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.
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.
Determining which guidance to explore and which to reject is a very subtle skill, and it cannot be learned in an environment where guidance is compulsory.
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.
Having the freedom to learn from our mistakes is important for children too, not just us. Recalling coercive interference from our own childhood can spur us on to keep taking our children seriously as best we can.
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.
Peter Strömberg warmly welcomes parents new to Taking Children Seriously.
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 child who is completely free to learn and whose learning is not being monitored and assessed is empowered. Their learning is for themselves, not because an authority figure asked them to memorise and regurgitate a set of facts or ideas.
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.
Plenty of children who have lived free lives as children at some point choose to get credentials and pursue paths requiring credentials, including ending up in academia. Such children just have not wasted most of their childhood locked in an institution bored out of their mind instead of doing something more interesting.
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.
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.
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?”
Why subjecting your baby to the Cry it Out method is a mistake, and how bedtime anarchy can be delightful.
Enslaving our children by forcing them to do household chores is highly likely to impair their happiness rather than promote it, and it does nothing to inspire them to work hard at things that matter to them.
Dead Poets Society is not taking children seriously. Taking children seriously is not just being a bit kinder to the inmates, or being a tiny bit rebellious against an authoritarian system you nevertheless continue to work in, it is a different thing entirely. It is about children actually being free.
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.
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!
Unwanted criticism can cripple thinking, destroying the means of error correction and the growth of knowledge.
When a constraint is imposed upon a child without her understanding, she can’t apply it in novel circumstances, or know when to ignore it, or use it to acquire some new idea. Instead, it becomes fixed in time, unable to improve, a lifeless feature of her world. What’s worse, this constraint will grate against other ideas that she has, but since the parent has resorted to coercion, she is on her own to try to resolve the conflict that this grating represents.
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.
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).
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!
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 the ‘research’ alleges that whether you behave morally or immorally, it makes no difference, does that make immoral behaviour unobjectionable?
Most problems are solved without any explicit communication. To the extent that people think of ‘finding common preferences’ as requiring or implying the need for explicit discussions, that is an understandable but very unfortunate misunderstanding.
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.
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?
Whatever might happen in the future, it will still not have been right to behave immorally today.
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?!
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.
Reducing/equating solving interpersonal problems to having explicit discussions is making the rationalist mistake of fetishising the explicit and ignoring everything else.
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?)
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.
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?
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!
Life can be messy for all of us. Sometimes when we try to make improvements, part of our mind panics, and that can hurt.
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.
That parents have obligations to their children that their children do not have to them is not because children are lesser humans. It is because we parents have freely chosen to place our children in the positions they are in, living with us instead of having been adopted at birth, say. It is we parents who have the obligations to our children, not our children who have obligations to us.
Everyone should be taken seriously irrespective of age and other such attributes. The question assumes that Taking Children Seriously is a parenting method but actually it is a new view of children—children are full people.
We do not take people seriously because taking people seriously has this or that alleged effect, we take them seriously because it is right, and because not doing so tends to impede the growth of knowledge. It applies to all ages.
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.
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.
Children being taken seriously are not subject to an authority from whom they need permission, so they no more ask permission than we do.
We really do learn from our mistakes, by trial and error. And at the same time we learn how little we know—as when, in climbing a mountain; every step upwards opens some new vista into the unknown, and new worlds unfold themselves of whose existence we knew nothing when we began our climb.
Wikipedia is mistaken about how Taking Children Seriously started. This is how it actually started.
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.
The kind of expressions of approval that are not manipulative are the ones that bubble out of you without any forethought. Anytime you are wondering if what you were planning to say might be coercive approval, it probably is. Is what you are saying the kind of thing you would naturally say to an equal, a friend, or your boss, say? Or does the idea of saying this to your boss seem highly inappropriate?
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.
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.
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.
Suffering does not help people learn. It impedes our ability to think. It impairs our creativity.
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.
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.
The purpose of the extreme scenarios presented in what-if questions about taking children seriously is to suggest that therefore taking children seriously would lead to disaster. But in fact, the more extreme the scenario, the easier it is to persuade a child that that course of action would be a mistake.
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.
The trouble with the idea of rights is that you can justify almost any postulate about children from the idea of ‘rights’ if you want to.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
It means children AND parents ‘getting their own way’—such a joy for all of us.
The feeling that ‘how it’s always been’ is right and natural does not mean it is. Many barbaric, highly immoral things felt ‘natural’ and right for centuries before progress was made.
The slight asymmetry is because the parent has chosen to put the child in the situation in which the child finds herself, whereas the child has not chosen to be in that situation or to put the parent in the situation.
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 is not permissive, uninvolved, authoritarian or authoritative. Those approaches coerce children instead of taking them seriously as full people whose lives are their own.
Paternalism is the idea that certain people or groups need to be controlled (in a benevolent fatherly way) for their own good.
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.
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.
Friendly criticisms of this warm, charming, beautiful book that is absolutely brilliant at showing us how it is for our babies and young children, creating empathy, and at doing that with gentle humour and without demonising parents.
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.
