Words Of Wisdom For Parents — From A Master, Dr. Haim Ginott


The late Dr. Haim Ginott is my favorite parent educator. I only wish he hadn’t died so early (at 51 years young).

Below is a brief selection of advice from Ginott that has been especially impactful for moms and dads. Unless otherwise noted, each passage (apart from the respective headings) is from his bestselling work Between Parent and Child.




Give children a choice and a voice in matters that affect their lives. Children are dependent on their parents, and dependency breeds hostility. To reduce enmity, a parent provides children with opportunities to experience independence. The more autonomy, the less enmity; the more self-dependence, the less resentment of the parent.


There is a place for parental anger in child education. In fact, failure to get angry at certain moments would only convey to the child indifference, not goodness. Those who care cannot altogether shun anger. This does not mean that children can withstand floods of fury and violence; it means only that they can stand and understand anger that says, “There are limits to my tolerance.”


Children do not yearn for equal shares of love: They need to be loved uniquely, not uniformly. The emphasis is on quality, not equality.


from a parent discussion group of Ginott’s

Photo credit:  flickr

Photo credit: flickr


LEADER: Suppose it is one of those mornings when everything seems to go wrong. The telephone rings, the baby cries, and before you know it, the toast is burnt. Your husband looks over the toaster and says, “My God! When will you learn to make toast?!” What is your reaction?

MRS. A: I would throw the toast in his face!

MRS. B: I would say, “Fix your own damn toast!”

MRS. C: I would be so hurt, I could only cry.

LEADER: What would your husband’s words make you feel toward him?

PARENTS: Anger, hate, resentment.

LEADER: Would it be easy for you to fix another batch of toast?

MRS. A: Only if I could put some poison in it!

LEADER: Suppose that the situation is the same; the toast is burnt, but your husband, looking over the situation, says, “Gee, honey, it’s a rough morning — the baby, the phone, and now the toast.”

MRS. A: I would drop dead if my husband said that to me!

MRS. B: I would feel wonderful!

MRS. C: I would feel so good, I would hug him and kiss him.

LEADER: Why? The baby is still crying, and the toast is still burnt.

PARENTS: That wouldn’t matter.

LEADER: What would make the difference?

MRS. B: You feel kind of grateful that he didn’t criticize you — that he was with you, not against you.

LEADER: Let me now tell you about a third kind of husband. He looks over the burnt toast and says to you calmly, “Let me show you, honey, how to make toast.”

MRS. A: Oh, no. He is even worse than the first one. He makes you feel stupid.

LEADER: Let's see how these three different approaches to the toast incident apply to our handling of children.

MRS. A: I see what you're driving at. I always say to my child, "You are old enough to know this, you are old enough to know that." It must make him furious. It usually does.

MRS. B: I always say to my son, "Let me show you, dear, how to do this or that."

MRS. C: I'm so used to being criticized that it comes natural to me. I use exactly the same words my mother used against me when I was a child. And I hated her for it. I never did anything right, and she always made me do things over.

LEADER: And you now find yourself using the same words with your daughter?

MRS. C: Yes. I don't like it at all — I don't like myself when I do it.

LEADER: Let's see what we can learn from the burnt toast story. What is it that helped change that mean feeling to loving ones?

MRS. B: The fact that somebody understood you.

MRS. C: Without blaming you.

MRS. A: And without telling you how to improve.



Children should never be allowed to hit their parents. Such physical attacks are harmful for both children and parents. It makes children feel anxious and afraid of retaliation. It makes parents feel angry and hateful. The prohibition against hitting is necessary to spare children guilt and anxiety and to enable the parents to remain emotionally hospitable to their children.

From time to time, one witnesses degrading scenes in which a parent, to escape, say, from being kicked in the shin, suggests to the child that he hit her on the hand instead. "You may hit me a little, but you mustn't really hurt me," begged a thirty-year-old mother of a four-year-old child, stretching her arm out in his direction. One is tempted to intervene and say, "Don't do it, lady. It is harmful to the child to let him strike his parent." The mother should have stopped the child's attack immediately: "No hitting. I can never let you do that." Or "If you are angry, tell it to me in words."

The limit against hitting a parent should not be modified under any circumstances. Effective upbringing is based on mutual respect between parent and child without the parent's abdicating the adult role. In telling a child to "hit but not hurt," the mother is asking a small child to make too fine a distinction. The child is irresistibly challenged to test out the prohibition and to find out the difference between hitting playfully and hurting seriously.

from Ginott’s Teacher & Child

Mary, age ten, had been chosen to play first violin in her school orchestra. On the way to a concert, she stumbled over a curb; the case fell out of her hands and the violin cracked. Mary was too wretched even to cry. "I'm so clumsy," she wailed. "Now I won't be able to play the concert and it's all my fault."

"That's not what we say when a mishap occurs," said Mary's mother. "We don't blame. We are solution-oriented. The question is: How can we get another violin tonight?" Mary's mouth dropped open. "Mrs. Lee, the music teacher, has extras in the music room," she said meekly. "You just found the solution!" said Mother with appreciation.

Mary and her mother hurried to the music room. Mary told Mrs. Lee what had happened. Mrs. Lee started yelling, "You broke your instrument? When we give you a violin, we expect you to take care of it. You'll have to pay for it. Violins are expensive. I don't know if I should give you another one."

"Mrs. Lee," said Mary loudly, "we need to be solution-oriented. I'll pay for the damage tomorrow. Right now, I need a violin for the concert."

Mrs. Lee seemed dumbstruck. She handed a violin to Mary, who rushed backstage to tune it for the concert.

Mary's mother performed a great service to her daughter. She taught her a most important principle in mental health: When things go wrong, a responsible person does not look for culprits. He looks for solutions.




Where do we start if we are to improve communication with children? By examining how we respond. We even know the words. We heard our parents use them with guests and strangers. ...

What do we say to a guest who forgets her umbrella? Do we run after her and say, "What is the matter with you? Every time you come to visit you forget something. If it's not one thing it's another. Why can't you be like your younger sister? When she comes to visit, she knows how to behave. You're forty-four years old! Will you never learn? I'm not a slave to pick up after you! I bet you'd forget your head if it weren't attached to your shoulders." That's not what we say to a guest. We say, "Here's your umbrella, Alice," without adding, "scatterbrain."

Parents need to learn to respond to their children as they do to guests.

Photo credit:  Esther Simin

Photo credit: Esther Simin


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