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Childhood

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I hesitate to say everyone should have a child, because becoming a parent is an intensely personal choice. I try my best to avoid evangelizing the experience, but the deeper in I get, the more I believe that nothing captures the continued absurdity of the human condition better than having a child does.

After becoming a parent, the first thing you'll say to yourself is, my God, it is a miracle any of us even exist, because I want to freakin' kill this kid at least three times a day. But then your child will spontaneously hug you, or tell you some stupid joke that they can't stop laughing at, or grab for your hand while crossing the street and then … well, here we all are, aren't we? I'm left wondering if I'll ever be able to love other people – or for that matter myself – as much as I love my children. Unconditional, irrational, nonsensical love. That's humanity in a nutshell.

Parenting is by far the toughest job I've ever had. It makes my so-called career seem awfully quaint in comparison.

the first 9 months is the hardest

My favorite part of the parenting process, though, is finally being able to talk to my kids. When the dam breaks and all that crazy stuff they had locked away in those tiny brains for the first two years comes uncontrollably pouring out. Finding out what they're thinking about and what kind of people they are at last. Watching them discover and explore the surface of language is utterly fascinating. After spending two years trying to guess – with extremely limited success – what they want and need, truly, what greater privilege is there than to simply ask them? Language: Best. Invention. Ever. I like it so much I'm using it right now!

Language also allows kids to demonstrate just what crazy little roiling balls of id they (and by extension, we) all are on the inside. Kids don't know what it means to be mad, to be happy, to be sad. They have to be taught what emotions are, how to handle them, and how to deal in a constructive way with everything the world is throwing at them. You'll get a ringside seat to this process not as a passive observer, but as their coach and spirit guide. They have no coping mechanisms except the ones we teach them. The difference between a child who freaks out at the slightest breeze, and a child who can confidently navigate an unfamiliar world? The parents.

See, I told you this was going to be tough.

There are of course innumerable books on parenting and child-rearing, most of which I have no time to read because by the time I'm done being a parent for the day, I'm too exhausted to read more about it. And, really, who wants to read about parenting when you're living the stuff 24/7? Except on Parenting Stack Exchange, of course. However, there is one particular book I happened to discover that was shockingly helpful, even after barely ten pages in. If you ever need to deal with children aged 2 to 99, stop reading right now and go buy How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

We already own three copies. And you're welcome.

What's so great about this book? I originally found it through A.J. Jacobs, who I mentioned in Trust Me, I'm Lying. Here's how he describes it:

The best marriage advice book I’ve read is a paperback called How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. As you might deduce from the title, it wasn’t meant as a marriage advice book. But the techniques in this book are so brilliant, I use them in every human interaction I can, no matter the age of the conversant. It’s a strategy that was working well until today.

The book was written by a pair of former New York City teachers, and their thesis is that we talk to kids all wrong. You can’t argue with kids, and you shouldn’t dismiss their complaints. The magic formula includes: listen, repeat what they say, label their emotions. The kids will figure out the solution themselves.

I started using it on Jasper, who would throw a tantrum about his brothers monopolizing the pieces to Mouse Trap. I listened, repeated what he said, and watched the screaming and tears magically subside. It worked so well, I decided, why limit it to kids? My first time trying it on a grown-up was one morning at the deli. I was standing behind a guy who was trying unsuccessfully to make a call on his cell.

“Oh come on! I can’t get a signal here? Dammit. This is New York.”
He looked at me.
“No signal?” I say. “Here in New York?” (Repeat what they say.)
“It’s not like we’re in goddamn Wisconsin.”
“Mmmm.” (Listen. Make soothing noises.)
“We’re not on a farm. It’s New York, for God’s sake,” he said.
“That’s frustrating,” I say. (Label their emotions.)
He calmed down.

