``Well, I had a terrible week,'' volunteers one young mother, in response to Nancy Samalin's question ``Who wants to start?'' It seems that her vigorous four-year-old daughter had wreaked havoc at a friend's house by getting into a tussle with the friend's younger sister. She doubts that her child will ever be invited to that home again.
And what really made her angry, she continues, was that the little girl seemed incapable of being upset by the incident and was blithely uninterested in talking about it.
``I wouldn't expect her to tell you much as long as she knows you're angry,'' says Mrs. Samalin, suggesting that under those circumstances kids usually think it's in their interest to remain silent.
``Try to use your anger in as useful a way as possible, let them know how you feel, but then stop. Don't cancel yourself out,'' she counsels.
Such bits of advice, intermingled with mothers' accounts of trials and triumphs, easily filled a two-hour Parent Guidance Workshop at Samalin's West Side Manhattan apartment on a recent Thursday morning.
Samalin is one among hundreds of people who've carved out careers in the burgeoning field of parent education. Her background includes a master's degree in counseling from New York's Bank Street College and years of study under Alice Ginott, who, with her husband, Haim, helped pioneer this field.
But the real impetus behind her work, says Samalin, a tall, sharp-featured woman, who carefully measures her words, was her own experience as a mother of two children, now grown.
``I got into it for very personal reasons,'' she says, ``because I was horrified by the realities of being a parent. I was amazed by how angry I could get ... Generally, I say all parents love their children, but I was saying things to them I wouldn't say to a bum on the street.''
In desperation she looked for some help. She met Dr. Ginott and joined one of her parenting workshops. ``For the first time since the kids were born,'' Samalin says, ``I began to realize there might be another way.''
The ``other way'' she learned, and now tries to convey to others through her workshops, revolves around the way parents talk to children. Her rule No. 1: ``The way you say something is going to influence the way someone [a child] responds.''
``Not that I never yelled again,'' says Samalin, ``but even when I did, I had a modus operandi.'' This emphasis on thought-out communication with children comes up again and again during the morning workshop.
One mother rather shyly tells of her eight-year-old son's bedtime tantrum because neither parent would read yet another book of the boy's own choosing (not his sister's). After some stamping and pacing, and some quiet explanation from mother, he ``broke down and said he was sorry.'' And ``that's my trouble,'' says this mom, because ``that breaks my heart.''
Some of the other parents in the circle chuckle sympathetically.
But the child's sorrow is good, affirms Samalin.
``Whenever he says `I'm sorry,' just tell yourself we're making progress. Tell him, `You know what being sorry means? It means you're making a decision to change.''' Be quick to compliment kids, and encourage even the smallest constructive action, she says.
Sometimes the parents attending the workshop do some of the teaching themselves.
Another mother (all the parents at this weekday morning session were women) tells how she fended off a shouting match by just remaining quiet when her six-year-old was acting up in the bathtub.
Another relates how she took a new tack when her son insisted on more quarters to play the video games at the skating rink.
Instead of arguing and berating him for his selfishness, she told him she knew how much he liked the games and then got him involved in a bit of imaginative play about just how big a pile of quarters he'd really like to have. That did the trick: He laughed and went on to other things. ``Two years ago,'' says this mother, ``I would have gotten into a power struggle with him.''
Much of what goes on in the workshop involves such little insights into parental self-control and ingenuity - things that may help parents ``think before they act,'' as Samalin puts it.
This kind of information can be ``liberating'' to parents, she says, adding that she found it so herself years ago. It's also freeing, she says, for parents to learn, through groups like hers, that other mothers and fathers are having the same experiences they're having.