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.
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.
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.)
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?”
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.
When there really is no time to ask the person if they want their life saved, we save their life, obviously!
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.
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.
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?
How viewing other people as wilful perpetrators embodies the mistaken theory that problems are not soluble, and thus can interfere with problem-solving and result in our beloved children being distressed.
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.
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.
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?)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
It means children AND parents ‘getting their own way’—such a joy for all of us.
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 means taking a child’s wish/decision to go to school seriously too.
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.
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.
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.
Children’s behaviour is not random. It is meaningful. Therefore there was a reason for this incident.
Getting children to ‘agree’ to TV limits is coercive, and pretending that it is non-coercive.
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.
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.
This 1989 workshop advocated taking children seriously, not just ‘autonomous learning’.