Cute little dog, or human child?

by Sandra Dodd unless otherwise specified.

I was reading e-mail from Pam Sorooshian about the difference between philosophical discussion and support, and how some people can't seem to understand the difference.

Holly came in to talk to me about a project she's working on. I had helped her brainstorm yesterday, and printed some things out for her she might use as a basis for some of the art. While we were talking, I was taking notes on a napkin and when I showed them to her later she said "these are really good!" and I said "Well I'm a writer, so I wrote some stuff." It was happy and busy and fun.

So when Holly came in today to talk about her progress, she told me what she had just done, and I nodded and kept looking at her, and she said something like "You're my writer, so I need you to help me say this better."

"Oh! I thought was being your mom. 'Okay, dear,'" I said in an approving, supportive mom-way.

And in the sing-songiest of poodle voices, Holly imitated a supportive mom, and she said "That's a good iDEEa! Follow your dreams."
By "poodle voice" I mean the way women speak to a French poodle sometimes, If you don't know what it is, that's okay.

Maybe there's a "real" behavior-science term for that tone and attitude, but I haven't heard one.

It was hilarious and I wrote it down. At sixteen she knows what moms can do to "be supportive" in a way that doesn't really help.

In writing that down, I'm aware that some people might read this and say that I said not to tell a kid her idea is good, and not to encourage a child to follow her dreams.

If anyone is tempted to think that way, please consider that few things in the world are all or nothing. If all a parent does is voice pre-spoken platitudes, it won't be as helpful as if real words are spoken. If you use a phrase others have used, use it with awareness and intent, for a good and specific reason.

There are times to say "You know John better than the coach does," but that's not to say it's very helpful to tell an unseen, unknown mom "You know your child better than anyone." First, it might not be true. Second, she might be in the midst of a very neglectful or clueless or delusional season, and it can't help for a stranger, by e- mail, to say "You're a great mom and your child is lucky to have you."

I'm willing to support people in their quest to understand natural learning and mindful parenting, but that support involves helping them understand the principles behind why it works, and finding ways to adapt their lives in ways that will help it flourish in their families.

(the original, at Always Learning, September 2008)

In an in-person discussion once (I wasn't there), Dan Vilter reported an illustration for other parents, and wrote about it:
At a park day, we were having a discussion about the usefulness of praise and sincerity. The unschoolers in the group were trying to point out the fallacy of over and insincere praise, and indirectly about treating your children as people first. After much talk getting nowhere, one of the other unschooling parents turned to me and in the French poodle voice started thanking me for all the things I had done for the group that day. Something like,"Oh Dan, thank you for bringing the stove for hot cocoa. You did such a good job setting it up and heating the water! You're so strong carrying that big jug of water all by yourself!" Everyone had a good laugh and the point was succinctly made.

—Dan Vilter, here, in 2001
(that other parent was Pam Sorooshian)

Tone of Voice, and Joy

Phrases to hear and avoid Being with your child Support Some "support" can do more damage than good.