Good advice to improve any relationship

by Steve Lyle, language arts teacher, West High School, Davenport, Iowa

As a child growing up in the 1950s, I knew dad meant business when his hand threatened to unbuckle his belt as if he were a gunslinger ready to draw on “Gunsmoke.” Parents back then saw children as little adults and expected them to behave as such. It was after your spanking and being sent to your room that parents might explain why your behavior was wrong and how you might have handled things differently.

Parenting has improved since then, but it’s an area where parents might still need a bit of help in raising happy and responsible children.


You don’t have to be a parent in order to benefit from the book “Top 20 Parents: Raising Happy, Responsible and Emotionally Healthy Children.” One of its authors, Paul Bernabei, spoke to my faculty at Davenport West High School about building effective relationships with students, and his principles apply to any relationship. I enjoyed his presentation and found this 130-page book quite valuable. I still see parents who react to a child’s mistake or misbehavior through punishment rather than responding in a more appropriate and teachable way. This book reminds parents to use empathy and to analyze the situation, the child’s development, the child’s temperament, and the parent’s current condition before responding.

Bernabei calls people who have an effective state of mind the “Top 20”– it’s a metaphor, not a statistic, for people who are on top of their game (or as he calls it, feeling “above the line”) when dealing with others. However, they can have their bad days, too, and be “below the line.” Knowing where we are on this “line” is important because it affects how we perceive and treat others. When we are below the line due to worry or anger, for instance, we are more apt to snap at others or react in effective ways when we get another “hit,” such as the kids making a mess.

That’s nothing new, but the book is an important reminder of how personal relationships work. Quite often I found myself reflecting upon my own experiences as a child and as a parent. (Thankfully there’s a chapter on “Mistake Making” and what to do after you made them.) The book also has a great way of explaining these personal dynamics in kid-friendly terms. Here are a few of them:

  • Invitations— experiences that can make us dip below the line, such as a past-due bill
  • Indicators–the feelings or behaviors we display when we are below the line, such as feeling inadequate or yelling
  • Hits–when negative events out of our control try to push us below the line
  • Trampolines— activities that help us bounce back above the line, such as enjoying a hobby or going for a walk
  • Submarines— activities that prevent us from hurting others when we are below the line, such as letting them know when we are worried or upset
  • Framing–we perceive others based upon how we see, feel, act and get feedback from it
  • Trust Fund— our behavior can deposit “trust” or withdraw “trust” like a bank account with a person; for example, keeping a promise is a deposit; blaming someone is a withdrawal
  • Tornadoes–social influences toward negativity; a tornado watch could be bedtime, and a tornado warning could be a critical comment made about a meal

Other gems are the chapters on how to identify your child’s temperament, how to encourage emotional intelligence, how to correct mistakes and how to resolve conflicts. The chapter on the scale of listening engagement might make you feel a bit guilty since it’s so difficult to truly listen to a person. (I can be the Judge or the Know-it-All listener.)

“Top 20 Parents” is a practical book with clear examples and suggested activities for parents and children. Although my children are grown, I can adapt these skills to fit our current situation. Plus, I gave my copy to my daughter, to help her raise her young ones.



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