The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 12, 2000


Forum speaker offers tenets to raise responsible children

More than 130 Carlisle teachers, parents and other interested townspeople turned out for the Carlisle Education Forum on Saturday, April 29 to hear child psychologist Michael G. Thompson talk about how to raise responsible children. Thompson began by suggesting that it was a "presumptuous fool's errand" to tell anyone how to raise responsible children and that he could not possibly deliver on such a promise. However, after he spoke about research on child development and parenting and colorfully illustrated the ideas with anecdotes from his own extensive experience with children, many in the audience felt that Thompson had done a creditable job. Parents left bolstered with "Thompson's tenets of good parenting" and positive views on the difficult challenge of raising moral children.

A responsible child is one who can come out of the shelter of early family life with enough emotional foundation, flexibility and empathy for others to meet the moral challenges of group life, Thompson explained. Young children are buffered in a family, but once they go to school they meet scarce resources and the neediness of others. Their rights must be weighed against those of others. Responsible children can meet this demand with sensitivity, confidence and civility.

Families come in a wide variety of styles and no one style is best. However, the basic tenets of good parenting are the same because all children have the same essential needs. Thompson wove his descriptions of these tenets with theory, relevant research, humorous stories and advice.

· Parents must be an anchor, a "secure base." Everything about a child in the first three years is about attachment. "A child needs to know that when he calls, his main person will come." A child who is "securely attached" knows that he can always come back and get his needs met at any age.

· Parents provide "four walls" for children. Children are always pushing against them to be sure the limits are there. The school is part of a broader framework. In his only "preaching," Thompson urged parents to always uphold the school in its attempts to build a moral community, especially when their child "screws up." All children need this framework to develop security and responsibility.

· There is no substitute for spending time with children. This is the only way parents can really know them.

· Discipline must be quick, clear, consistent, warm and personal. It is tedious work. Just like the lab pigeons who peck most vigorously when the pellet rewards are random and intermittent, "your kids will peck you to death if you give in just once in a while!"

· The best way to communicate with children is to listen. "When you listen, they feel it, they know it, and they really feel loved."

· Once parents set the ground work, they have to move back and love their children, "seeing them whole against the sky."

On civility

Following his speech, Thompson addressed questions from the audience on the lack of civility among children in school and in sports. There were also questions on school violence. Thompson noted that our society is full of examples of incivility and that we prime our boys for violence, making it even more important that we offer our own children consistent good parenting and good example.

The dialogue on what we can do for our children in Carlisle continued over refreshments in the dining room. One group suggested school programs to build respect for diversity and community service, while another had suggestions for recess and lunch time. Another focussed on sports and how to help coaches encourage civility. Another urged broader community involvement and consensus on shared values and responsibility. All seemed to acknowledge by their remarks and their attendance that "it takes a village to raise a child." In closing remarks, Superintendent Davida Fox-Melanson thanked them for this and for showing that "there is nothing more important than the future of our children."

Thanks to Deb Lyneis, former school committee member and forum organizer, for covering this event.

2000 The Carlisle Mosquito