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.
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.
On how video games helped develop skills needed to be a neurosurgeon.
When a child WANTS to learn mathematics, the learning is effortless and remarkably swift.
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.)
Parents can help their child stay the rebel that society needs to stay healthy, by allowing unfettered conversations going wherever the child’s curiosity takes them.
Many people undervalue what they want to do compared to what they think other people want them to do. They think that they need to be obedient, without understanding or feeling good about why they have chosen to do so. Doing this to yourself is bad enough. But doing it to someone else, such as your child, is even worse, because now it is not just yourself and your own reason you are violating and harming, it is another person.
A conversation between prospective parents, about taking children seriously.
It is not true that screen time implies an isolated child cut off from family life. Screens and non-screens can be intertwined worlds filled with connection, joy, fun, and learning.
Offering a child a small treat (whatever it may be) might seem unobjectionable, because parent/carer and child both ‘win’. But what’s really happening here is that you’re implicitly teaching them that if they want something that seems appealing, to get it they will have to do things they don’t want to do. You’re essentially supporting a pattern of exchanging one’s happiness/dignity/ethical standards/morals for some prize.
Babies are full human beings with astonishingly amazing creative minds. They are absolutely fascinating. Enjoy every precious moment with them.
Why subjecting your baby to the Cry it Out method is a mistake, and how bedtime anarchy can be delightful.
A list of some of the real life unintended consequences of limiting children’s screen time.
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.
We may fear that a given problem requires coercion or self-sacrifice on our part, but if we nevertheless assume that our fear is mistaken and have fun coming up with possible solutions, often, that can-do attitude can make a difference.
We look for solutions that everyone, children included, feel good about. We figure it out! And we relish figuring it out!
The magic of an explanation, of knowledge discovery, is that it is a win-win solution, and often a nearly effortless one at that.
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.
Trying to implement ‘expert’ advice that doesn’t feel right to you makes life much harder for you with a new baby. Listening to your own wisdom about the sleep issue can make all the difference.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It means children AND parents ‘getting their own way’—such a joy for all of us.
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.
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.
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.
The current advice to parents about bedwetting is nowhere near as bad as the advice of the past, but just in case, here are some things not to do.
Most home educators in Britain favour autonomous curiosity-driven learning, vs formal homeschooling.
When medical disaster strikes, as sometimes it still does, children can show the most amazing courage imaginable. People from the future are like that.
Three examples of explicitly coercive and implicitly coercive approaches, and Taking Children Seriously approaches to sample problems. Each scenario is also followed by a list of possible solutions as well as some suggestions on how one might prepare for solving such problems in the future.
If your young children are curious explorers who like taking things apart, find more things for them to take apart. Embrace their interest.
Parents interpret unwanted behaviour of their young children as an ‘ill effect’. Not because the parent is stupid or malevolent, but because all observation is theory laden, and because causation cannot be observed.
Brilliant ideas for those who find housework a burden.
Many fun activities suggested to entertain and delight very young pre-verbal children.
Stealing from a child might influence the child to steal. And yet parents steal their children’s property in the name of preventing them from being under bad influences.
Practical suggestions about a child not wanting to wear a prescribed eyepatch.
In a medical emergency do whatever you have to do to save the person’s life.
Grandma should be persuaded to put precious items away when being visited by toddlers. It is just too much to expect toddlers not to be curious if such things are in front of their noses and it is not good for them to be constantly being discouraged from playing with something. Grandma really should put such items away.
Some ideas for sleep-deprived burnt out parents of babies who do not sleep.
Lots of practical ideas for sleep-deprived parents whose young child is wide awake 24/7 (or so it seems!), and who do not want to resort to coercing their child.
What if the thing that the child wants to risk is specifically a matter of not being able to easily get out of the situation? What if Jane wants to go pack-packing in the wilderness without a phone or radio? What if she does not want an escape route?
Taking children seriously means taking a child’s wish/decision to go to school seriously too.
Lots of things ‘suck’ for most people, but very few things suck for everyone. People are very, very different, and there is a danger in just assuming that a child is acting out of desperation when in fact they are quite healthily pursuing their own ends. The danger is that one will then, in effect, be refusing to help them pursue these ends, and, in effect, start to undermine them by constantly seeking alternatives and constantly acting on the assumption that there must be something wrong with them, or with the alternatives that you are providing for them, if they persist in wanting this.
