There is a reason a child doesn’t want to wear a coat, and with a bit of creativity and effort it is possible to discover the reason and (dis)solve the problem.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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?”
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.
When there really is no time to ask the person if they want their life saved, we save their life, obviously!
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).
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.
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?
If the ‘research’ alleges that whether you behave morally or immorally, it makes no difference, does that make immoral behaviour unobjectionable?
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.
Having a rule which overrides your reason is at best going to entrench bad habits. How do you know the thing you are forcing yourself (or your child) to do is actually right? If it is right, why can’t you (or your child) feel good about it?
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.
If you think there is a brunt to be borne that is intolerable, what makes you think that it is OK to have a defenceless child bear the brunt of it?!
Life does not have to involve either ruling or being ruled. Instead, we can stand side by side with no one ruling, all of us free to be in control of our own life, solving problems individually and jointly, and having fun doing so.
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.
Everyone should be taken seriously irrespective of age and other such attributes. The question assumes that Taking Children Seriously is a parenting method but actually it is a new view of children—children are full people.
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?
If neither option appeals to the child there are reasons for that. What are the reasons? There is a problem to solve. There will be something good that the child wants, and something bad that the child wants to avoid. We just need to find out what those things are, and start thinking laterally to come up with a solution that provides the good and not the bad.
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.
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.