is accepted and loved even though this behavior is “out of order” and unacceptable.
Try to control your own automatic reactions in troublesome situations where your child is too immature to control his or hers.
Give your child the opportunity and the necessary freedom. When your child shows that he or she is ready to cope with a new skill or situation, let him or her try it.
Remember that good habits and self-confidence develop through satisfying experiences, much more than through frustrations.
Having informed yourself and having tried thoughtfully to meet your child’s needs as they arise, trust your own judgment and enjoy your job.