“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” is the first line of a speech by Mark Antony in the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. Occurring in Act III, scene II, it is one of the most famous lines in all of Shakespeare’s works.
I was a participant in an elusive ring of student choices that led to some hard consequences. I served as an investigator and interrogator to identify the accessories to the crimes committed and also those directly involved. Like Mr. Antony, I could have turned this into a funeral oration for these students and cast blame on them for the crimes committed. However, while thinking this through during and after the events, Mr. Antony uses rhetoric and genuine reminders to ultimately portray Caesar in such a positive light that the crowd are enraged against the conspirators.
What if these students were viewed in this same fashion? What if their prowess and collaboration could be directed towards results that had innate potential for change and direction? My combined observation and initiation of thought was not satisfied so I dug deeper. This could effect me as an educator, a confidant, a friend, a father, and as a husband. Here are some results of my cultivation.
In 8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids by Dr. Todd Cartmell outlines strategies that aim to encourage adults to engage kids in good conversation. Dr. Cartmell is a clinical child psychologist. He’s written a number of books. Todd and his wife Laura live in the Chicago area and have two grown sons. I came across these resources while listening to Focus on the Family Daily Broadcasts and two in particular. Raising Teachable Kids (Part 1 and Part 2). These thoughts are those of the moderators and have been paraphrased for nuggets that were most impactful to me. If you are skimming, stick to the bold text.
Children carry a heavy burden in today’s culture. I have traveled to very poor countries where the kids seemed healthy. You know they were poor, but they were smiling and they were engaging, they were running around. In our country here at least, it’s almost the burden of success, the burden of materialism. Kids seem distant and despondent in so much of the culture today, and you have so many kids doing things, self-harm and other things. What is happening there in our modernity, this modern world that we live in, what’s happening to where kids seem more at risk today than when they were years and years ago?
Jim: To listen to an 8-year-old, it can be hard for a mom or a dad because you want to kind of, because of that stress you just talked about, the hurriedness of our lifestyle, we’ve got to do all these things before dinner, got to pay bills got to do this, got to do that. We don’t stop and think about the need to listen to our children. Why is that so important?Todd: Well, you know I think we just maybe naturally just jump into teaching mode too quickly. You know, I think of teaching a lot as myself as a dad and as a psychologist, I think there are so many lessons we want our kids to learn, and so they have some problem with something, we think, okay, I think I know what to do, and we just, boom, go right into teaching mode.
Kids are dump trucks:A dump truck, No. 1, is large; you can put a lot of stuff in it. And our kids have, as we were just saying, they are filled up with a lot of stuff—a lot of concerns, a lot of worries, a lot of apprehensions, you know, things that went bad at lunch today, etc.But where a dump truck is filled with, you know, whatever, dirt and gravel, you know all the things that fill up our kids, to us as parents are hugely important. I mean they’re like a dump truck filled with diamonds, you know, and we care about everything in that dump truck and it’s valuable to us.But the other thing about a dump truck is that at some point it gets filled up. And when a dump truck is filled up, there’s only one thing it can do; you know, it’s got to unload. And listening is just letting your kids unload their truck. Because what’s going to happen is just like a dump truck, they are gonna get filled up again sometime and they are going to have to unload over and over, and they are going to figure out where the best unloading spots are.
Some practical tips ~ what does this look like?Todd: Well, I mean a couple of things. No. 1, I have a picture in my head of a big old yellow Tonka-looking dump truck filled up with, no joke, with diamonds. And that’s how I picture my kids. And when they’ve gotta unload, I picture myself standing in the back of the dump truck and they are gonna, you know (Sound of Eerrr), you know, unload it and I want to catch every diamond coming out of there.Jim: Wow.Todd: And there are three things that you can do to make that happen. No. 1, when they’re talking to you, when you’re listening, you’re not shoveling new stuff back into the truck. You know, that would be kind of silly if you saw some dump truck off to the side of the road and it’s unloading and some poor schmuck is there, you know, shoveling stuff back in. It’s like, “Dude, it’s the wrong time.” Well right, it’s the wrong time. So No. 1 is when you’re listening you just listen. You’re not adding new information. You can do that later; you’re just listening. No. 3, you’re asking, you can ask some questions, but you’re asking clarifying questions just to help you understand.
