Theories can be unconscious states of mind as well as conscious ones, inexplicit ones as well as explicit ones, false ones as well as true ones, and conflicting ones as well as consistent ones.
Solutions many babies have loved!
Children learn the same way everyone does when they are completely free of others’ expectations and other interfering impediments to learning. They learn by wondering about something, thinking about it, finding out about it, perhaps reading about it or discussing it or looking it up on the internet, all driven by their own curiosity.
Having an agenda for a child implies having a want for the child that is independent of and impervious to their own wishes; steering them along a path you have decided is best for them, often without discussing it openly.
Determining which guidance to explore and which to reject is a very subtle skill, and it cannot be learned in an environment where guidance is compulsory.
Does a person with more knowledge have the right to control those with less knowledge? Not with adults of course: I don’t want a nutritionist to control what I eat or a film critic to control what I watch, or the government to control what I say.
Having the freedom to learn from our mistakes is important for children too, not just us. Recalling coercive interference from our own childhood can spur us on to keep taking our children seriously as best we can.
On how video games helped develop skills needed to be a neurosurgeon.
A problem is something which gives rise to human thought—such as a conflict between two theories, a paradox or anomaly. It does not only refer to ‘bad problems’—conflicts between people, problems that seem to make people miserable, things we would rather avoid. Anything sparking thinking, including enormously enjoyable thinking, like when you notice something and wonder about it, following your curiosity wherever it leads, is a ‘problem’ in this wide sense.
When a child WANTS to learn mathematics, the learning is effortless and remarkably swift.
Peter Strömberg warmly welcomes parents new to Taking Children Seriously.
With pre-verbal children we have to be creative and come up with concrete ways of conveying information about dangers, rather than just giving explicit explanations. (I suggest both.)
Parents can help their child stay the rebel that society needs to stay healthy, by allowing unfettered conversations going wherever the child’s curiosity takes them.
Many people undervalue what they want to do compared to what they think other people want them to do. They think that they need to be obedient, without understanding or feeling good about why they have chosen to do so. Doing this to yourself is bad enough. But doing it to someone else, such as your child, is even worse, because now it is not just yourself and your own reason you are violating and harming, it is another person.
A child who is completely free to learn and whose learning is not being monitored and assessed is empowered. Their learning is for themselves, not because an authority figure asked them to memorise and regurgitate a set of facts or ideas.
A conversation between prospective parents, about taking children seriously.
It is not true that screen time implies an isolated child cut off from family life. Screens and non-screens can be intertwined worlds filled with connection, joy, fun, and learning.
Plenty of children who have lived free lives as children at some point choose to get credentials and pursue paths requiring credentials, including ending up in academia. Such children just have not wasted most of their childhood locked in an institution bored out of their mind instead of doing something more interesting.
Not everything we think is true is actually true, even if we feel 100% sure it definitely is true. No matter how strongly we feel that we are right about something, we might well nevertheless be mistaken. The subjective feeling of certainty is no guide at all to whether or not something is true. We can feel totally certain about something and yet be totally mistaken.
Offering a child a small treat (whatever it may be) might seem unobjectionable, because parent/carer and child both ‘win’. But what’s really happening here is that you’re implicitly teaching them that if they want something that seems appealing, to get it they will have to do things they don’t want to do. You’re essentially supporting a pattern of exchanging one’s happiness/dignity/ethical standards/morals for some prize.
Babies are full human beings with astonishingly amazing creative minds. They are absolutely fascinating. Enjoy every precious moment with them.
This question is in effect asking “How do I mould and shape my child into a person who believes that individuals should be free from unwanted moulding and shaping by others?”
The school system isn’t wrong in the sense that it’s further from the truth than Karl Popper. It’s wrong like the Catholic Church was wrong in refusing to accept Galileo’s heliocentrism and in locking him up so as to protect their worldview.
Why subjecting your baby to the Cry it Out method is a mistake, and how bedtime anarchy can be delightful.
Enslaving our children by forcing them to do household chores is highly likely to impair their happiness rather than promote it, and it does nothing to inspire them to work hard at things that matter to them.
Why this film speaks to and inspire so many young people.
Dead Poets Society is not taking children seriously. Taking children seriously is not just being a bit kinder to the inmates, or being a tiny bit rebellious against an authoritarian system you nevertheless continue to work in, it is a different thing entirely. It is about children actually being free.
Our coercion of our children boils down to thinking for them, and expecting our children to follow our instructions. But children can think for themselves.
A list of some of the real life unintended consequences of limiting children’s screen time.
When there really is no time to ask the person if they want their life saved, we save their life, obviously!
Unwanted criticism can cripple thinking, destroying the means of error correction and the growth of knowledge.
Sometimes what seems like a conflict about going to playgroup is two different things, one being enjoying the playgroup, the other being that something has gone wrong and she is not feeling safe about us taking her wishes seriously. In effect, she fears that we have an agenda that we are propelling her into, whether she consents or not, and that agenda is causing a problem. She doesn’t feel she has a choice or say in the matter, a sense of autonomy in how she spends her time.
Coercion, including covert coercion imposed with a soft voice and loving words, is deeply disconnecting, and it certainly does not feel compassionate to the person on the sharp end. What seems to be called ‘Self-led parenting’ is a far cry from the deeply respectful, non-coercive spirit of the Self of IFS when they are talking about adults.
The word ‘coercionist’ distinguishes between those who advocate coercion (or who take the view that some problems are inherently not solvable) and those who think that problems are soluble (i.e., thoroughly non-coercively).
We may fear that a given problem requires coercion or self-sacrifice on our part, but if we nevertheless assume that our fear is mistaken and have fun coming up with possible solutions, often, that can-do attitude can make a difference.
People sometimes say explicitly that they are fallibilists, but inexplicably they are ‘saying’ that they are infallibilists. They say people are fallible and not omniscient, but they act as if they think people see the truth yet are wickedly choosing evil.
We look for solutions that everyone, children included, feel good about. We figure it out! And we relish figuring it out!
“All over the world the school has an anti-educational effect on society…” – Ivan Illich, 1971, Deschooling Society
The magic of an explanation, of knowledge discovery, is that it is a win-win solution, and often a nearly effortless one at that.
Children should do what they want just as adults do what they want. We can be there alongside our kids as they explore their interests the way they themselves choose, in an unstructured manner. Cole… says most of everything he achieved was because of his parents’ support and help.
Non-coercive = embracing others exactly the way they are, and they can change if they want to and they don’t have to. Coercive = trying to control, fix or change others against their will.
Trying to implement ‘expert’ advice that doesn’t feel right to you makes life much harder for you with a new baby. Listening to your own wisdom about the sleep issue can make all the difference.
If, when you were five, your parents had told you that you would thank them later for the coercive education to which they were subjecting you, would you have believed them or not? And what would have made you think that they were lying to you?
Most problems are solved without any explicit communication. To the extent that people think of ‘finding common preferences’ as requiring or implying the need for explicit discussions, that is an understandable but very unfortunate misunderstanding.
If it were true that maths is boring at the beginning and only becomes interesting later, then no one would ever have discovered all the mathematics that has been discovered, because it could not have been being forced on children before it had been discovered. Each bit of maths was formed by somebody who had not been taught it but who did it purely because it was interesting.
If you were in the American slave-holding South in the days of slavery, and a supporter of slavery was demanding studies and ‘evidence’ to justify your argument for ending slavery, would that not strike you as a highly immoral stance?
Whatever might happen in the future, it will still not have been right to behave immorally today.
Other people can behave badly, and we can view it as a problem to solve rather than being horribly distressed, wounded and irredeemably damaged.
We may subscribe to the values of rationality and taking children seriously, but when it comes to detail, we may well be mistaken about particular aspects of it. So instilling anything, including those ideas we most value, is a mistake. We want our ideas to be corrected. We want our children to be able to correct our errors, not be saddled with them.
Reducing/equating solving interpersonal problems to having explicit discussions is making the rationalist mistake of fetishising the explicit and ignoring everything else.
