“The question ‘If you are not coercing your child, what do you do instead of coercion?’ 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.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
“If you are not coercing your child, what do you do instead of coercion?”
I must admit that I do not recall anyone ever asking me this question, but Vivek Patel said he gets this question a lot, so my answer follows. If this is a question in your mind, and my answer does not address your question, please feel very free to comment/clarify your concern/post a follow-up question. It may be that I have not understood the question.
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.
Whatever answer you would give a husband asking the question about his wife, applies in the case of children too. What do you do instead of coercion in any good relationship?
The question seems shocking or strange if it is about an adult, because when we are taking another adult seriously we are not going around wondering about coercion, we are simply solving problems together in ways we both prefer. The only reason the question might not seem similarly shocking when asked about children is that children are still viewed through the lens of paternalism. We are still thinking, ‘But children are children! They need to be controlled (in a benevolent fatherly way) for their own good.’ Just like in the past, well-meaning men honestly felt that way about women. It is a circular argument.
Taking Children Seriously is a new view of children—a non-paternalistic view. You might like to watch this video about that.
My guess is that those asking this question are viewing children through the lens of paternalism, so they are imagining that children need to be coerced for their own good, and that in the absence of that coercion, disaster will ensue. But actually, children do not need to be controlled, any more than women do. What they need is lots of love, connection, support, protection, intellectual engagement, emotional attunement, attention, enjoyable conversation, information, fun, play, discovery, and lots of access to the world. Not coercion. Not manipulation. They are sovereign individuals. Their lives are their own.
So what do parents taking their children seriously do instead of coercion, control, manipulation? They enjoy life with their beloved children—just like we do in any good relationship.
- Is coercion always wrong?
- Clarifying Karl Popper’s epistemology
- Friendly criticisms of Kiss Me, by Carlos González
Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2022, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘If you are not coercing your child, what do you do instead of coercion?’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/if-you-are-not-coercing-your-child-what-do-you-do-instead-of-coercion/