Being a good listener ~ why?Todd: Uh-hm, well, for a dad, I think the simple way I would say it is, is the dad just has to, you know, remember what his goal is, and I’m a dad. My goal is to be connected with my boys. And you’re just not gonna be connected if you’re not a good listener.Jim: But that’s got to be intentional is your point.Todd: Yeah, you’ve got to be intentional.
Jim: If you’re not a good listener, you’ve got to say, “Okay, I’m gonna become one.”
Todd: Yeah, because I want to stay connected. I want to get connected, stay connected, and the route to doing it, at least one of the pathways to doing that, one of the tools is to be a good listener.
Bring to the surface positive characteristics rather than positive behaviors.Todd: The power of words is huge in a couple of ways. I mean you can talk about just literally changing like behavioral habits by really again intentionally pointing out positive behaviors. And there [are] a couple of tips I can give there. But even beyond that, not just pointing out positive behaviors, but taking it one step further and pointing out positive characteristics that underlie those behaviors.So instead of, “Hey Pal, thanks for turning the TV off the first time I asked you. That was pretty good; that was good. Hey, you get points for that.”Jim: Take it.
Todd: Yeah, I’ll take that. But you could say, “Hey Pal, thanks for turning the TV off the first time I asked you, buddy. That was really helpful, considerate, thoughtful, respectful.” Take your pick. All those words would apply to that example. And if I see Susie working on her homework and say, “Susie, sweetie, you’re working so hard; I’m proud of you. You’re really a hard-working girl. You really stick with it when things are tough.
Todd: Now if she wasn’t thinking about herself that way 10 seconds ago, she is now, and if I do that on a regular basis, I’m changing the way she thinks about herself. Why? Because kids trust what parents say about them.
Todd: … well the tendency is you forget to point out the positives. You know, you tend to focus on the negatives. You have to really force yourself to be watching for those positives. And if you’re not really thinking about it intentionally, that your frequency goes down. So you have to work just to keep a decent frequency. So I’ve yet to see somebody actually literally overdo on the verbals. So I don’t think that happens much.
Todd: I guess if I was going to sum it up for either kid, the most important thing about giving correction would be the style with which you give it. With correction I’d say there’s, if I can divide it into two categories, you have the content of the correction. You know, we just did this or that and so now we’re going to have a time out and, you know, videogames are gone for the week, you know, the content of what’s going to happen. But then the style is the way that you do it, and it’s the style that I’ve seen damage relationships.
Todd: … practical tip, when anger starts to take over, things go two ways. They get louder and faster. So you just intentionally reverse that. You start literally talking softer and slower. And when you do that, you literally, no joke, have a 1 million percent different conversation than you would have had five seconds ago. So you pause and then you go soft and slow.
Jim: Make that statement that Dale Carnegie made in the context of parenting.Todd: Well, the Carnegie story is, he’s asked how he’s managed to hire so many successful people through his career, and he just gives a simple story. He says, “Well, you know when you’re going into a mine,” picture an old mine back in the 49er days or whatnot, “and you’re going in there with your pickaxe, when you’re going into a mine looking for gold, trying to get some gold, you don’t go in looking for the dirt; you go in looking for the gold.” And he says, hey, that’s how it is for him.But that’s perfect for us as parents. You know our kids, they get a lot of dirt on them, and they[‘ve] got a lot of dirty behavior, as it were, you know, a lot of bad habits they’ve got to get fixed up, but there [are] two things. They are not a clod of dirt with some gold specks on ’em. And if we think they are, then we’re like very mistaken, and our style is gonna be way off.
They are God’s—forgive the corniness—but they are God’s gold nuggets, and they’ve got some dirt, you know, around the outside that needs to be polished off, you know, cleaned up a bit. Fine. But let’s not forget what they are. That’s who they are. That’s what those characteristics are that we’re talking about pointing out earlier. And if I remember that, that I’ve got a gold nugget here who’s got to learn a couple of lessons, but I can do that. I can teach them a couple of lessons, but let me not forget what I’m working with here.
There is so much more and I know that I will be pondering these thoughts. Listen to the broadcasts and view the transcripts. I have a lot to learn and, over this Thanksgiving Break, practice with those closest to you. The tools these students used were gold nuggets. Gold can be used for evil and good but it in itself is not evil but the use of it. I hope that my pride and confidence do not muddle and taint the luster that kids bring to school each, day.