Solutions many babies have loved!
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.)
A conversation between prospective parents, about taking children seriously.
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.
When there really is no time to ask the person if they want their life saved, we save their life, obviously!
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).
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.
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.
We look for solutions that everyone, children included, feel good about. We figure it out! And we relish figuring it out!
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?
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
If your young children are curious explorers who like taking things apart, find more things for them to take apart. Embrace their interest.
How things can go better if we adopt a Taking Children Seriously approach, and what that means in practice.
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.
Those who believe the conflict-of-interest theory alleging that problems are not soluble will always be puzzled when they find a situation that looks like an inherent conflict of interest but turns out not to be, as commonly happens when people start taking their children seriously.