Solutions many babies have loved!
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?”
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.
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).
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.
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?
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?
Other people can behave badly, and we can view it as a problem to solve rather than being horribly distressed, wounded and irredeemably damaged.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Taking children seriously means taking a child’s wish/decision to go to school seriously too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why schools like Summerhill and Sudbury Valley can’t actually be non-coercive.
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 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.
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.
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.
So-called ‘natural consequences’ are a strategy for coercively controlling children while pretending not to be responsible for and intentionally imposing the coercion.
What distinguishes families taking children seriously from those in which the parents favour coercion, and why compulsory school is necessarily coercive.
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.
Getting children to ‘agree’ to TV limits is coercive, and pretending that it is non-coercive.
Expressions of approval are inherently manipulative the approval is designed to manipulate the child into meeting your own standard.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using love as leverage to double-bind children to obey—threatening to withdraw the relationship—is wrong. Children have a right to our love.
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.
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.
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.”
It is educational coercion that sabotages learning, not teaching per se. WANTED teaching is different from unwanted teaching.
We parents delude ourselves that we are doing the right thing, viewing our coercion as ‘necessary’ or ‘unavoidable’.
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.
Showing the meaning of the word ‘coercion’ rather than explaining it. Show don’t tell, as it were.
This 1989 workshop advocated taking children seriously, not just ‘autonomous learning’.