When a child is "bad", there's a tendency for parents and teachers to attempt to "teach him a lesson," usually through threats and punishments. But rarely do such lessons lead to change. Instead, sincere dialogue — without old-school condemnation or "progressive" coddling — can lead to surprising success. For instance, take the following dialogue recorded by the late psychologist Haim Ginott, between Karl, age ten, and his mother:
Karl: I got sent to the office today.
Mother: Tell me about it.
Karl: When I came back from lunch, I took my seat, only the chair was turned around, so I sort of straddled it.
Mother: That made the teacher angry?
Karl: Well, yeah. Then she said, "Karl, turn your seat around this minute." So I did. I turned my whole seat around and sat in the same position — only this time I was facing the class.
Mother: And that made everybody laugh.
Karl (laughing): Yeah. And then she sent me to the office.
Mother (sighing): Now I understand why Dad has been called to school for a conference about you. (There is a minute of silence.)
Karl: Gee, Mom, I'm sorry. It won't happen again.
Mother: I've noticed that when you aim for something you achieve it.
Karl (the next day): The teacher asked for a sentence with the verb "hide." I was tempted to yell, "Dirt can't hide with intensified Tide," and crack up the class. But I restrained myself. How about that?
Mother: You have become your own boss. You have learned to decide when to say something and when not to say something. I like this quality of yours. That's what I call becoming a mature individual.
Haim Ginott, Teacher & Child
When we treat children with respect, as if they are capable of change without an adult enforcer at every turn, they tend to rise above our expectations. When we honestly share with them our disappointment — but with words of encouragement not of condemnation — they often choose to become upright individuals of their own accord.