Here's another post inspired by my (very slow) re-reading of Barbara Coloroso's book Kids are Worth It! Giving your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline. One of the ideas that has stayed with me from my very first reading of this book is her idea of a minilecture.
Here's an example of a minilecture. Kid goes outside wearing a sweater. In May. In Georgia. In 80 degree heat.* He's, you know, sweating.
So I might say "You know, you wouldn't be sweating if you were wearing a regular shirt instead of a sweater." That's a minilecture.
A minilecture gives kids information that they already have. So if I said the same exact thing to my 3 year old, it might not be a minilecture. He might not have made the connection between sweating and what he's wearing (though he generally still lets me pick out his clothes, so it hasn't been a problem for us yet). He might need to hear this out loud in order for him to make the logical connection here.
But my 9 year old--he knows. He knows because he's an intelligent person with lots (LOTS) of experience with this. He doesn't need me to state the obvious.
Minilectures are one part a statement of the obvious, and one part "I told you so." Minilectures serve to put the kid on the defensive, perhaps make them feel as if their intelligence has been insulted, and to set you up for another pointless parenting battle.
Barbara Coloroso offers some, in her words, "classics" from the world of minilectures:
"If you hadn't hit your brother, you wouldn't be in your room."
"If you hadn't eaten all of the sweets, you wouldn't be sick."
"If you had done it the way I told you to, you wouldn't be in this mess."
"If you had studied, you wouldn't have failed."
--from page 95 of Kids are Worth It!
Okay, how many of us have done this? Show of hands . . .
So what's a parent to do? As I pointed out, sometimes the kid really does need assistance in making the connection between cause and effect.
I think a good alternative is to make an observational statement about the effect, as Coloroso suggests. If you can keep the "I told you so" or sarcasm out of your statement, that's better for everyone.
"You are sweating."
"You're feeling sick to your stomach."
"Things are really messed up and crazy right now."
If you can make such statements as neutrally as possible (again, not to invite defensiveness or unwanted battles), then they can often spur the child's thinking about solutions to his problem. It sends an implicit message to the kid that he is capable of figuring out a way to solve his problem, and it lets him know that you are there as a resource if he needs help solving his problem.
Know this, too--and I'm writing this mainly as a reminder to myself here--sometimes, it's not necessary to comment at all. Keep your mouth shut, Jenn, and let the kid figure it out all by himself already. Inserting myself in between a kid and her problems is a tendency that I have, and I don't think it's always a good thing.
To take a real-life example of a time when I could easily have used a minilecture and did not (for once), remember the time Ryan and his friend smashed a car window with a rock? I could have minilectured him: "If you hadn't been throwing rocks around with your friend, that window wouldn't have been broken."
Of course, they already knew that. They also knew that they had a problem. When Ryan came and told me what happened, I listened to him and offered him a solution to their problem (talking to the neighbor).
When I'm at my best, I parent without minilectures (in words or tone). And I'm always proud of myself when I can manage it because then we're all focused on solutions instead of battling over the obvious.
*I used this scenario--May in 80 degree heat--because in that situation, wearing a sweater wouldn't necessarily be a health risk. Yes, he has been wearing sweaters in July in 98 degree heat, which I think poses a health risk. Because of the risk to his health (unless we're just going to and from the house and the car and the store and back, all in air-conditioning), I insist that he change to something more weather-appropriate. That's the Life, Limb and Property parenting principle which I use to determine if a limit needs to be set.