The burnt toast story


An excerpt from a parents' discussion group:

LEADER: Suppose it is one of those mornings when everything seems to go wrong. The telephone rings, the baby cries, and before you know it, the toast is burnt. Your husband looks over the toaster and says, “My God! When will you learn to make toast?!” What is your reaction?

MRS. A: I would throw the toast in his face!

MRS. B: I would say, “Fix your own damn toast!”

MRS. C: I would be so hurt, I could only cry.

LEADER: What would your husband’s words make you feel toward him?

PARENTS: Anger, hate, resentment.

LEADER: Would it be easy for you to fix another batch of toast?

MRS. A: Only if I could put some poison in it!

LEADER: Suppose that the situation is the same; the toast is burnt, but your husband, looking over the situation, says, “Gee, honey, it’s a rough morning — the baby, the phone, and now the toast.”

MRS. A: I would drop dead if my husband said that to me!

MRS. B: I would feel wonderful!

MRS. C: I would feel so good, I would hug him and kiss him.

LEADER: Why? The baby is still crying, and the toast is still burnt.

PARENTS: That wouldn’t matter.

LEADER: What would make the difference?

MRS. B: You feel kind of grateful that he didn’t criticize you — that he was with you, not against you.

LEADER: Let me now tell you about a third kind of husband. He looks over the burnt toast and says to you calmly, “Let me show you, honey, how to make toast.”

MRS. A: Oh, no. He is even worse than the first one. He makes you feel stupid.

LEADER: Let's see how these three different approaches to the toast incident apply to our handling of children.

MRS. A: I see what you're driving at. I always say to my child, "You are old enough to know this, you are old enough to know that." It must make him furious. It usually does.

MRS. B: I always say to my son, "Let me show you, dear, how to do this or that."

MRS. C: I'm so used to being criticized that it comes natural to me. I use exactly the same words my mother used against me when I was a child. And I hated her for it. I never did anything right, and she always made me do things over.

LEADER: And you now find yourself using the same words with your daughter?

MRS. C: Yes. I don't like it at all — I don't like myself when I do it.

LEADER: Let's see what we can learn from the burnt toast story. What is it that helped change that mean feeling to loving ones?

MRS. B: The fact that somebody understood you.

MRS. C: Without blaming you.

MRS. A: And without telling you how to improve.

—Haim Ginott

Photo credit: flickr

Jesse McCarthy