This book taught me that, as with so many other things in life, I've been doing it all wrong. I thought it was my job as a parent to solve problems for my children, to throw myself on life's figurative grenades to protect them. Consider the following illustrated examples from the book.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, cartoon about empathy

Notice how she cleverly lets the child reach an alternative solution himself, rather than providing the "solution" to him on a silver platter as the all-seeing, all-knowing omniscient adult. This honestly would never have occurred to me, because, well, if we're out of Toastie Crunchies, then we are out of freaking Toastie Crunchies!

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, cartoon about description

I've learned to fall back whenever possible to simply describing things or situations instead of judging or pontificating. I explain the consequences of potential actions rather than jumping impatiently to "don't do that".

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is full of beautiful little insights on human interaction like this, and I was surprised to find how often what I thought was a good parenting behavior was working against us. Turns out, children aren't the only ones who have trouble dealing with their emotions and learning to communicate. I haven't just improved my relationship with my kids using the practical advice in this book, I've improved my interactions with all human beings from age 2 to 99.

Kids will teach you, if you let them. They'll teach you that getting born is the easy part. Anyone can do that in a day. But becoming a well-adjusted human being? That'll take the rest of your life.

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Ten years ago, the International Labor Organization (ILO) established June 12 as World Day Against Child Labor. The ILO, an agency of the United Nations, says on its website: "Hundreds of millions of girls and boys throughout the world are engaged in work that deprives them of adequate education, health, leisure and basic freedoms, violating their rights." The World Day Against Child Labor was launched as a way to highlight the plight of these children and support governments and social organizations in their campaigns against child labor. [37 photos]

The rough hands of an Afghan child, at the Sadat Ltd. Brick factory, where some children work from 8am to 5 pm daily, seen on May 14, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Child labor is common at the brick factories where the parents work as laborers, desperate to make more money enlisting their children to help doing the easy jobs. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

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by Dana Farrington

This 10-year-old, R., was brought in from school by a police officer. He had stabbed a schoolmate, but it was unclear what tool he'd used. He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn't get him until she got off work, for fear of losing her job.
Richard Ross/Juvenile-In-Justice

This 10-year-old, R., was brought in from school by a police officer. He had stabbed a schoolmate, but it was unclear what tool he'd used. He was waiting to be picked up by his mom, who couldn't get him until she got off work, for fear of losing her job.

In the confines of jail cells, photographer Richard Ross documents children's experiences. He snaps pictures without revealing his subjects' faces, aiming to "give them a voice."

The Juvenile-In-Justice project includes photographs of more than 100 facilities in 30 states. The project's website has numerous images and quotes from incarcerated children.

Shooting compelling images in a bare, 8-by-10-foot cell is not an easy task, the veteran photographer tells The Picture Show in an email. Neither is "coming up with a new solution that respects the juveniles' privacy, identity and still gives a feel of what the space is, without being boring or predictable."

His images highlight scarred arms, bright jumpsuits and angular, empty cells. They show a variety of facility conditions and inmates of different genders and ages.

One photograph shows a small 12-year-old looking over papers in his cell. He says he was sent to the facility for fighting with another boy.

Ross argues in a caption that "institutionalizing juveniles and branding this as criminal behavior rather than dealing with it as normal behavior wrongly places juveniles in places they should not be."

 

The online galleries feature testimonies with the children's ages and other background information, which add more context to the faceless bodies. But Ross says the act of hiding identities sends a message of its own.

"By not showing the faces, I can imply shame or a sense of universality," he says.

The goal, Ross says, is to hand over the photographs to "organizations that have better data and more skills at advocating for policy change than I do. I hope this will better arm them to show a human side to their statistics."

Juvenile-In-Justice has required a high level of perseverance and negotiation, Ross says.

"I had to try and convince many, many people I was working with them in a spirit of bonhomie," he says. "Yet, I still had to allow the images to be critical or comment on the situation, while not violating the trust of the people I was dealing with."

The photographer has a forthcoming book featuring his photos of the juvenile justice system.

"After the years and years of work I have done in many fields on many assignments," Ross says, "this is the one that has been the most rewarding."

PBS NewsHour also interviewed Ross and produced a video about his work.


PBS NewsHour/YouTube

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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