When you struggle against or take a coercive approach with another person, the natural response of that person is to defend their corner and fight back. The same happens inside our own minds. When you are fighting a part of your own mind, that causes the part you are trying to stamp out to dig in, to entrench itself, to defend its corner more vigorously.
Drop the second guessing and scrutinising and judging. It is as toxic for us as that kind of thing is for our children. If you are not feeling free—free to think, free to be and free to act in accordance with your own ideas, your thinking flying free as a bird—it might be that you are seizing up your thinking with scrutiny and judgement, objectifying yourself as a parent.
How to be emotionally-intelligent in our dealings with these anti-rational parts of our mind, meeting them where they are, at their own problem situation, seeing how it feels for them from their perspective, rather than just barging in with the critical arguments that seem so rational and unanswerable to us from our (or another part’s) perspective.
There is every reason for hope! And the fact that we have noticed that coercing our children is problematic is progress compared to how things were in the static society of the past. (And hey, maybe the fact that coercionists these days seem to feel more need to justify their advocacy of coercion is itself progress?)
Anti-rational memes are not only passed from parents to children, they exist more widely in our culture. This is why other people seem to feel so free to judge and criticise you if you are taking your child seriously, and it is why complete strangers in supermarkets tell you to keep your child under control. And it is why the corresponding anti-rational meme in your own mind has you feeling rebuked, ashamed, upset, and defensive.
If parents knew that they could reject the conventional approach and it would not ruin their precious child’s life, many more would do so. If you cannot see that rejecting the status quo is not only right, but also will not have any disastrous unintended consequences, it feels safer to stick with the tradition of paternalistic coercion.
Such questions are in effect asking how we and our children can solve the problem created by us in effect having a visceral aversion to our children innocently enjoying themselves learning. Why is that the case, and when we are in such a state, what can we do about it?
Focus on having fun playfully solving whatever problem you have in the present moment, and move forward from where you are now. Notice just how brilliant and amazing you are and how much you have achieved, alleged impairments notwithstanding!
Life can be messy for all of us. Sometimes when we try to make improvements, part of our mind panics, and that can hurt.
Babies are obviously nothing like pigs, because fast forward a year or two and one is talking to you whereas the other never will. And they are talking to you because of something that happened in that year or two, and it isn’t something that happens in pigs, ever. This is not a small difference, it is a radical difference.
The more (voluntary, wanted, enjoyable) engagement and influence in all directions, the better. And when people are voluntarily joining together and influencing one another, amazing things can happen. The whole may well be greater than the sum of the parts: they may create knowledge together that might not have happened were they each alone.
That parents have obligations to their children that their children do not have to them is not because children are lesser humans. It is because we parents have freely chosen to place our children in the positions they are in, living with us instead of having been adopted at birth, say. It is we parents who have the obligations to our children, not our children who have obligations to us.
We do not take people seriously because taking people seriously has this or that alleged effect, we take them seriously because it is right, and because not doing so tends to impede the growth of knowledge. It applies to all ages.
Children should not only not have any medical procedures performed on them without consent, they should be in control throughout. That applies to vaccinations and everything else.
Children are no less creative and rational than adults, whether or not they yet have the explicit language in which to express themselves.
This question is like a coercively controlling husband asking: “If you are not coercing your wife, what do you do instead of coercion?” A paternalistic husband who controls his wife out of the best of intentions because he honestly believes that it is for her own good, could ask the same question.
Children being taken seriously are not subject to an authority from whom they need permission, so they no more ask permission than we do.
We really do learn from our mistakes, by trial and error. And at the same time we learn how little we know—as when, in climbing a mountain; every step upwards opens some new vista into the unknown, and new worlds unfold themselves of whose existence we knew nothing when we began our climb.
Wikipedia is mistaken about how Taking Children Seriously started. This is how it actually started.
What does taking courteous manners seriously look like? How children taken seriously learn table manners.
How do you yourself determine what to eat? It is the same with children. What we eat is determined by a number of things, including what we feel like eating, which may be affected by our ideas about health and other things.
The kind of expressions of approval that are not manipulative are the ones that bubble out of you without any forethought. Anytime you are wondering if what you were planning to say might be coercive approval, it probably is. Is what you are saying the kind of thing you would naturally say to an equal, a friend, or your boss, say? Or does the idea of saying this to your boss seem highly inappropriate?
Happiness is not about how much you create compared with how much you might have created under some different circumstances; it is about whether you are solving the problems you actually have.
Taking children seriously does not depend on being rich.Many parents taking their children seriously are currently very poor indeed. Indeed many parents taking their children seriously choose less-well-paying work that they can do from home so that they can be with their children more. They just have very different priorities from other people.
Our children’s lives are their own. We can explain our concerns and make suggestions, and ultimately, help them do what they themselves want to do. Has she hitchhiked long distances before? If not, perhaps she would like to try the Outer Hebrides as a trial run before Outer Mongolia.
If, to you, being a responsible parent requires coercing your children, unfortunately I think that very conviction may itself cause some of the very catastrophes you hope to avoid. Children no more react well to being coercively controlled than we do. Coercion has unintended consequences that most parents do not take into account.
Solving a problem is not an exercise in negotiating or finding a compromise or wearing the other person down, it is about coming up with a solution that all of us love.
In a relationship characterised by consent, on those occasions when the other person is warning us that our proposed course of action may be unwise, and explaining why, we have every reason to trust that such warnings are not attempts to thwart us and ruin our fun, but are actually important—that it is actually in our best interests to heed the warnings.
Suffering does not help people learn. It impedes our ability to think. It impairs our creativity.
That’s like saying: “The police force should respect human rights except on important issues”. I’d rather say “let’s have a police force whose ethos embodies respect for human rights”—and know that there will be some failures to respect human rights—than have an ethos which embodies systematic disregard for human rights in some areas. Similarly, with our children, having systematic exceptions to the ethos of taking them seriously instead of coercing them, makes the whole idea incoherent.
‘Problems are soluble’ does not mean that knowledge can be created by fiat, or that anyone who fails to interact entirely non-coercively is evil. That is horribly far from how I see it. Solutions are sometimes hard to come by. It is often not obvious how to solve a problem. Truth is not manifest.
If you think your child needs you, maybe experiment, tentatively trying different ways of being there for her and making sure she knows you are there for her and want to do what she wants and not what she does not want.
The purpose of the extreme scenarios presented in what-if questions about taking children seriously is to suggest that therefore taking children seriously would lead to disaster. But in fact, the more extreme the scenario, the easier it is to persuade a child that that course of action would be a mistake.
Losing sight of others’ good intentions is a mistake. Reacting badly, as if truth is obvious and we ourselves are in possession of it, tends to be coercive.
What turns taking medicine from something neutral or mildly unpleasant that you are willing to do to help you get better, to something terrifying and traumatic that you would rather die than do, is not actually the horrible taste of the medicine, it is the lack of control, the fear of being forced, the violation of your bodily integrity—which is a violation of your mental integrity, your agency. Something can feel fine if it is voluntary, but extremely traumatic if it is involuntary.
It is far safer to show children potential dangers and how to handle them safely, than it is simply to rely on them never interacting with such dangers. Even if you yourself keep all the dangerous items and chemicals locked up, there will come a day when your child is somewhere else, where that is not the case, and then your child is potentially navigating dangerous things with no knowledge of how to do so safely. Taking our children seriously is so much safer than the alternative.
Often, we need to increase the bandwidth by communicating not just explicitly in words, but simultaneously also inexplicitly, through our facial expressions and body language, and we also need to find more concrete ways of expressing theories. Show them concrete effects. Help them understand.
We are attuned to babies’ signals, we take their preferences seriously and assist them in meeting them. We empower them rather than disempoweraging them. Even newborn babies are learning something absolutely vital for their future—something so important and valuable that I cannot stress it enough: they are learning that they can have an effect on the world.
There is “discipline” in the sense of intrinsically motivated, wholeheartedly pursuing and working at something that you live for. Then there is “discipline” in the sense of coercive control. These are two totally different things.
How do you distinguish between restrictions on our behaviour that are good for us and those that aren’t? The restrictions on our behaviour that are good for us are ones we agree with. And when we agree with them, they are not restrictions on our behaviour anyway.
