What do you mean by ‘theory’?

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.

What do you mean by ‘problem’?

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.

How will credential-less children survive?

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.

What do you mean by ‘fallible’?

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.

Why do you like IFS but not ‘Self-led parenting’?

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.

What do you mean by ‘coercionist’?

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).

Surely kids need to be forced to learn maths?

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.

The rationalist mistake

Reducing/equating solving interpersonal problems to having explicit discussions is making the rationalist mistake of fetishising the explicit and ignoring everything else.

How can I become more aware of anti-rational parts in my mind?

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.

Why did my mother’s coercive words fly out of my mouth?!

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.

Why do parents coerce their children despite having been through it themselves?

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.

If we should take babies seriously, should we not take pigs seriously too?

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.

Does taking children seriously mean not influencing them?

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.

In what ways is Taking Children Seriously different from simply taking everybody seriously?

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.

What is wrong with loving limits for children?

Adding “loving” to “limits” does not make the limits non-coercive, it just adds confusing mixed messages to the coercion. The parents are coercing the child while acting as though that is not what they are doing. They are pretending that they are not responsible for the distress they are in fact causing.

How do you determine what food to give your children?

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.

How can we express approval when our children do something good without manipulating them by implying that we would disapprove if they had made a different choice?

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?

Is Taking Children Seriously only for the rich?

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.

Surely it is not coercive to have a rule that whenever our child goes out, he must first tell us where he is going and for how long? What about being a responsible parent?!

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.

At what age should children first leave the house on their own, visit their friend next door on their own, go to the cinema on their own, hitchhike from coast to coast on their own, etc.?

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.

Why not say that the policy is non-coercion except on important issues?

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.

What if… ?

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.

Is hiding medicine in your child’s food wrong?

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.

Surely it is necessary to coerce children to avoid them doing unsafe or unethical things?

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.

How can we communicate urgent information to our pre-verbal toddlers?

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.

How do you take babies seriously?

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.

Who am I to criticise someone else?

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.

If criticism is valuable why not be more critical?

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.

Surely criticism is always good?

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.

What if your child wants to drive?

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.

What if my child wants me to help her murder someone?

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.

I’m a vegetarian. What if my child wants to eat meat?

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.

Is coercion always wrong?

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.

What do you have against gentle coercion?

If the coercion is as soft and gentle as you think it is, how is it having its intended effect of forcing the child to obey you? You see the soft gentleness of a velvet glove; your child sees the iron fist inside. It is the iron fist that is doing the work. It is the iron fist that is the underlying reality, the coercive substance under the surface velvet.

Is it necessary to reject authority?

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!

How is a compromise not a real solution?

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.

How can I tell if a proposed solution is a real solution?

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.

If I am not allowed to coerce my child, surely I am being coerced myself?

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.

Surely coercion is ok when the parent is right and the child is wrong?

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.

What do you have against 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.”

Surely children are not born knowing right and wrong?

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.

How is the word ‘parenting’ not taking children seriously?

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.

Children fending for themselves like adults?!

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.

What is Taking Children Seriously?

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.

Why does parenting feel so hard?

What most parents think they need to do as parents—moulding and shaping their children—is an impossible task. No wonder parenting is a nightmare for so many parents! But there is an alternative!

How to read this site

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.