Tone of Voice
and Joy
Sandra wrote:
As I passed through the den I told Holly (who was dressing Barbies and watching TV) that I had fed the cats and there was laundry running, and could she please give the dog something special and check her water (that's all upstairs and I was going the other way). I apologized for being too tired to hang out with her, and told her to think about whether she might want to do something the next afternoon. (I didn't note the date at the time, but I think Holly was about 12; if anyone finds the original, I'd be glad to link it.)
Su Penn wrote:
What struck me about this is that this is exactly the kind of thing my partner David and I might say to each other. "I'm really crashed...I wish I could stay up with you for awhile, but I have to go to bed. I've got a load of laundry in and the dishwasher's ready to go. If you happen to think of it, it would be a big help if you started the dishwasher after the washing machine finishes up. I fed the cats when I was downstairs loading the washer."

Just normal good-night/house business between family members. How cool (there's that word) that you have that with Holly. No wonder she likes you.

Su, who restrained herself from offering the version she would have gotten from her own mother, because really none of us needs to hear it.

About mom voices... Ren Allen and I gave a talk together at the St. Louis Live and Learn conference about the mom-phrases that can stick with you, and about consciously avoiding hurtful things spoken in bad tones (or even soft tones). [You can hear the talk now, at this link.]

Even the nicest of words can be ruined, though, if they're spoken in a condescending, treacly way. It's not bad for infants, and it's great for French poodles. It's that talking-to-a-French-poodle voice, and the thoughts that go with it, that should be avoided when parents are talking to their children. Dan Vilter shared this story on the AlwaysLearning list in 2001:

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

"Treating them as people first." That's it. See them as people, who hear you and are thinking, and treat that respectfully. In her book Whole Child/Whole Parent, Polly Berrien Berends, uses the term "Seeing Beings."

This is nice, from Amazon, when I went to get the URL for people interested in knowing more about this book:
Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs):
freeing parent, nursing parent, sailor dog, conscious oneness, seeing being, silent knowing
Even thinking the thoughts "seeing being," "silent knowing" and "conscious oneness" are helpful to me. I'll have to look again to find "sailor dog." 🙂
Here's a quote from a review by a dad in Illinois:
"The philosophy of this book re-shaped my entire view of life and parenthood. Basically, once you realize that life with kids is ALL about the kids, frustration melts away and is replaced with infinite joy."

From a discussion on UnschoolingDiscussion in August '05:

If the parent can come to think before acting, so can the child.
"Wait. That's Holly's. Do you want another one?"
That neither praises the child for acting rashly nor condemns him. It's the way you might deal with a person who isn't also a child.

The recommendations to which I am about to refer to below:
... for instance, if my older son grabs a toy away from my toddler, saying, "You wanted to make sure you got to play with that toy as much as you wanted to," or if he grabs a cookie off somebody else's plate, "wow, you are really enjoying those cookies!"...

The examples given up above sound to me very condescending, and I can't help but hear them in the poodle voice or in the droning on, kid-ignoring-mom tone I've heard from so many moms in parenting groups when they're really trying to find a new way but they've gone from physical restraint to just discussion above the child's level of comprehension, or word count far beyond the child's attention span. It's as though their speech is really intended for the other moms or the author of a book who's not even there.


arcarpenter responded:
Sandra, do you have an essay about this? Because it's something you come back to a lot, and I think it is a good counterpoint to many parenting books. So if you had an essay, and then you put the essay in *your* book ;), then some helpful additional information would be out there, next to the "poodle voice books." Y'know?

So this webpage will need to serve as that essay for now. 🙂

Part of my response that day:

I do think some people don't have a natural facility for dealing with kids (even their own) and they sometimes take books' advice too literally and learn the speeches and speak them with as much sincerity as they can, but it's not their wording and not really (in the purest form) communication.

Someone new to a discussion wrote:

"Let your kids know in a sweet voice that you, too, deserve respect, and when you don't receive it say so in kid talk..."hey mommy is a person too. We respect each other."
Susan Fuerst responded:
Not exactly sure what you mean by "kid talk." I know I find it annoying to hear people talk about themselves in third person. Children do have a sense of proper pronoun usage, I think, at least receptively. Would you speak to another adult about yourself in third person? Can you imagine saying [that] to your supervisor, or your spouse, in third person?

I guess it seems to me to convey some kind of disrespect, as can 'kid talk'

Some or all of that section was in a discussion at Unschooling Discussion which can be read here:
Messages from Books

the value of Options

Dealing with Humor that Demeans Children

Phrases to Avoid or at least hear

More about "the poodle voice"