Creativity is what makes us human—our capacity to create new explanations, to solve problems, to come up with new ideas.
Knowledge is information in a context, information that is useful, not mere information.
The trouble with the idea of rights is that you can justify almost any postulate about children from the idea of ‘rights’ if you want to.
Not all criticism of other people’s ideas is good. Indeed some of it actually interferes with the person’s own criticism in their own mind. Wanted criticism is valuable. Unwanted criticism can be coercive and destructive of knowledge-creating processes that are happening.
Subjecting anyone of any age to coercive education (unwanted criticism) is not taking them seriously. Nor is it even taking the valuableness of criticism seriously! Let alone taking the growth of knowledge seriously.
he idea that criticism of others is always good is a mistake, just like it is a mistake to think that education is always good. It may be good if it is wanted, but not if it is unwanted. Coercive education is not and never has been Taking Children Seriously.
If my child wanted to drive, I would find a way to teach her to drive safely and legally, such as on the private farmland of a friend.
Were such an unlikely issue ever to arise, we would talk about it. And it would be an enjoyable conversation in which I am assuming that my child is well-intentioned. Sometimes a child might be exploring an idea thought-experiment style, or wondering what makes something seem wrong, or why someone might want to do something. Playing with ideas is a joy for all of us, especially children lucky enough to be in an environment in which it is safe to think about and to discuss potentially difficult or controversial issues.
Our children are not us. They may well have different ideas from ours. Our ideas might be mistaken. We are fallible. That our ideas feel right does not justify coercing our children. Our children are sovereign beings who do not belong to us but to themselves.
Meet the aggressor where she is, without resistance, as opposed to disapproving from above; see it from her PoV; what was this about?; what led up to this? How can we proceed positively from here?
It is not that coercion is always wrong. Self-defence and the defence of others is right. Otherwise evil could win. But when we do intervene to stop one child attacking another, that is a damage limitation exercise, to try to preserve any knowledge creating going on.
The purpose of such what-if questions is to justify coercion, but when you ask the same question about an adult, it is shocking, because we all take adults seriously.
We parents sometimes imagine that we can teach our children to be sensitive to others’s wishes by being utterly insensitive to theirs, but actions speak louder than words, and our children are more likely to be kind and thoughtful if we have been kind and thoughtful to them.
Even if childhood coercion has virtually no effect, it would not change what it is right or wrong to do to people. And it is not right to do things to people that will impair the growth of knowledge.
Knowledge is conjectural, and we are all fallible. When everything is open to question and we do not hold anything or anyone as an authority, we are free to correct errors that otherwise would have kept us stuck and miserable. Yay!
In a compromise, each person gives up something such that everyone involved suffers ‘fairly’ and ‘equally’. A genuine solution, on the other hand, is one which everyone involved prefers, including preferring it to their own antecedent preference. No one is suffering, ‘fairly’, ‘equally’ or otherwise.
Does the proposed solution spark joy? Is everyone beaming? Are our eyes all shining? Do you see delight? Joy? Animation? Skipping? The odd cartwheel, perhaps? Is it a “YES!!!!” all round? That suggests you have created a real solution.
We look at our respective reasons for wanting what we initially want, and we create a way to proceed that we all prefer—a new idea that did not exist at the outset.
Assuming you are happily married, would you ever be thinking: “If I am not allowed to coerce my wife, surely I am being coerced myself?”?! No! Never! Not even in your worst moment ever! You take your wife seriously. You are not trying to train or change or improve your wife. You are not trying to win at her expense. You want both of you to win! You love her just as she is. You two solve problems together rather than coercing each other.
Being fallible implies that we can be mistaken including when we feel certain that we are right. And because we are fallible, there is no reliable way to know who is right and who is wrong. Disagreements can either be resolved through reason, or they can be dealt with coercively. So no, feeling that we are right does not justify coercion.
Coercion impedes progress by impairing error-correcting processes. “The right of the parent over his child lies either in his superior strength or his superior reason. If in his strength, we have only to apply this right universally, in order to drive all morality out of the world. If in his reason, in that reason let him confide.”
Children are not born knowing right and wrong arises out of the paternalist view of children, which mistakenly holds that children learn moral knowledge through coercion, and that no one would have any interest in improving their moral knowledge unless forced to do so. But actually, coercion impedes and impairs learning, including of moral knowledge, and the vast majority of people including children are trying to do the right thing and trying to improve, including morally, and no one has perfect moral knowledge.
It means children AND parents ‘getting their own way’—such a joy for all of us.
The feeling that ‘how it’s always been’ is right and natural does not mean it is. Many barbaric, highly immoral things felt ‘natural’ and right for centuries before progress was made.
The slight asymmetry is because the parent has chosen to put the child in the situation in which the child finds herself, whereas the child has not chosen to be in that situation or to put the parent in the situation.
Why is it that there is a word “parenting” but no word “childing”? Because in our culture, children are not taken seriously. Words like “parenting” embody the idea of hierarchical, top-down paternalistic/authoritarian parent-child relationships in which the parent is actively doing to the child and the child is passively done to. The parent is actively moulding and shaping the child from above.
Taking Children Seriously is not permissive, uninvolved, authoritarian or authoritative. Those approaches coerce children instead of taking them seriously as full people whose lives are their own.
Paternalism is the idea that certain people or groups need to be controlled (in a benevolent fatherly way) for their own good.
Children very much need our love and protection, our care and attention, fun and play, support and vast amounts of engagement with their ideas and interests. They are not born able to survive and thrive without us. Only in the case of children do people think that needing support, protection, assistance, information and other things implies not having the same freedom, rights, respect and control over their lives as others.
Taking Children Seriously is a new VIEW of children—a non-paternalistic view: like other groups of human beings, children are people, not pets, prisoners or property. Full people whose lives are their own, not a different kind of person – full, equal humans who should no more be coerced and manipulated and moulded and shaped by others than we adults should be.
Ultimately, we all (including our children!) have to do what we ourselves think best, what feels right to us ourselves, not what someone else says is right. We are all moral agents in our own right. When we self-coercively override our own wisdom and do what someone else thinks we should be doing, we are acting wrongly by our own lights. No good can come of that. Treat this site as a source of speculative guesses and interesting arguments, not as an authority you should obey.
Friendly criticisms of this warm, charming, beautiful book that is absolutely brilliant at showing us how it is for our babies and young children, creating empathy, and at doing that with gentle humour and without demonising parents.
Taking Children Seriously is a new VIEW of children—a non-paternalistic view: children do not actually need to be controlled for their own good. An Oxford Karl Popper Society talk.
The survey showed that favouring coercion over any one issue is not a good predictor of favouring coercion over any other issue, even an issue that the majority considers more important. The fact that so many parents believe that so many others have got their priorities the wrong way round is very hard to explain in the conventional terms of ‘strict’ vs. ‘lenient’ enforcement of a larger or smaller core of objectively important things. Most of us can see quite easily the irrationality of many other people’s justifications for coercing children. But it is in the nature of irrationality that we cannot see our own.
The current advice to parents about bedwetting is nowhere near as bad as the advice of the past, but just in case, here are some things not to do.
Bed-making with a two year old.
There are always gaps in everyone’s knowledge. The important thing is whether or not the person is able to (later) learn what they need to know when they need to know it.
Most home educators in Britain favour autonomous curiosity-driven learning, vs formal homeschooling.
In your desire to become a better parent, don’t forget to have fun with your son. Enjoy life with him now, don’t wait until you reach the state of perfection you imagine a Taking Children Seriously person should have reached. Forget it—try to laugh together. Including at yourselves. Taking Children Seriously should always add to your life, not detract from it!
A satirical piece.
A teenager’s message about the utter boredom of school.
Is a snapshot a matter of fulfilling your expectations or is it a picture of one moment in time?
Is this easy? It’s about as easy as it was for humans to get to the moon for the first time ever. But the way to get to the moon isn’t just to wait for things to get in the way and then work round them one by one (although, that’s important too): it’s by building a spaceship and making it work.
