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Joy of the Month Excerpt (March)

There is, of course, a panacea, an absolute cure-all for human problems big and small. It is a thing called communication, and what a joy it can be.

Adult: I once knew a middle-aged man, an accountant, who had a ledger-book-sized Christmas-card list. In this thick book all the pages were filled; there were hundreds and hundreds of names. "Business contacts?" I asked. He glanced over, paused for a moment as though considering whether he should tell me something important, then said, "No, they're relationships." He anticipated my next question and went on in his accounting terminology: "Every relationship you form, no matter how small, if it is genuine, can be an asset of eternal duration. No other entry can cancel it out. Some of us spend all our time on temporary assets: money, positions, achievements. We ought to spend more on the eternal assets like relationships. Whenever I earn one, I make an entry on my Christmas card list."

I watched the accountant closer from then on and found that he practiced what he preached. When he met someone -- on a plane, in his business, at a PTA meeting -- his attitude seemed to be: "What can I learn from you? What is interesting and unique about you?" For him, life was a fascinating kaleidoscope of relationships, of endless people, each endlessly interesting and each offering more potential joy than a new car or a new position.

Child: For little children, particularly those with strong self-images, genuine relationships are easy. Friends came by the other night, a business acquaintance and his wife. The four or us sat in the parlor, playing self-conscious "I" games. "How can I impress them?" "What can we talk about that I know a lot about?" "How can I seem sophisticated and 'with it'?"

Meanwhile, their five-year-old daughter went upstairs to play with our daughter of the same age. Their discussion (I caught part of it when I went up to get some papers) was more mature than ours because it was real, honest, open, and without ulterior motives. "Janet, you should bring your pajamas next time you come. No one uses the bottom bunk bed, so we could sleep in the same room." "Will your mommy care if I do?" "No, she likes your mommy." "Good, because I like you." When it was time to go, they came downstairs holding hands, smiling, friends, as if they'd known each other for years.

Parenting Methods and Ideas

  1. Develop a tradition of listening. Really listen -- use psychologist Carl Rogers' technique of not directing the conversation, but just acknowledging what children say and agreeing, letting them go on. Help children glimpse the joy of seeing the other person's point of view.

  2. Have a sense of humor. Show how "crisis plus time usually equals humor." Laugh at your own mistakes, and laugh with children at every opportunity.

  3. Always encourage children to hug and make up after a disagreement.

  4. Show romantic love between parents: holding hands, kissing as you leave, opening the car door, sitting close together, avoiding harsh words, emphasizing loving words.

  5. Teach and explain the Golden Rule.

  6. Role reversal: let the children play parents and you play child, so they see and appreciate your problems.

  7. Don't constantly tell children what to say while you are in public or they will not think of taking the initiative on their own. Don't say, "Say thank you" or "Say please" or "Tell him we must be going now." Talk to them later about what they should have said, and set the stage for them to speak appropriately and on their own next time.

For additional methods and ideas, consider a VP Premium Membership.

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