Book Review: Parent Talk by Chick Moorman

Anything ‘Parent’ attracts me and my never ending thirst for seeking parenting guidance. So when Parent Talk caught my eye, I grabbed it without hesitation, and am I glad I did, because it is an eye-opening read. I loathe, yes, I loathe parenting books that talk only about theories without giving concrete real life examples. Therefore I always highly appreciate and love the inclusion of dialogues that are encouraged for parents to use and this book, is totally wonderfully impregnated with Parent Talk!

Parent Talk; How to Talk to Your Children in Language That Builds Self Esteem and Encourages Responsibility by Chick Moorman is one of those parenting books (such as How to talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen to Kids Will Talk) I’d love to have on my bookshelf. Chick Moorman is an inspirational speaker with over 40 years experience as an educator and parent.

The book is divided into 11 chapters. Each chapter deals with the many ways a parent can address a situation such that it builds the child’s self esteem, gives the child a feeling of responsibility, equips the child with problem solving abilities, diffuses conflicts, strengthens and builds family relationships, and eradicates remarks that can hinder a complete emotional growth of a child.

In the chapter Choices, parents are encouraged to put the burden of responsibility on their child’s court by wording their words carefully. For example, when your children comes to you complaining that she can’t finish her homework because she lost her notebook, you can say, “You always have more choices than you think you have.” This will eventually teach the child to figure out her own solutions rather than merely giving an excuse to get out of it. When children put the blame on people or things other than themselves by saying, “She made me do it,” or “It bores me,” it can be responded to by either ‘Choose, Pick, or Decide’ which again puts the ball of responsibility in their court. According to Moorman, by changing the way we speak to our children, we are teaching them that life is about the choices we make.

In the chapter The Search for Solutions, problem solving abilities are being ingrained by carefully wording our words or comments to our children. This technique is quite similar to the ones in How to Talk so Kids will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk. Saying, ‘Sounds like you have a problem,” to your child when he comes to you crying because he can’t find his shoes due to carelessness is better for him AND you in the long run than if you were to run to his rescue each time.

Moorman also includes a chapter called Learned Helplessness in which he points out what parents say to create helplessness in their children. “Be careful or you’ll spill that,” is one of them. I know, can you believe it? I’ve done that so many times to my kids and have never thought of it as teaching them to be helpless. Overuse of warnings to our children can either make us less credible in their minds or make them live up to the disguised expectations (that they will indeed spill that). If we keep saying, “Don’t run or you will fall,” and they don’t fall, they will begin to discredit our many warnings that when we do warn them of drugs or other worse things, they might not take heed.

Praise, Criticism, and Self Esteem is a chapter that I think would enlighten many parents, especially those that like to dish out, “Good job!”, “Good boy!” to their children. Unfortunately I am also included in that set of parents despite knowing the psychology of superficial praises. Praises and criticism, according to Moorman, can be evaluative, descriptive, and appreciative.

Even an “I’m proud of you!” is not recommended, as it is considered an evaluative praise where the praise-giver is making himself the judge of what it is that is to be proud of. Instead, a parent should say, “I’m proud for you!” in where that something to be proud of belongs to the child who is being praised. Other evaluative praises include, “Excellent job!”, “Clever girl!” and “Your drawing is so beautiful.”

When praising, we should be descriptive or appreciative. Examples of descriptive praises would be, “Mashaallah! You spent an entire hour on your work without complaining one bit!” or “There are no socks on the floor, not even under the bed!” Descriptive praises hands evaluation to the child, and of course, elicits a more thoughtful utterance of positive remarks from the parents, thereby eliminating empty, superficial, quick praises. As the child is given these descriptive praises, he will come to his own conclusion about the worth of whatever is being praised, and this will in turn develop his self esteem.

Appreciative praises would be, “Ahh, now I can rest without worrying about doing the dishes. Jazakillah khair sweetie. That really helped me,” or “I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t help me with laundry today. My back was really killing me.” Appreciative praises empowers the child by making her feel useful. It’s also internal in that it makes the child think of his own strengths and how he can contribute in his own way. If you notice, evaluative praises are usually external, thus can be superficial, and descriptive and appreciative praises are internal, which is what we are aiming for if we want to build our child’s self esteem and confidence in himself.

After reading so many parenting books, you’re bound to come across same things put in different ways or terms, but you also always find something new that you’ve never thought of or come across before. Especially in parenting, where you sometimes end up doing what’s been done to you by your parents whether intentionally or unintentionally, we don’t really think about what we’re saying to our children let alone the impact of it.

Something like “What a surprise!” at your child’s accomplishments can send the message that you never thought your child had it in him. Instead you should say, “I always knew you could do it!” Moorman says we should be careful of how we react to our children’s accomplishments. He calls it ‘surprise talk’. On the other hand, you can use ‘surprise talk’ in a positive way. When your child does something negative, like repeatedly forgetting to lock the doors when you have clearly reminded him to, you can use surprise talk. “I’m really surprised,” or “This is hard to believe,” can send the message that his behavior is out of line with what you expect of him (which is good). This psychology resonates with Islam’s 7husn Zdhan (thinking good of another person) in all situations.

Moorman also teaches a way to teach your children your values. It’s parent talk that requires you to basically walk the talk as you talk. For example, as you get ready to attend a function, you can say, “I’m going to get ready now so I won’t be late to the party. Being punctual is part of fulfilling a promise, and fulfilling a promise is an important part of being a Muslim.” Or, as you fill your plate at the party (provided your child is with you), you say to her, “I’m only going to take a little bit of this and not fill my plate to the brim. If I want more I can always take more later but if I take too much, I’ll end up wasting it. Wasting makes us the brothers of shaytaan.”

It took me quite a while to finish reading this book, not because it was dull, but because I was busy reading another book at the same time, while also trying to digest the content of the book and churn them into verbal action. Since tomorrow is ‘return-the-book-to-the-library’ day, I forced myself to finish reading it and write this review, because I have unfortunately read so many good books without keeping track of even their titles and now I’m regretting it. I would highly recommend this book to parents, especially if you are looking for real life execution of parenting theories. Moorman has given a wealth of parent talk we can begin to add to our parenting vocabulary. Get some index cards, write some of them down and begin implementing them!

*Disclaimer: the examples given are not all Moorman’s. I gave some of my own ‘parent talk’ examples, which you can probably tell from the presence of  Muslim utterances and terms.

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