How the future of a child not forced to study mathematics might look.
Being ‘nice’ with the ulterior motive of in effect forcing the children to do what you want them to do, such as help with the housework, is very common. Coercion does not always appear overtly nasty.
Sometimes there can be coercive pressure on our children to help us do cleaning and tidying, for example by making our children responsible for our wellbeing.
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.
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.
How do real-life parents gracefully navigate housework and chores in a home that seems endlessly messy or disorganised?
John Holt was so critical of school that sometimes he appeared to suggest that even children who want to go to school should not do so.
Video games are good because in order to succeed one must solve problems. The problems to solve are as widely varied as the videos are fun. In other words, every bit of fun in them represents a new problem to solve.
Encouraging children fully express their big emotions does not solve the problem and may well be intrusive. Children’s inner lives are private. The idea that merely getting the emotion out solves the problem is a mistake. Problems are soluble, and it is fun to do so. Part of why children have these big emotions is that they are not being taken seriously and problems are not actually getting solved.
Life is not black and white, but rules are. Punishments try to make the world fit into the categories of black and white but kids judge that there are greys anyway.So we help our children learn about those greys instead of just ignoring them they way many parents do. Iit leads to safer children.
What makes housework so grim is not the time it takes—it takes little time and can be done while conversing, listening to stuff, etc.—but all the other stuff—the resentment, the coercion, the battling, the idea that if you didn’t make the mess, you shouldn’t clean it up. Stop thinking in terms of trying to get others to do what you want them to do, and you will find that housework is not a problem.
When children know that if their parents deem them to be watching too much TV, their parents will ban TV-watching, they self-coercively limit their watching out of fear of losing it altogether.
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 parents often think we have a good reason not to take our child seriously, but when our actions are not consistent with our seemingly good reason, what is really going on?
How a clean freak mother strongly upheld her son’s right to remain messy, and how being taken seriously in that respect has informed this writer’s approach with his own child.
The homeschooling mentality turns education into performance—the semblance of education. This interferes with learning.
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.
Videogame players are learning not just knowledge of the overt subject-matter of the game, but inexplicit knowledge that applies in all creativity in the world. In a way, they are (mainly inexplicitly) learning how the universe works.
Solving the problem of finding cloning and tidying a miserable burden.
So-called ‘natural consequences’ are a strategy for coercively controlling children while pretending not to be responsible for and intentionally imposing the coercion.
David Deutsch explains why he says that he could not be very productive without also being untidy.
It is a mistake to seek evidence of children’s learning, because that can have a significant destructive effect upon the learning that is going on. They are then highly likely to switch from addressing the problem they were addressing, to the new problem the teacher has introduced, of how to perform and provide evidence for the teacher.
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.
Children’s lives are their own, and they are far more competent than many parents think they are.
No sample can be large enough to control for all the variables in any experiment involving human psychology, because the variables include the ideas in people’s minds, and he number of possible ideas that a single mind could hold is far greater than the number of people on Earth.
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!
Imagine if your husband denied you dinner because you had not yet completed the chores he had decided you must do before dinner…
Parents are always saying, “It would just be easier to do it myself.” But then they don’t “do it themselves”. They don’t do it themselves because they feel an obligation to instil a moral lesson in their kids, namely, that they should keep things up to a certain standard (usually the parents’ unnegotiated standard).
In their anxiety about dirty hair, parents often forcibly wash their children’s hair or try to get them to allow shampoo on their hair. Bathtime then becomes a battle instead of fun, the child feeling as frantic to maintain control over what happens to them as you or I might in a similar situation. Exerting more coercive control over the child is a recipe for disaster.
What if [insert feared disastrous outcome here] happens as a result of taking my children seriously instead of coercing them?
If parents don’t “do something”, like impose a penalty or bribe to change their child’s behaviour, will the child continue hitting forever? No!
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.
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.
The first priority should be to protect the victim!
If children are not made to write essays, will they ever learn? Does the hoped-for end result justify the coercion? An argument with a coercionist college professor.
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.
This 1989 workshop advocated taking children seriously, not just ‘autonomous learning’.