Practical Parenting Tips from Expert Samalin
By Melanie Martin-Tierney

She walked among the audience and got in people’s faces. She nagged, whined, cajoled, behaved rudely and shook an accusing finger at us. She talked to us like we often talk to our kids. We laughed, but somewhat uncomfortably. She behaved …well …like a parent.

Then Nancy Samalin, in her lecture at Red Bank Regional High School on November 4th, pointed out that is precisely what she meant to do, and she reminded us that she’d never really speak to us that way, because we are strangers. She’s also quite sure we’d never speak that way to a stranger or friend, either. We nodded in agreement. But why, she asked us, do parents feel it is alright to speak to their children that way?

We know we do it, and she knows we do it. How? Because it’s how she learned what she’s trying to teach to us. Nancy Samalin became a parent educator in a trial by fire. A mother of two sons, spaced a year apart, Samalin says she was often impatient and cranky in those early years. "When I got angry, and that was not so rare, I would nag, bribe, yell, plead, argue, punish and criticize. I didn’t spank, but I think my mouth did worse damage."

"When my sons were 7 and 8, I had what one of them calls a ‘duh’ moment. I realized the simple fact that the way we talk to people will affect the way they respond. Duh!" Samalin explains. Unfortunately, she continues, we speak the least carefully to those we care most about. After more than two decades of working with parents of toddlers to teens, the one aspect Nancy Samalin avoids is guilt. She says, "I never met a parent who said, ‘Today I’m gonna make my kids feel rotten.’" In her workshops and lectures, Samalin sets out to free parents from guilt and to teach them effective and loving ways of dealing with issues such as sibling rivalry, discipline and parental anger.

The lecture at RBRHS was co-hosted by The Junior League of Monmouth County and Tower Hill School of Red Bank. The JLMC has long been an effective advocate for parents and children, and decided to jump on board when Tower Hill School came up with the idea of offering concrete help and advice to their own students’ parents. Word spread quickly, and the lecture attracted over 400 interested attendees. Most would agree it was well worth the $12 price of admission.

Nancy Samalin obtained her Masters in Counseling at Bank Street College of Education in New York. For the 14 years prior to that, she taught both French and English. But what she loves most is what she’s doing right now. "Once I learned better ways to talk to my kids, I wanted to share it with others," she explains. She points out that it is never too late to learn new behaviors, even if you’ve been berating your children for years. She adds, "That’s the great thing about children – they’re stuck with you, so you’ll always get a second chance! After all, my kids forgave me for the way I used to behave."

This energetic woman exudes humor and a loving nature as she guides parents through the concepts she presents in her three books, Loving Your Child Is Not Enough: Positive Discipline That Works, Love and Anger (both from Penguin Books), and Loving Each One Best (Bantam Books).

In Loving Your Child Is Not Enough, Samalin presents the message that we do not do our children any favors by letting them get away with murder. She advocates setting firm limits and then sticking by them firmly and lovingly. Children need to know that "no" means "no," but parents should also be very careful about using such a powerful word. If "no" is to have power, it must be used only in situations where it is necessary. Think first about the child’s needs and welfare, and then when the restriction is used, it is likely to be more effective than if it’s a household word.

Loving Each One Best deals with a frustrating issue for most parents – sibling rivalry. Samalin says that each child needs time alone with a parent, even if time constraints make the amount of time necessarily brief. Just a few minutes a day can be enough, she says, if those few minutes are free from "maintenance issues" such as homework, chores and behavioral issues. Spend time with the child, doing what the child enjoys. In so doing, the parent is validating the child’s interests and is showing the child individualized attention.

It was Samalin’s own angry outbursts, and the way she learned to change them, that prompted her to write Love and Anger. "I was amazed that no one in the parenting arena had dealt with the fact that no matter how much you love your kids, they will make you furious sometimes," says the prolific author, who also contributes regularly to Parents Magazine and Bottom Line. One of her techniques for controlling anger instead of directing it in an unhealthy way toward our children is to take an "adult time-out" by walking away from a potentially volatile situation instead of staying in the midst of a battle where everyone comes out a loser.

For parents, the advice offered by Nancy Samalin in this lecture was sound and well-received. During the intermission, fathers were heard discussing whether or not their insistence on certain issues was really that important after all, mothers echoed each others’ sentiments that we all seem to nag a little too much, and all agreed that the family structure would be more healthy if Samalin’s techniques were followed. As Samalin herself offers, there are four great points about the approach to parenting she teaches: everything discussed is easy to understand, all of it makes good psychological sense, the advice often works when it is applied regularly, and finally, it will do no damage to your child.

The bad news? It’s hard to do. Love and good intentions are a great start, but they’re simply not enough. According to Samalin, we also need skill and an awareness of constructive alternatives to doing and saying what comes naturally. Nancy Samalin, through workshops, books, and lectures sponsored by organizations like Tower Hill School and The Junior League of Monmouth County, helps parents reach that level of skill and awareness