Change your attitude
– set the tone

by Sharon C. McGonigal

Shortly after I was separated, my oldest child, aged 12, said to me, “Why are you always yelling at us when we come home from Dad’s?”

That was six years ago. At that time money was extremely tight and it seemed that when the children returned home, they had gone out, had a whirlwind weekend filled with no homework, no chores and tons of fun – the classic honeymoon weekend for divorced children.

My son’s comment was like a slap in the face; it took me back to what my role as a parent should be. He was right. I set the tone and the mood. I started to observe that if I yelled at them before they left for school they wouldn’t have a good day. After his comment, I made a promise to myself that I would speak to them politely when they left for school, when they arrived home and returned from being with their dad. This dramatically changed their attitude at home and on school challenges.

One of my twins tends to be more pessimistic than the other and I’ve had to pep talk him through many tearful situations. At times the task was overwhelming for him. We spoke about changing his attitude and breaking the task down and celebrating his small successes.

Over the last three years he has proven this practice. I smile when I hear him give the same pep talk to his classmates at school and most recently to his elder sister by four years. She was lamenting about her homework, her after-school practices, and all that she had to do. I heard him say, “You know, if you change your attitude, it will go better for you. I know it’s been working for me. I even do my homework on the bus so I’m done early.”

Not only at home did I put this to practice but also while full-time teaching. In class, I experimented using the positive attitude approach to illustrate setting the tone. We were talking about attitude in Health with my grade seven class and they just did not get it.
The next day I came in mad and yelled at them. The class settled quietly for about five minutes then as the morning wore on the students started to pick and snap at each other. Students who were generally polite, considerate and patient displayed the signs of crankiness. Those that had negative attitudes to begin with, increased their level of negativity.

After five minutes of listening to the bickering, I congratulated them. The class was stunned. I explained the experiment and the value of choosing the attitude to set the tone.

At the end of the year, much to my surprise, I received three gifts from students who thanked me for the valuable lesson on attitude and for saving them. At times I felt I wasn’t reaching them but receiving those gifts affirmed that though they all didn’t show it, I had reached them because I changed my attitude and I set the tone.

At work and at home I choose daily to set the tone and my attitude so my children can reap the benefits.


© Sharon C. McGonigal

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem