How to Talk to Human Beings

I hesitate to say everyone should have a child, because becoming a parent is an intensely personal choice. I try my best to avoid evangelizing the experience, but the deeper in I get, the more I believe that nothing captures the continued absurdity of the human condition better than having a child does.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:
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"The difference between a child who freaks out at the slightest breeze, and a child who can confidently navigate an unfamiliar world? The parents. "

Sorry Jeff, but this is not true. I have 4 kids and all were raised in basically the same environment. A child’s reaction to the world and attitude/personality are almost entirely genetically programmed. When you have more kids you will discover this too.

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Larry, I agree with Jeff on this one. I have two kids. Different personalities yes, the younger one will throw fits, I don’t think it is because of genetics that she throws fits, I think it is environment and me knowing how to deal with two kids. I haven’t learned how to talk and interact appropriately with the 2 year old yet, so she gets upset, I would too if I were her.

I’ll have to open my book again, I got 20 pages in and stopped, thought it was a great book, but got distracted reading other things, and yes, parenting.

Sounds very much like ‘active listening’ from Gordon’s ‘Parent Effectiveness Training’, which is a great book despite the title.

Ok. Try six kids, and I grew up in a household of 8 kids. I agree with Larry.

Nice post. I’ll definitely check that book out.

If, as you say, you find “Watching them discover and explore the surface of language is utterly fascinating,” I’d definitely recommend checking out some of Steven Pinker’s books, like the Language Instinct.



Yeah, I was thinking about it and I think it might just be that we don’t spend as much one on one with the second. I think if we changed that she would calm down more.

I grew up in a house with 6 kids in it also and I still think most of it is environmental related not genetic. I think personalities are genetic and environmental but a kid throwing tantrums is definitely entirely environmental. There’s been a bunch of studies on the subject of people when they get older and the childhood influences. The first 3 years are the most important and abused kids are the ones that end up going crazy as adults (not all I know, and yes, some of the mind altering drugs that parents put their kids on now days also contributes significantly, which would be environmental also).

I’m an only child with four kids (my wife is the eldest of five). Our kids, two of each, are as different as night and day. Having said that, once in a while they’re “peas in a pod”. I strongly recommend you never allow them to line up together against you.

For me, I believe it’s a mix of genetics and environment. If you really want to see the genetic component though, don’t look at the parents, look at the grandparents. Sometimes it’s uncanny.

Unfortunately, Jeff, I think you’ve taken the wrong message away from the book. It’s not about letting the child (or the deli guy) “reach an alternative solution by themselves”, it’s about letting the person you’re interacting with feel you’ve understood their feelings and have validated them. Notice how in the second example the mother is identifying the child’s emotional state (he wants something he can’t have), letting the child know this (“I hear how much you want them”), and reflecting it back to him (“I wish I had the magic power…”).

It’s not about solutions, it’s about learning how to empathize with other people.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say “A child who naturally freaks out at the slightest breeze can be taught to confidently navigate an unfamiliar world by their parents.”

I’m with Larry based on my own kids who differ much more in their behaviour than is explainable by differences in how we interact with them.

Also generally, some thing work better for some kids than others. Example in case, I had a situation very similar to the “Toasty Crunchy”. For me it went like this:

she: “I want a bikkie” (cookie in USA)
me: “We don’t have any”
… repeat above 3-4 times …
she: "I want a bikkie"
me: "Well, I want a Ferrari"
she: “I want a Ferrari … I want a Ferrari … and a bikkie. Papa go buy some”

That Deli example? That is what we call condescending in the rest of the world. This may work with some children (definitely not my niece, she is too smart to fall for this), but doing this to an adult, you would be called a knob. Then again, maybe I am just expecting intelligence to be higher than it really is. I work retail and the number one way to sell is to repeat what the customer said and then recommend a product that matches. It is illy, but if you do not repeat what they said, they do not take your recommendation seriously.

@Carsten Friedrich:

Hilarious anecdote. You made my day.

I guess I should have added more detail. I’m not saying that environment doesn’t play a part, and I’m not talking about tantrums - those are learned. I’m saying that the genetic component seems to have a much stronger influence on a child’s personality and the way they interact with the world. I have a child that is at peace with the world in all situations and another who gets extremely annoyed at everything (e.g. hair touching her face). One of my children is calm and focused and another can’t sit still. These are built-in and are visible at a very early age. It may be possible to “train-out” some negative behaviors, but I firmly believe that their personalities are “built-in”.

Larry, in order to draw any kind of conclusion from your evidence, we would have to duplicate your children and raise them in a home very different to yours. Many times.

The inverse of your argument is that if a person’s personality is mostly based on their environment, and if your children were raised in the same home, then they should be very much the same. I don’t think it would be too hard to argue that a parent could influence their children in such a way that they would act very differently from each other.

We don’t have a great idea of how genes affect personality. Until we know that, we will never know how much of the way your children behave is a result of environment. The people who study this stuff seem to think that both play a large role.

TLDR; Maybe your children were genetically predisposed to being less affected by their environment :slight_smile:

@Larry, your comment reminded me of various studies on identical twins (some of this was mentioned in the book ‘Freakanomics’) that indicated, without a doubt, genetics matter more than environment. However, that’s not to say providing a healthy environment for children is a waste of resources. Other studies have shown that environment can make a big difference for autistic children.

I have a peculiar perspective on the nature/nurture debate. I have five children by four mothers, all born within six years, all raised separately but in similar environments (same city, same social class).

The key here is that there is only one child who is biologically mine (the others were adopted at birth), and I had little to do with her upbringing before the age of 10. So you might say she’s the control group.

I was close to most of the mothers most of the time, and was able to observe first-hand their successes and problems. I know varying amounts about the biological mothers of the adopted children.

My conclusions: most people debating nature/nurture have no idea what they’re talking about. Both are very important, but at different times and in different ways.

I started out think everything was nurture, but my biological child has many of my characteristic behaviors, and I refer only to those not shared by her mother.

Then there are many things which are plainly not nature. The adoptees of Mother #1, for example, share her deep-rooted ability to remain calm under pressure. The panicky Mother #2 has a panicky child.

One thing that seems innate: some children are more easily damaged than others. I’ve seen the same kind of mistakes made by each mother, but what one child rebounds from easily may cause another lasting difficulties. The worst mother (even in her own estimation) did not produce the most neurotic child. The mother of the most problematic child was not significantly worse than the others, though the problems seem clearly connected to her mistakes.

About the book: I found some of the suggestions very helpful, others less so, with results often contrary to my expectations. (That’s a compliment.) I have no problem recommending it.

I haven’t looked at twin-studies in many years, so I can’t comment on them.

A really great article. I owe it to a former colleague to have found it.

Stop right here and read Dr Gordon !
It’s from where they got the techniques you listed. Not only you’ll get much more detail and insights, but you’ll have the “why?” question answered as well with sound reasonning.

Note that Gordon started those techniques for managers and work relationship and only afterwards applied them on children, so…
There’s book on sales, patients, leadership =>

You should also be able to find “gordon centers” where you can be helped, teached in practical session and get more experience than from books, as parents, those are invaluable.

Thanks Jeff for the advice, just bought it for my kindle :slight_smile:
I don’t have children, maybe I will in the near future; but I am intrigued about the idea that most patterns in the book can be applied to grown ups to :slight_smile: