What Do Kids Value? What Do They Need?

by Randy Peyser

“Don’t screem at me becaus I am small and I am not pefect.”
— Jessica, age 8

When Joel Saltzman and his wife were about to become parents for the first time, a sweat broke out on his brow. “What do I know about raising a kid? When’s the last time one of them came with instructions?” Nothing Joel or his wife learned in college had prepared them for the birth of their beautiful son.

Wanting to be a good father —no, make that a great father — Joel became determined to find out what children really needed in order to thrive. But in searching through books on how to raise a child, intuitively, he felt a “gnawing feeling” that somebody must know more than all of these so-called experts with their blah-blah theories.

One morning while taking a shower it occurred to Joel, “Of course! The real experts must be the kids themselves. Who else would know better?” He wondered if anyone had ever seriously asked a group of children about how they thought they should be raised. Where could he find the kids to ask?

Joel turned to the elementary schools. As a writing instructor and author, he had successfully published two books, “If You Can Talk, You Can Write,” and “If You’re Writing, Let’s Talk.” He approached fourteen schools with an offer to do a series of writing workshops for their students. The workshops would, in turn, generate material for a forthcoming book on children’s advice to parents. Within days, Joel was in front of a blackboard.

“If you could tell your parents how to raise you, what would you say?” Joel asked. “What could your parents give you? Maybe it’s something they do for you or with you already, or maybe it’s something you need them to do more of.” 

Here are the requests of three ten-year-olds:

“Lissen to my feellings” — Laramie 

“Tell me what I did right” — Amanda 

 “Keep your promises better” — Jeanette 

Initially, his goal was to speak with a hundred kids, but ultimately, Joel wound up speaking to over 1000 children in grades one through six. He sampled public schools, private schools, schools where there were lots of wealthy kids, and schools were there were poor, disadvantaged kids. He spoke with children who attended schools which were nearly all African-American, as well as schools that were mostly Hispanic. He also went to schools which were nearly all Caucasian as well as schools that were mixed. In one of the schools in which he worked, over half of the kids lived in shelters.

“The kids had more insight into spiritual parenting than I ever would have imagined,” says Joel. For example, “One very observant eleven-year-old said, “Don’t say, ‘I love you,’ only when I’m leaving for school”. She recognized this was an automatic thing that parents just say... ‘Put on your hat...grab your lunch...and ‘I love you’.” Another young student, Arthur, age 8, wrote, “Buy the kind of ice cream that I like, not the bad taste good price kind.” “This has been a favorite among many people,” says Joel, “because it addresses issues way beyond how much money we spend for ice cream.”

“What I discovered is that by digging deep in terms of the children’s wants and needs, what was revealed were spiritually universal wants and needs. For example:

“Encourage me” — Billy, age 9
“Have convdents in me” — Kelly, age 10
“If you get mad at me, remember to forgive me” — Suzanne, 11
“Love me like you’ve never loved anyone before” —Ayar, age 10

“These are spiritually universal principals. An advantaged kid or a disadvantaged kid will say the same thing.”

Written in the children’s own handwriting complete with misspellings, Joel decided to call the book, Always Kiss Me Good Night, in order to convey to parents the importance that love and comfort are to children of all ages. “The reality is that some of these twelve-year-old boys who are already young toughies still want to get hugged or kissed at night.”

“Don’t yell at me!” “This was the most frequent response from every grade level. No one wants to be yelled at. Through this project, the kids finally felt like they had a voice — they suddenly got a vote in the way things ought to be,” says Joel who wrote this pint-sized, powerpacked book under the pen name of JS Salt. 

A number of teachers around the country have used the book to ask their students the same questions Joel did. “Not only does it give the kids a means of expressing some feelings they might not even have been aware of,” says Joel, “but it’s a great catalyst for discussion both in the classroom and at home. Kids invariably start comparing their parents with one another, discovering what they either need or are already getting from their parents.”

Although the book became the number one best selling parenting book in America, some moms and dads saw it as a kind of “report card” as to how they were doing as parents. “They feared having to grade themselves in comparison to what the book said,” says Joel. “But soon they’d get over that and be irrevocably delighted because the kids had proven themselves to be so wise.”

“In my own case, I came home one time and looked at what one of the kids had written that day: “Always eat with me at the table”. It hit home. At that time, my wife and I were sometimes guilty of just putting food in my one-and-a-half-year-old son’s high-chair tray, and then doing other things around the kitchen, like discussing what had happened at work that day. We immediately changed that behavior when we realized how important it was to always eat at the table together. 

Previously, we would have given ourselves an “A” as parents, but because of what the children have written, we keep discovering ways of improving.” And there’s no end to the amount of improvement that either the best or worst of parents can discover. 

“One time,” says Joel, “I was in a parking lot when I saw a mother screaming at her child. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stared at her. The longer I stared, the longer she kept looking back over her shoulder at me, while sitting in her car with her arms crossed, fuming. All of a sudden it occurred to me that I had a copy of the book in my glove compartment. So I took it out, walked over to her and politely said, “This is something you might want to take a look at. I’d like to make it a present to you.” That is all that was said. Maybe that’s what the book was for...just for one little moment like that. And if this little book can undo some harm or set someone on the right course, then I’ve done my job.”

This May, look for the release of the teen version of the book called, Always Accept Me For Who I Am; Instructions From Teens on Raising the Perfect Parent (Random House; $7) by JS Salt.

As an added service, this author's books and tapes are available to you at a significant discount.



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