Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin

My experiments in the pursuit of happiness and good habits


Why It’s a Bad Idea to “Interview for Pain.”

May 4th, 2015

Episode 52 of 371 episodes

One of my favorite parenting books is Michael Thompson and Catherine O’Neill’s Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understand the Social Lives of Children. Like most good parenting books, the advice turns out to be just as useful when dealing with adults as it is when dealing with children. (I think about Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s brilliant How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk more often in the context of adult than of child interactions.) As I was reading Best Friends, Worst Enemies, I was particularly struck by Thompson’s warning against “interviewing for pain.” He describes a situation where your child complains about another child’s behavior, and then every day, when your child returns from school, you ask, “So, honey, was Pat mean to you today?” Thompson points out that children are quick to realize that bad stories about Pat will be a good way to get your attention, and that they may seek to satisfy you, and present the facts in the most attention-grabbing way. Also, Thompson writes, “I believe that we live the story we tell ourselves–and others–about the life we’re leading…If you constantly interview your child for pain, ...