I will never forget a question asked by a parent of a kindergarten youngster going on a school trip. It’s a question possibly often asked by many parents going on an errand or a trip in the car: “Why didn’t you go to the bathroom before you got on the bus?”

What could the child say? “Because I’m a thoughtless child and I was hoping to inconvenience you” — that is what the question implies. Maybe the child should answer, “Because I don’t have ESP with my bladder.” Sarcasm would be appropriate. But, of course, actually the child just did not have the biological urge to go to the bathroom before, but does now!

I often wonder if parents ever stopped to listen — really listen — to themselves, what they would think. Is this the way they want to communicate with their children, provoking negative emotions over a routine issue? This was just one remark in the course of a child’s development — a child that is loved and treasured, but does not always feel loved and treasured.

There are other similar questions. “Why can’t you look where you’re going?” “Why can’t you be more careful?” “Why are you wearing those pants?” “If you do that again . . .” — no one feels good when they are spoken to in that way.

The child will end up being taken to the bathroom anyway, so why not take him or her by the hand and just go to the nearest restroom? Tell yourself that maybe, next time, you’ll take him to the bathroom before you leave, which may or may not alleviate the need to go later. Anyway, is it such an inconvenience to take this child that you love so much to the bathroom?

If something spills at mealtime, asking, “Why can’t you be more careful?” can only imply that the child is careless or clumsy. Everyone spills sometimes. Hand over a paper towel. The child will learn to clean up the spill without any repercussions. In addition, a negative remark may only make him more nervous next time he takes a drink. Learning to clean it up can build a positive feeling, a sense of responsibility for one’s own “mistakes.”

The attempt here is not to make any parent feel guilty but to see the paradox between the intense love we feel for our precious offspring and the everyday messages they may receive.

I sometimes look at angry, cursing drivers or impatient shoppers and wonder, how did their parents talk to them? If we all looked at our children and treated them with respect and communicated in an upbeat positive way, couldn’t that be like a little pebble thrown into a body of water with a ripple that could affect the entire family, the community, the world?

There are books and workshops to which we can all expose ourselves to use tools that can make a significant difference in raising our children. When I did not like the way I sometimes spoke to my children, whom I loved more than anything in the world, I started to learn new tools to handle different frustrating situations. I am now a parent who could not be prouder of who my children are today and how they are raising their children.

Paula Groothuis,


YOUR STORY Letters and essays for MY TURN are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life, or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address and phone numbers. Photos if available.

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