Finding consensual solutions to problems sounds good to me. That’s exactly what we try to do around here, figuring out what each of us is wantin’ and how to get it, without stompin’ on anyone else’s toes in the process. That is the focus, preferences, and finding the ones we all like. The part about avoiding others’ toes is where the morality comes in, I guess.
Rather than shutting the door for fear of coercing, rather than waiting for the kids to ask for help, sometimes it’s better to find new good ways of helping and offer them with generous enthusiasm.
Even when grandparents visit, pulling the door closed on a child’s room and protecting their privacy is the child’s right. Your child and their friends will happily disappear into that room—they don’t care about the mess. They don’t see it; they only see the cool stuff and the wonderful possibilities.
A rule imposed on someone for the purpose of helping them to feel secure, is ludicrous. If I expressly don’t want something, yet it is imposed upon me anyway, how does that help me to feel secure? The opposite is the case.
When medical disaster strikes, as sometimes it still does, children can show the most amazing courage imaginable. People from the future are like that.
Three examples of explicitly coercive and implicitly coercive approaches, and Taking Children Seriously approaches to sample problems. Each scenario is also followed by a list of possible solutions as well as some suggestions on how one might prepare for solving such problems in the future.
Sometimes life can be challenging for toddlers even if we are doing our best to take them seriously.
Wherever we are on the scale of moral evolution today, we can always go up a rung tomorrow. Unless we prefer to turn away from growth and start claiming there are no more rungs, of course.
If your young children are curious explorers who like taking things apart, find more things for them to take apart. Embrace their interest.
Parents interpret unwanted behaviour of their young children as an ‘ill effect’. Not because the parent is stupid or malevolent, but because all observation is theory laden, and because causation cannot be observed.
One of the reasons terminology sometimes looms large in Taking Children Seriously discussions is that prevailing terminology systematically (and pathologically) glosses over the most important distinctions—not in concepts, but in reality!—that we want to make.
Anyone who is interested in learning those subjects learns what ‘expressed’ and ‘executed’ mean without conscious effort. No sweating over the nuances of a definition is ever involved. What one does is start with any commonsense, flawed conception of ‘expressed’ or ‘executed’, and then one refines that conception in parallel with learning the theory.
The great thing about cleaning as you go along instead of at certain times or on certain days, is that the standards are set by your feelings which are informed by your theories. Because it occurs naturally and automatically you don’t worry in between tidyings. Your mind becomes freed-up to worry about things that are more important to you.
Some ideas to reduce the feeling of burden around housework.
Brilliant ideas for those who find housework a burden.
People surprisingly often say they were taken seriously as children, and that they wish their parents had been conventional coercionist parents instead. But as soon as we get into the details, it is very obvious that their idea of taking children seriously is not taking children seriously.
What a moral person would do, and want, depends, among other things, on what he believes the rights of the various people concerned are. And the consistency of this moral background, helps the parties to interact with each other non-coercively.
If something shouldn’t be illegal because it’s wrong to force people to comply with the moral theory without agreeing with it, then it’s wrong to force one’s own children to comply with it.
Protecting children should be done non-coercively.
If a superficially generous act is done for the purpose of modelling, it is not being done out of generosity at all. There is no realistic chance of an onlooker becoming generous as a result of watching such a charade. If anything of it is passed on at all, it will be the parent’s actual motivation (to tell improving lies to children), not the purported one. What is the point of propagating the idea that generosity is a chore but in front of children one must grit one’s teeth and act out the semblance?
You don’t have to be infallible or perfect to improve things. That is what excites me about Taking Children Seriously. You don’t have to get everything right! You don’t have to start out right and have unlimited this, that, or the other, all you have to do is to try to set things up in such a way that what is wrong can be altered, and that what is good can be made even better. Taking Children Seriously doesn’t mean attempting to create a problem-free state, it means having fun solve problems rather than being stuck. Happiness is not being without problems, it is being in the process of solving your problems.
A discussion about Karl Popper’s epistemology, reason, the growth of knowledge, relativism and certainty.
Whatever argument you apply to adults about refusing medical treatment should apply to children too.
Taking Children Seriously is one of those types of knowledge that cannot be taken back—once understood, it constitutes a true paradigm shift within the individual mind.
Parents often expect a solution to be found from within a small set of parent-approved options, and then they dislike what the child does, and think that that means (more) coercion is necessary.
A 2001 take on taking children seriously.
Parents sometimes imagine that phrasing a command as a question will somehow make it more palatable for the child, but it doesn’t.
The unexpected benefits for ourselves in our own minds, of taking our children seriously.
Many fun activities suggested to entertain and delight very young pre-verbal children.
Stealing from a child might influence the child to steal. And yet parents steal their children’s property in the name of preventing them from being under bad influences.
Parents sometimes confuse reality with fantasy, and then coerce their children accordingly.
Practical suggestions about a child not wanting to wear a prescribed eyepatch.
A child is angry for a reason. They may not know what that reason is; they may not want to say what it is, but there is a reason. Parents can be a child’s best helper in figuring out good ways to solve the problem.
The point of Taking Children Seriously of course is not to have the children “rule” the parents—but it is unavoidable that that is how it will be seen from the worldview of an authoritarian society. To an authoritarian worldview, the question is not “is there an authority in this situation” but “who is the authority in this situation.” In any situation where there is no authority, one will be invented or imagined.
You are under coercion if and only if you have two or more incompatible wants and are acting on one of them (e.g. currently eating health food and not junk food) while another is active (there is a wanting-junk-food process currently under way in your brain).
In case anyone has never raised a child without a series of routines, let me assure you, it is possible, and the child doesn’t mind at all. 😉 Again, I say a child does not “need” routines, but the parent may think they do. The easy way to determine whether a child prefers the routines is to ask them.
In a medical emergency do whatever you have to do to save the person’s life.
Grandma should be persuaded to put precious items away when being visited by toddlers. It is just too much to expect toddlers not to be curious if such things are in front of their noses and it is not good for them to be constantly being discouraged from playing with something. Grandma really should put such items away.
Adults are generally not so vulnerable as children are—they have a wider perspective, much more power and general independence, and they are rarely as psychologically dependent as children are, and not in the same way.
Can one be taking children seriously if one defines ‘a good relationship’ in a way that is independent of how the children feel about it at the time?
Chores policing is a common source of misery for the whole family. When you stop doing that, you may be surprised to learn how much your children hated the chores you made them do.
Drop the scrutinising and instead solve the problem in front of you in this moment.
Some ideas for sleep-deprived burnt out parents of babies who do not sleep.
Lots of practical ideas for sleep-deprived parents whose young child is wide awake 24/7 (or so it seems!), and who do not want to resort to coercing their child.
Sometimes it takes courage to risk confrontation with a coercionist adult to avoid risking coercing our beloved child. But seeing the wider perspective can help.
How the word ‘respect’ led this parent to Taking Children Seriously
Coercion tends to cause a coerced state of mind, and can impair the child’s ability to reason about the thing in question.
It can take a little time for breastfeeding to stop being painful, but that is just the breaking-in period, like breaking in a new pair of hiking boots.
If a child seems worried, try to find out what the worry is, so that you can address it as directly as possible.
None of the reasons why enforcing “clear borders” is good for coerced children carry over in any way to children who are in consensual relationships with their parents. On the contrary, enforcing fixed borders and bottom lines is irrational and coercive, and sabotages the very means by which such children remain happy.
When a toddler hits a parent, should the parent communicate their honest reaction, whether it be showing hurt if they’ve been hurt, or any emotional response, such as feeling anger or sadness?
Protecting the victim should not involve intentionally punishing the aggressor, either physically or by even frowning at the aggressor.
When I go to other people’s houses, I try to abide by their wishes in respect of their property and so on. I try to make my visit add to their lives rather than detract from them. I try to be sensitive and (to the extent that I think they will want this) helpful in a non-intrusive way. We all want to do the right thing, including our children.
What if the thing that the child wants to risk is specifically a matter of not being able to easily get out of the situation? What if Jane wants to go pack-packing in the wilderness without a phone or radio? What if she does not want an escape route?
Taking children seriously means taking a child’s wish/decision to go to school seriously too.
