Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Echoing & Parenting

I learn a lot of my parenting skills from my wife who is a stay-at-home mother. She recently made me aware of the phenomenon that she refers to as "echoing". This occurs when a parent tells a child to stop doing something and is immediately "echoed" by the other parent with an identical command. It usually results in the child ignoring both parents or becoming as overwhelmed as a new recruit the first day of basic training when the drill instructor screams at him.

We witnessed an extreme case of "echoing" at a playground this past Sunday when my two year-old daughter climbed up on a toy that another little boy was playing on. Immediately, the little boy's mother told her son to watch out for my daughter. The boy's father came over and repeated her words. Two seconds later, the boy's grandmother and grandfather came over and "echoed" the same message as the parents. All four of them hovered over the child and told him to be careful. One can only imagine how this made the little boy feel.

This event made it quite apparent that "echoing" does not serve a constructive purpose. If a child does not respect the authority of one parent alone, a cacophony of commands by others will not convince him otherwise.


At May 25, 2005 at 7:08:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite right. Repeating things yourself implies lack of belief in what you are saying, but children expect adults to act as a team supporting each other. So repetition by different people comes over to them as the exact opposite- contradiction. In the absence of a guideline, they then do whatever they would have done without the "help".

By the way, wonderful blog- thanks for writing it!

Alice (in Texas)

At May 25, 2005 at 7:12:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...


Thank you for your compliments on my blog. I truly appreciate it.

I agree with you as well. I didn't mean to imply that parents should not speak with a unified voice and be consistent in what they say. Quite the contrary.

At May 25, 2005 at 9:16:00 AM EDT, Blogger muse said...

re: positivity which doesn't have comment option

I use a variation when teaching. I'm an EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher. In a boys high school! I just tell the kids who want to study to move close for the lesson and the others are ignored. They want attention, so they work with me.
This also happens when I tell them to work independently or in small groups. Some beg me to teach, even though the modern faddy method is to have the kids work in groups.

At May 25, 2005 at 10:12:00 AM EDT, Blogger Chaim said...

Great post, it's very hard to know the lines dividing too much or too little. When is it good to be unified. when it's good not to overwhelm. Which battles to fight. Parenting is most definitely the hardest job there is.

At May 25, 2005 at 1:12:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Chana said...

I think that parents need to present a united front, and sometimes that can be helped by "echoing." My parents, for instance, always made sure to back each other up lest we receive mixed-messages, which is very confusing.

However, I think the example you gave shows an abuse of the principle. When people are simply repeating themselves and saying the same thing over and over, a) the child has already "gotten" it and no longer desires to hear you say it b) you sound unsure of yourself c) the child may end up defying you simply because you keep on impressing this rule upon him.

Interesting post :)

At May 25, 2005 at 10:05:00 PM EDT, Blogger Stacey said...

This is a tough one. Seems like that family definitely did "overkill," but I also understand the benefit of a unified front. But that's for important things....not the trivial example you witnessed.

At May 26, 2005 at 4:23:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh dear, my comment was very unclear. What I meant was that echoing *does* imply lack of conviction, and when different adults do the repeating that makes things even worse.

This is why: rather than communicating a united front, different adults eachoing each other has the exact opposite effect: "I don't expect you to trust or take any notice of Daddy, so I'm saying this again as if he never opened his mouth."

The result is the children see the adults as disunited, don't trust any of them, and do what they think already instead.

Reinforcement is different than echoing. If an unconvinced child seeks confirmation, often just a nod will suffice. Reinforcement expresses support *of the other adult*: "Yes, Daddy is right." It's completely different than echoing, which I think *never* helps, because it has no new meaningful content.

I have seen three or four adults at once repeatedly giving a child the same instruction- each thinking only their own authority would count. The effect is completely confusing for the child.

So the united front is about supporting *each other*, not just repeating things, which usually has the opposite effect.



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