Lots of things ‘suck’ for most people, but very few things suck for everyone. People are very, very different, and there is a danger in just assuming that a child is acting out of desperation when in fact they are quite healthily pursuing their own ends. The danger is that one will then, in effect, be refusing to help them pursue these ends, and, in effect, start to undermine them by constantly seeking alternatives and constantly acting on the assumption that there must be something wrong with them, or with the alternatives that you are providing for them, if they persist in wanting this.
Pretending that the road to improvement lies in receiving punishment, or in exposing one’s life to public scrutiny so that one won’t dare do the wrong thing is just horrible. A grave mistake. It really can’t help, and for the same reason doing that to children can’t help, only hinders their improvement.
How the future of a child not forced to study mathematics might look.
When you have decided that it is fundamentally unkind to coerce people, but an authority figure is pressuring you to coerce your child, calmly say ‘sorry but I don’t agree with your fundamental assumptions’.’ All you need to concentrate on is that this is a difference in fundamental assumptions. Both the authority figure and you want what is best, and are trying to be kind. You just see things differently, because you view children differently.
How to handle other parents expecting you to coerce their children when their children are visiting your home.
It may be tempting to try to stop children putting themselves in situations you think might be coercive, like school, but adding coercion is a mistake, and you may be overestimating the potential damage that might be done to a child who has your full support.
Innocence, properly conceived, is a positive attribute. It is the ignorance that comes from a voluntary decision not to engage (or not to engage yet) with a particular area of complex knowledge. Innocence in that sense is essential for all genuine learning. Compulsory teaching is the destruction of innocence, forcing the victims to waste the opportunity, which comes only once in each lifetime, to encounter that knowledge for the first time.
Like many parents new to these ideas, Brooke was initially shocked by Taking Children Seriously, but two years in, much has changed. This is her story.
How things can go better if we adopt a Taking Children Seriously approach, and what that means in practice.
We all feel angry sometimes, but we should take great care not to act out the accompanying impulse to blame, shame, hurt or threaten the other person. We can admit to our child that we feel angry and try to make sure that the child knows that this is a fault in us and not in the child. It is vital not to make our child feel responsible for our anger. It is our own stuff, not caused by them, no matter how it seems to us in that moment.
Taking children seriously means taking their ownership of their property seriously too.
For any human being who is not actually facing death by starvation or the firing squad, the hardest thing in life is not getting what you want—far from it—it is finding out (or rather, creating) what you want. That is what we deprive children of when we channel them into ‘keeping their options open’. It looks as though they are keeping their options open, but at each stage they are actually presented with only one option—the option where you do the standardized thing: something you can do without being human, by sacrificing the human part of yourself, the individual part.
When your view suddenly shifts, like when viewing the Gestalt two-face image, it can feel as if Taking Children Seriously has suddenly come into focus—and this paradigm shift creates a virtuous circle of positive change.
Wherever there is coercion, lies follow as certainly as night follows day. That is why, in our society, children lie all the time and the parents tell them that lying is bad and punish them for it, even though the parents themselves lie all the time too and know that it is not true that it is always wrong to lie. Not only do parents lie all the time to their children, they often punish their children for not lying.
The experience of someone new to Taking Children Seriously, from first scepticism to later taking their children seriously.
The dentist needs to know that when our child is having dental work done, if the child raises their hand, the dentist must pause immediately. It is the child’s consent that matters, not the parent’s. The child must be in charge. If it does not seem as though they are to them, then they are not in charge. If they do not have control over the inside of their own mouth, what do they control? Your duty as a parent is to enforce that control come what may.
A critical review of books aimed at parents.
Overt coercion is less likely to corrupt children’s interpretation of what is happening to them. But given that part of our self respect as parents taking our children seriously comes from being non-coercive, it might well be that the coercion we inadvertently engage in is interpretation-corrupting double binds. So we need to be particularly aware of the subtle mind-messing forms of coercion.
The ideas that have been around for a long time have not survived because they are the best at helping their holders survive or prosper. They have survived because they are successful at getting themselves replicated.
Enacting an anti-rational meme causes other people (typically one’s children) to lose the ability to think critically about the behaviour in question, and to become unable to refrain from enacting the meme themselves.
Unfortunately it is not true that children taken seriously are good at identifying coercion (except perhaps overt coercion).
Parents value consistency in themselves but when their children are consistent, the parents call them ‘stubborn’ or ‘strong-willed’.
Being ‘nice’ with the ulterior motive of in effect forcing the children to do what you want them to do, such as help with the housework, is very common. Coercion does not always appear overtly nasty.
Sometimes there can be coercive pressure on our children to help us do cleaning and tidying, for example by making our children responsible for our wellbeing.
Parents do not “need to be advised to manipulate their children with guilt, implied threats, and bribes”—they do this anyway. But they do need to be reassured that it is OK, and therefore that it is OK for them progressively to expunge the opposite impulses from their minds.
Many ‘limits’ work mainly because the parent is bigger physically and can stop the child from leaving, or going outside, or they can keep the child from eating dinner until the child follows their commands. Once the child becomes a teenager, then the parent has to resort to other ways to ‘control’ the child. It’s a vicious cycle and then by the time your child is an adult and leaves home they probably want nothing to do with you.
Most parenting books purport to be about how to be a nice parent instead of a nasty one, but under the surface veneer we find the same old rubbish about how to make children do what you want them to do: they do not take children seriously as full people whose lives are their own.
Changing the word ‘child’ to ‘wife’ and ‘parent’ to ‘husband’ highlights the reality of what is being advocated and the paternalism in the conventional view of children.
Time out against someone’s will is nothing like a freely-chosen relaxing time out, and it is dishonest to use one term for the two opposite things.
How do real-life parents gracefully navigate housework and chores in a home that seems endlessly messy or disorganised?
Unless taught (a lesson) children will never learn?
It can be a big step forward to get that kids want to be responsible, contributing, loving people and that trying to push them in that direction is more likely to derail that than help it.
John Holt was so critical of school that sometimes he appeared to suggest that even children who want to go to school should not do so.
Video games are good because in order to succeed one must solve problems. The problems to solve are as widely varied as the videos are fun. In other words, every bit of fun in them represents a new problem to solve.
Encouraging children fully express their big emotions does not solve the problem and may well be intrusive. Children’s inner lives are private. The idea that merely getting the emotion out solves the problem is a mistake. Problems are soluble, and it is fun to do so. Part of why children have these big emotions is that they are not being taken seriously and problems are not actually getting solved.
How do you handle the issue of your children or partner swearing/cursing?
Life is not black and white, but rules are. Punishments try to make the world fit into the categories of black and white but kids judge that there are greys anyway.So we help our children learn about those greys instead of just ignoring them they way many parents do. Iit leads to safer children.
Taking Children Seriously is neither utopian nor revolutionary. It is fallibilist and respects tradition as well as the growth of knowledge.
Why schools like Summerhill and Sudbury Valley can’t actually be non-coercive.
In a family it is just about possible to reach an agreement that all the family members are happy with, with maybe five people. In a school there are hundreds of pupils to satisfy, and it becomes totally impractical. So their democratic model is no more than a method of deciding who is going to be coerced. It is not a way of finding real solutions.
Can there be such a thing as a non-coercive school? The existing institution that comes closest to a non-coercive school is the entire town (or city, or society, or internet) that the children have access to, including their homes, and their friends’ homes, and excluding only the existing schools.
Taking Children Seriously means different things to different people. Consent is very important in our relationships, including with our children.
The difference between taking children seriously and merely loving them or caring about them, resides in whose concerns about the children’s well-being take precedence: the children’s or the adults’. Conventional wisdom tries to blur this distinction by portraying children’s concerns as somehow less valid or less significant than those of adults.
How would you feel if your partner took it upon himself to ‘protect’ you from something you do not want to be protected from, or he rode roughshod over your wishes with respect to the protection he was offering? It is dishonest to call something ‘protection’ when it is against the will of the person being protected. It is a parent’s responsibility to protect children from harm as perceived by the child.
What makes housework so grim is not the time it takes—it takes little time and can be done while conversing, listening to stuff, etc.—but all the other stuff—the resentment, the coercion, the battling, the idea that if you didn’t make the mess, you shouldn’t clean it up. Stop thinking in terms of trying to get others to do what you want them to do, and you will find that housework is not a problem.
A comment by the then Governor of Oklahoma.
When children know that if their parents deem them to be watching too much TV, their parents will ban TV-watching, they self-coercively limit their watching out of fear of losing it altogether.
Old ruts run pretty deep, and we fall into them when we are not paying attention. The bright side is, we have a better idea about how to climb out again.
Every Education Act since 1870 has clearly intended to place upon parents a substantive duty to educate their children. Therefore, if it were ever found that some legal loophole made that duty vacuous or unenforceable, Parliament would rush to plug the loophole.
When one child hurts another, forget about trying to establish the motivation. The truth is likely to be either that it was an accident, or that it was caused indirectly by coercion on our part, so any asking the child about his motives is likely to cause yet more coercion.
We parents often think we have a good reason not to take our child seriously, but when our actions are not consistent with our seemingly good reason, what is really going on?
How a clean freak mother strongly upheld her son’s right to remain messy, and how being taken seriously in that respect has informed this writer’s approach with his own child.
Beginning to think about taking children seriously brings up many hitherto hidden problems. We are all in the same boat. No one has ‘arrived’.
Even the junkiest of junk television can be superbly educational—by sparking questions and enjoyable conversations.
The homeschooling mentality turns education into performance—the semblance of education. This interferes with learning.
We believe that it possible for human beings, through conjecture, reason and criticism, to come to know and understand truths about the world, including truths about the human condition and about specific people, and including truths about matters that are not experimentally testable. We do not believe that we possess the final truth about any of these matters, but we do believe that our successive theories can become objectively truer—with more true implications and fewer errors.
Parents often believe that their financial support and other services for their children morally obliges the children to provide certain services in return. But there is no justification for that belief. It is just a rationalisation of the traditional status quo between parent and child. The truth is that there is a moral asymmetry between parent and child: in the event of an intractable dispute between them, the parent chose to place the child in the situation that caused the dispute; the child did not choose to place the parent there.
Learning is different from looking at one’s learning. Objectifying education as a thing to look at and judge interferes with learning.
Whenever parents try to stop being in charge of stuff, and stop doling out looks or latitude, life with the kids gets easier and more rewarding.
Videogame players are learning not just knowledge of the overt subject-matter of the game, but inexplicit knowledge that applies in all creativity in the world. In a way, they are (mainly inexplicitly) learning how the universe works.
A blindspot is a blocked area of thinking that one is unaware is blocked. Unless one identifies a blind spot, it is likely to remain blocked, preventing problems being solved in that area.
Children’s behaviour is not random. It is meaningful. Therefore there was a reason for this incident.
The assumption that there are things all children must know provides the justification for the provision of standard academic subjects and their non-curricular counterparts. As soon as a child is expected to devote time and attention to those, there is coercion.
In this heyday of scientism, all sorts of experiments are performed to back up every conceivable view of education, and people simply cite the ones that confirm their prior beliefs and ignore the rest. Hence they are asking other people to abandon their opinions in deference to a type of ‘evidence’ which they themselves would (quite rightly) not pay a moment’s attention to if it had gone the other way.
Parents call punishments ‘natural consequences’ when they are unwilling to accept responsibility for the unhappiness that is being caused, but accepting responsibility may be a necessary step to solving such problems.
Solving the problem of finding cloning and tidying a miserable burden.
If a child wants to go to school, we support that decision, and we ensure that our child can always leave or contact us without notice.
One family’s experience with the Local Education Authority is no guide to how it will be for a different family.
So-called ‘natural consequences’ are a strategy for coercively controlling children while pretending not to be responsible for and intentionally imposing the coercion.
This author has some good criticisms of overt coercion but spends about 200 pages advocating more covert coercion. Not Taking Children Seriously.
When a child wants us to buy something we find morally objectionable, we have to remember that it is our child buying it, not us. You have no jurisdiction over your children. What they do can’t be morally wrong for you.
If a person thinks they have no blind spots, then they have at least one.
When you find yourself feeling bad for no apparent reason, or even seemingly for a reason, there may be a blind spot.
When one is the victim of a great injustice, there is a tremendous temptation to define oneself, and one’s life, at least partly in terms of this injustice. The victim mentality is a terrible mistake because it sabotages the vital process of learning how to have a happy life, solving problems as you go along.
Blindspots are challenging to identify, by their very nature. You don’t see what you don’t see. But asking friends to help you identify them can be very liberating, because their effects are wide.
We all have blind spots. We all delude ourselves. This is especially common when it comes to parenting, because of all the antirational memes operating in this sphere.
If you reframe the child not wanting to do what you want them to do, by imagining how you would react if the child were unwell, that can help us identify coercion.
Those who believe the conflict-of-interest theory alleging that problems are not soluble will always be puzzled when they find a situation that looks like an inherent conflict of interest but turns out not to be, as commonly happens when people start taking their children seriously.
Housework is not intrinsically interesting, but because it is so repetitive and mindless, it allows us to focus on more interesting things, and that is pleasurable and valuable.
As Karl Popper said, “our own free world is by far the best society which has come into existence during the course of human history.”
Learning science could include conversations, reading, thinking. It might or might not include experiments. Experiments are tests of theories—so first you need a theory to test. Theoretical physicists do no experiments at all. They think. The same could be true of a child.
What non-coercive, curiosity-driven mathematics education looks like in real life.
What distinguishes families taking children seriously from those in which the parents favour coercion, and why compulsory school is necessarily coercive.
The casual disrespect shown to children by adults is really rather horrid.
Noticing the differences between tone of voice we find acceptable with our children vs with other people, or thinking about how our tone of voice might look to a third party, can be eye-opening.
How scientism allows one to escape from the merely human arena of morality with a single bound. Parents’ disputes with their children are over a moral issue—what they should do, or what should be done to them. While professionals may have some expertise over factual issues, that does not entitle them to pose as authorities on the moral issue. To assume that it does is anti-rational. It is scientism.
Children are not a means to our ends, they are an autonomous source of ends—their own ends.
Biting children to deter them from biting—like hitting children to deter them from hitting?
Kohn has a gut feeling that behaviourist dog training techniques are bad, and he is quite right about that. But he has no explanation of why they are and how they are. All he has is (worthless) ‘evidence’ that they are.
Punished by Rewards presents an argument based on empirical research.
David Deutsch explains why he says that he could not be very productive without also being untidy.
It is a mistake to seek evidence of children’s learning, because that can have a significant destructive effect upon the learning that is going on. They are then highly likely to switch from addressing the problem they were addressing, to the new problem the teacher has introduced, of how to perform and provide evidence for the teacher.
An Objectivist reevaluates Karl Popper after discussions with Popperian people taking children seriously.
How a post on misc.kids (a newsgroup) led to this parent exploring Taking Children Seriously.
Children have to do what they themselves think is right, with no pressure whatsoever—that’s what non-coercion amounts to—but they also have a right to be told morality as best we see it.
Discussion of the word ‘coercion’. The idea is not: “We want to be non-coercive. Now let’s consider what that means.” Nevertheless, there used to be a lot of argument about how we use the word here.
Karl Popper’s theory prevails because it solves problems other theories of the growth of knowledge fail to solve, it is a better explanation than its rivals, and it unifies ideas previously thought to be unconnected.
Once one begins to see how extremely general this notion of conjecture and refutation is, then it begins to seem much more likely that learning always follows that pattern.
Focusing on the coercion of others may seem easier than focusing on our own, but it can be about not wanting to correct our own.
Understanding that knowledge grows through creative conjecture and inner criticism facilitates non-coercive interactions.
The idea that children’s lives are easier than adults’ is pure adult fantasy, as this teenager shows.
Creativity, knowledge, happiness, unhappiness and coercion: how we parents inadvertently kill our children’s creativity.
Creativity is about solving problems, and every single area of life there is involves solving problems. The alcoholic, the drug addict, the person whose relationships are destructive, the person who is unable to support himself—all these people lack creativity in those areas. Coercion causes a lack of creativity. Let’s try not to impede and impair our children’s creativity!
Creativity is not caused by problems, otherwise anyone who had a problem would solve it straight away. The only way to solve problems is through a creative rational process.
Sometimes you can explain in terms of your experience; but not when it comes to drinking bleach, presumably!
Explaining dangers is much safer than just forbidding access to them.
Getting children to ‘agree’ to TV limits is coercive, and pretending that it is non-coercive.
One of our best theories (the framework theory of evolution) is not scientific, but that it is none the worse for that. And all scientific theories rely on a philosophical framework.
Saying “Sand is not for throwing” is a euphemism for “I have made the rule that you may not throw sand, and I am going to enforce it.” This euphemistic construction is ubiquitous: “Food is not for throwing” (“I have made the rule that you may not throw food, and I am going to enforce it.”); “Hitting is not appropriate,” (“I have made the rule that you may not hit, and I am going to enforce it.”).
Children’s lives are their own, and they are far more competent than many parents think they are.
Expressions of approval are inherently manipulative the approval is designed to manipulate the child into meeting your own standard.
No sample can be large enough to control for all the variables in any experiment involving human psychology, because the variables include the ideas in people’s minds, and he number of possible ideas that a single mind could hold is far greater than the number of people on Earth.
Children are not born knowing the truth, so we should tell children our best theories, explain why we advocate certain forms of behaviour and not others, and try to persuade them through reason of the truth of our own ideas, but not coerce, manipulate or in any way pressurise them into enacting our theories. For our theories may be false: even becoming a parent does not confer infallibility upon us!
I and others believe that coercing children is harmful to them. We also believe that not coercing children is a desirable and possible lifestyle which also is nice for the parents. Please tell me how these views might be altered by correctly taking into account who my house belongs to.
Assuming your children have interests different from yours, are they going to be able to follow those interests, or not?
Imagine if your husband denied you dinner because you had not yet completed the chores he had decided you must do before dinner…
Parents are always saying, “It would just be easier to do it myself.” But then they don’t “do it themselves”. They don’t do it themselves because they feel an obligation to instil a moral lesson in their kids, namely, that they should keep things up to a certain standard (usually the parents’ unnegotiated standard).
Lighten up about babies watching TV! 🙂 Trust yourself, and trust your baby. You can’t plan for every eventuality, so enjoy things as they come to you.
The natural consequence of breaking something is that you have a broken thing. What happens after that is something someone or other decides. Describing making the child pay as a ‘natural consequence’ is at best misleading.
Non-coercion is a necessary but not sufficient condition. We have to be working together to find real solutions to problems, not merely avoiding forcing our views on each other.
Real-life examples may seem important, but parents invariably respond by saying that that would not work in their case.
Coercion is stressful because it conflicts with most people’s wider ideas about morality, human relationships, and how to run a society, etc. Unless one mentions children or parenting, everyone agrees that consent-based solutions are better that coercion every time. That theory is held on some level by most people. They just suppress it in their parenting.
How does the alleged parent’ right of authority justify behaviours we would in other circumstances regard as barbaric, immoral, or at the very least unpleasant?
Popper’s work provides an epistemological critique of the teacher-directed learning model, although it appears that Popper himself never made this connection.
Herbert Spencer argued that children have equal rights with adults. In his Social Statics, written in 1850, Spencer boldly states that every child “has claims to freedom—rights, as we call them—coextensive with those of the adult.”
There are conventions which work in favour of children as well as ones which work against them. The problem is, they are all part of the wider convention of not taking children seriously.
We are always dealing with our theories of what is happening, never something more ‘pure’. ‘Observed behaviour’ is shorthand for ‘our theories of observed behaviour’. All observation is theory-laden. Sometimes theories’ apparent failures in empirical tests are no such thing—we just made a mistake. Science does not have any special status.
There is no point demanding testability of an educational theory. What one can do with philosophical theories, is refute them by argument. Empirical testing is just one of a number of types of intersubjective criticism, and the vast majority of all criticism is by argument, even in science. Most scientific theories are refuted before they even get to the stage of empirical testing.
One of the common responses to coercion is to lose interest—to no longer care—about the thing you previously cared about but were coerced out of or whatever. That is not really surprising if you think about it. That was the whole point of the coercion. To force the child to no longer value that thing. In order to not feel distress, the child has to change her values, to not value that thing any more. This is a change for the worse, by her own standards.
In their anxiety about dirty hair, parents often forcibly wash their children’s hair or try to get them to allow shampoo on their hair. Bathtime then becomes a battle instead of fun, the child feeling as frantic to maintain control over what happens to them as you or I might in a similar situation. Exerting more coercive control over the child is a recipe for disaster.
There is a difference between sitting on a chair to relax, and enforced sitting on a chair. Or is being strapped in the electric chair also not a punishment?
What if [insert feared disastrous outcome here] happens as a result of taking my children seriously instead of coercing them?
Obeying, including ‘cooperating’ that is not wholeheartedly chosen with perfect freedom to choose otherwise, is violating one’s own standards.
Confusing non-coercive play with actual coercion leads to coercion.
When, despite having had the benefit of our best arguments, our children don’t agree, that is when we should start questioning our own arguments, not just assuming it is the child’s that is wrong.
What children learn from soap operas is how to live in our culture. Parents naturally want their children to rise above the culture—to reject its false ideas, if you like—but to do that, one has to start from the culture one is in, and improve it. There is no way of jumping to a better set of ideas without first criticising the existing ideas. The growth of knowledge begins with existing theories.
Suppose you suddenly found yourself in the body of a twelve-year-old child. Suppose that despite this physical transformation, your personality, your knowledge and every other aspect of your mind remained unchanged. How might this affect your life? This was the theme of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (entitled Rascals).
A Brit argues that an episode of The Simpsons is a moving classic of American culture.
How you think people learn informs all your interactions with your children. If you view learning as a creative act in a critical-rational process, you will value highly the idea of consent in decision-making. If you believe people learn through divine revelation or by having knowledge poured into them, that will inform your interactions in a different way from if you think that they learn though conjectures and refutations: you may well think coercion necessary.
Sometimes it is really the parents causing the problem, so maybe the punishment is being misdirected?!
If parents don’t “do something”, like impose a penalty or bribe to change their child’s behaviour, will the child continue hitting forever? No!
When a child doesn’t want to hear what the adult wants to say, the idea that the child has a responsibility to listen whether they like it or not is a mistake.
When people ask about a child staying at a friend’s house with no parents, do they want not only to know how they might handle it, but why that way, and why not the conventional way. Those whys are philosophy—ideas. That is why we get philosophical.
It is not just children: we take our other loved ones and everyone else seriously too.
The Unschoolers’ ‘child-led to directed’ continuum does not distinguish between ‘child-led’ and neglect (which is coercive), and it also does not distinguish between what some unschoolers categorise as ‘directed’, but which is non-coercive—lots of welcome suggestions by the parent.
An article written in the early days of the internet.
What if our whole policy of maximising our children’s welfare is mistaken? We parents cannot maximise our children’s welfare without modifying our ideas and practices when they seem mistaken.
Adults tend to hold entrenched, irrational ideas, which no amount of reason on the child’s part will shift.
The idea that children taken seriously would ever want to be coerced is absurd. Coercion only looks good from the miserable mire of coercion.
Learning involves changing preferences. Resolving disagreements involves changing preferences. People’s preferences are not fixed: they naturally change all the time. Problems are soluble!
A lack of forcefulness is not a negative characteristic unless you find yourself sacrificing your own desires. You respect your children and take their desires seriously. You need to be sure to respect yourself and your own desires as well.
The rewards of taking children seriously far outweigh any difficulty and it does get easier over time.
The societal pressure on parents to control and coerce their children can be immense.
The lazy person’s approach is coercing children into reluctant compliance, as opposed to taking the time to see to it that all parties are satisfied with the outcome of every interaction.
Bad attitudes typically arise from bad situations. And if the situations change, the attitudes usually can and do as well. Children naturally tend to have very good attitudes when they are being taken seriously.
Parents demand practical examples, and then indignantly reject them saying “every child is different!” and “that would never work with MY child!” So why demand them in the first place?!
Taking children seriously is such a joy compared to the constant battle or successfully suppressed children of conventional parenting.
A discussion about the rightness of coercing other creative rational beings.
American children should be prepared for the playmate who reaches into his parents’ drawer and comes out with a loaded gun
Reason keeps a child safe because the child has the correct theory (that the stuff is dangerous); coercion is risky because the child’s theory is not based on the reality of the substance, but upon the possible punishment for an infringement of the parental rule.
All choices restrict future choices. The real question is whether one is learning and growing through one’s own free choice, or not.
The ‘tantrum’ is a response to the treatment of the child. Ignoring the child in this circumstance simply reinforces the child’s notion that the parent is not listening to her legitimate objections to being treated as a mere object of parental attention, as opposed to a sentient subject with wishes and feeling of her own.
People’s notion that young children are irrational or that teenagers are obnoxious colours their view of what is happening in reality. They see irrationality/awfulness where none exists.
Any differences in reasoning you may think there are, are an artefact of the differences in knowledge, not any actual differences in reasoning.
The ‘Don’t children prefer strict rules so they know where they stand’ argument is based on an equivocation between two meanings of the word ‘strict’, namely (1) harsh, coercive, and (2) well-defined, precise. People do like to know the rules under which they are living, i.e. they want strict(2) rules. But they do not like getting hurt, so they do not want strict(1) rules.
If you are using language decently you do not use the word ‘rights’ for things that are compulsory for the person. Rights are supposed to be something we want, not something we don’t want.
Using love as leverage to double-bind children to obey—threatening to withdraw the relationship—is wrong. Children have a right to our love.
The first priority should be to protect the victim!
Traditional education can be looked at a massive, standardized operation aiming to stuff the allegedly passive bucket minds of children.
An argument that the mere fact that something is legal does not make it right or best. Many different things are perfectly legal; not all of them are good.
Does financial supporting our children mean they must obey us? Is it right to expect quid pro quo for our support?
Sense perceptions—physical sensations—DEPEND—on a rather low level—on how one is thinking about them. Observation is theory-laden.
What I (NOT A LAWYER) would do if we received a visit from a social worker, CPS, education welfare officer or other state official who might be in a position to take my children away against their will.
Ideas of what constitutes taking children seriously are open to criticism and revision in the light of new knowledge. I am under no illusion that my ideas are The Final Truth.
Many have suggested that my use of the word ‘coercion’ is non-standard and that I should find another word, but I think that is the quest for a euphemism. People don’t like using a harsh word for something they think is morally right. But if you prefer, use the word ‘manipulation’ instead—as long as it is clear that manipulating children is not taking them seriously either.
If I disagree with the substantive theory assumed by your word choice, you can’t expect me to build that substantive theory into my language, because if I were to, I would be being forced to lie or contradict myself every time I use your term.
Why it is a mistake to think that you are seeing evidence that reason only develops later in childhood.
When I criticise parental coercion, parents sometimes complain that I am violating parents’ rights—the right to interact with their children according to their own conscience. Children too should be free to act according to their own conscience.
If children are not made to write essays, will they ever learn? Does the hoped-for end result justify the coercion? An argument with a coercionist college professor.
There is nothing in the statement “I am fallible” that prevents me from being right some of the time or even all the time, or on any particular occasion of taking into account the fact that I may be right.
Any rational system has virtually no knowledge compared with what is possible. The whole point of rationality is what to do in the face of ignorance. It is not what to do when one already knows everything.
The Faber/Mazlish How To Talk So Kids Will Listen books are not taking children seriously: they advocate double-binding and lying to children to manipulate them into going along with the parent’s agenda that is independent of and impervious to the child’s own wishes.
The problem is that when coercion is used, it really doesn’t matter whether your reasons make sense, or whether the task is the right thing to do. They have to do it regardless. It precisely blocks their thinking in that area.
Having pessimistic educational theories like ‘not everything that is useful is (in itself) interesting’ suggests there are things children need to learn that they will not willingly choose to learn, therefore educational coercion is necessary. That is a mistake. Educational coercion impedes and impairs learning. It does not help.
My re-wordings of what people say about a child, usually to make it about an adult, but in this case making it about learning to breathe instead of whatever the poster was saying children need to learn, aims to show the reality of what is being proposed.”
Instruction is usually not a very good way of learning things, because it does not address the immediate moment-by-moment concerns and questions of the learner.
Whilst being non-coercive can be inconvenient, it is no more inconvenient than being coercive. A child taken seriously has no reason to see adults as adversaries.
It is educational coercion that sabotages learning, not teaching per se. WANTED teaching is different from unwanted teaching.
Unschooling or home educating parents often draw distinctions between what they are doing versus what a school teacher or homeschooling parent would do, but I often see little difference between schoolish educational coercion and what they themselves advocate. There is a pedagogical agenda in both cases.
We parents delude ourselves that we are doing the right thing, viewing our coercion as ‘necessary’ or ‘unavoidable’.
The primary function of teachers is to hold innocent people against their will (in other contexts known as “imprisonment without trial”), to force them to do things they don’t want to do, to stop them doing things they do want to do, and to “train” (coerce) them to conform.
Most people hate school but do not feel entitled to say so, and many can’t bear to think about it so they hardly even know how they feel. Children are not the problem: coercion is the problem. Being forced to go to school is the problem.
The standards used to judge legal competence differ when it comes to children. How could the law take children more seriously without disastrous consequences?
Television is a wonderfully educational medium. How can anyone possibly compare the richness of television with workbooks, let alone compare it unfavourably?
You may think you are helping your child learn when you answer your child’s burning question pedagogically, with a question, such as ‘What do you think?’ or ‘How might we find the answer to that?’, but it is more likely to annoy them so much they avoid asking you questions in future.
Never stop reading to your children. I remember not wanting to read to my mother even when I could, in case she stopped reading to me. Being read to is one of life’s great pleasures we can all enjoy, even as adults.
In the UK, at least thirty per cent of school leavers (age sixteen) are functionally illiterate. Taking a wider view of schools’ success and failure, I’d say the proportion of children our schools fail is nearer eighty per cent, if you consider how little children learn in schools, and how little love of learning children end up with after eleven years’ schooling.
Showing the meaning of the word ‘coercion’ rather than explaining it. Show don’t tell, as it were.
For every one person who ends up loving music after being coerced to learn an instrument in childhood, there are countless thousands for whom playing an instrument is ruined, for whom playing music will forever be associated in their minds with all that pain and anguish, countless thousands whose ability to play music has been handicapped by such coercion, not helped.
Many unschoolers have a very narrow definition of ‘education’ and hold an incoherent theory in which the putative ill-effects of coercion only apply to areas deemed ‘education’. They range from ‘never offer, never refuse’ (not interventionist enough imo) to having a pedagogical agenda, or in some cases they get their children to do projects.
If adults sometimes make bad decisions just like children to, why treat children differently?
Although Popper is not commonly regarded as a writer on education, in The Open Society, he develops a devastating critique of our academic tradition.
Professor David Deutsch on why he himself values and plays video games, and why the arguments against them are mistaken.
Parents and teachers do far more to oppress children than the laws do, and could perfectly legally desist from most of this oppression if they so chose. There is no legal requirement upon parents to punish their children for a wide range of perfectly legal activities, yet they choose to anyway. There is no legal requirement upon parents to insist that their children live with them, and yet parents whose children seek other guardians usually invoke their legal right to force the children to return. There is no legal requirement to deny children freedom of association, and yet many parents do deny their children that. There is no legal requirement to assault children, yet, in the name of discipline, many parents do so. There is no legal requirement to deny children access to information in the home, yet many parents go to extreme lengths to do so. There is no legal requirement upon parents to subject unwilling children to extra-curricular activities such as piano lessons and Girl Guides. Indeed, there is no legal requirement for parents to force their children to go to school, yet most do.
This 1989 workshop advocated taking children seriously, not just ‘autonomous learning’.