In your desire to become a better parent, don’t forget to have fun with your son. Enjoy life with him now, don’t wait until you reach the state of perfection you imagine a Taking Children Seriously person should have reached. Forget it—try to laugh together. Including at yourselves. Taking Children Seriously should always add to your life, not detract from it!
A rule imposed on someone for the purpose of helping them to feel secure, is ludicrous. If I expressly don’t want something, yet it is imposed upon me anyway, how does that help me to feel secure? The opposite is the case.
When medical disaster strikes, as sometimes it still does, children can show the most amazing courage imaginable. People from the future are like that.
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.
What a moral person would do, and want, depends, among other things, on what he believes the rights of the various people concerned are. And the consistency of this moral background, helps the parties to interact with each other non-coercively.
If a superficially generous act is done for the purpose of modelling, it is not being done out of generosity at all. There is no realistic chance of an onlooker becoming generous as a result of watching such a charade. If anything of it is passed on at all, it will be the parent’s actual motivation (to tell improving lies to children), not the purported one. What is the point of propagating the idea that generosity is a chore but in front of children one must grit one’s teeth and act out the semblance?
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.
A 2001 take on taking children seriously.
The unexpected benefits for ourselves in our own minds, of taking our children seriously.
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.
Drop the scrutinising and instead solve the problem in front of you in this moment.
Some ideas for sleep-deprived burnt out parents of babies who do not sleep.
None of the reasons why enforcing “clear borders” is good for coerced children carry over in any way to children who are in consensual relationships with their parents. On the contrary, enforcing fixed borders and bottom lines is irrational and coercive, and sabotages the very means by which such children remain happy.
When a toddler hits a parent, should the parent communicate their honest reaction, whether it be showing hurt if they’ve been hurt, or any emotional response, such as feeling anger or sadness?
When I go to other people’s houses, I try to abide by their wishes in respect of their property and so on. I try to make my visit add to their lives rather than detract from them. I try to be sensitive and (to the extent that I think they will want this) helpful in a non-intrusive way. We all want to do the right thing, including our children.
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.
Pretending that the road to improvement lies in receiving punishment, or in exposing one’s life to public scrutiny so that one won’t dare do the wrong thing is just horrible. A grave mistake. It really can’t help, and for the same reason doing that to children can’t help, only hinders their improvement.
How the future of a child not forced to study mathematics might look.
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.
Innocence, properly conceived, is a positive attribute. It is the ignorance that comes from a voluntary decision not to engage (or not to engage yet) with a particular area of complex knowledge. Innocence in that sense is essential for all genuine learning. Compulsory teaching is the destruction of innocence, forcing the victims to waste the opportunity, which comes only once in each lifetime, to encounter that knowledge for the first time.
Like many parents new to these ideas, Brooke was initially shocked by Taking Children Seriously, but two years in, much has changed. This is her story.
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.
For any human being who is not actually facing death by starvation or the firing squad, the hardest thing in life is not getting what you want—far from it—it is finding out (or rather, creating) what you want. That is what we deprive children of when we channel them into ‘keeping their options open’. It looks as though they are keeping their options open, but at each stage they are actually presented with only one option—the option where you do the standardized thing: something you can do without being human, by sacrificing the human part of yourself, the individual part.
Wherever there is coercion, lies follow as certainly as night follows day. That is why, in our society, children lie all the time and the parents tell them that lying is bad and punish them for it, even though the parents themselves lie all the time too and know that it is not true that it is always wrong to lie. Not only do parents lie all the time to their children, they often punish their children for not lying.
The dentist needs to know that when our child is having dental work done, if the child raises their hand, the dentist must pause immediately. It is the child’s consent that matters, not the parent’s. The child must be in charge. If it does not seem as though they are to them, then they are not in charge. If they do not have control over the inside of their own mouth, what do they control? Your duty as a parent is to enforce that control come what may.
Unfortunately it is not true that children taken seriously are good at identifying coercion (except perhaps overt coercion).
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.
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.
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.
The difference between taking children seriously and merely loving them or caring about them, resides in whose concerns about the children’s well-being take precedence: the children’s or the adults’. Conventional wisdom tries to blur this distinction by portraying children’s concerns as somehow less valid or less significant than those of adults.
How would you feel if your partner took it upon himself to ‘protect’ you from something you do not want to be protected from, or he rode roughshod over your wishes with respect to the protection he was offering? It is dishonest to call something ‘protection’ when it is against the will of the person being protected. It is a parent’s responsibility to protect children from harm as perceived by the child.
What can we do about coercive antirational memes passed down the generations?
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 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.
Even the junkiest of junk television can be superbly educational—by sparking questions and enjoyable conversations.
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.
Children’s behaviour is not random. It is meaningful. Therefore there was a reason for this incident.
Parents call punishments ‘natural consequences’ when they are unwilling to accept responsibility for the unhappiness that is being caused, but accepting responsibility may be a necessary step to solving such problems.
So-called ‘natural consequences’ are a strategy for coercively controlling children while pretending not to be responsible for and intentionally imposing the coercion.
This author has some good criticisms of overt coercion but spends about 200 pages advocating more covert coercion. Not Taking Children Seriously.
When you find yourself feeling bad for no apparent reason, or even seemingly for a reason, there may be a blind spot.
If you reframe the child not wanting to do what you want them to do, by imagining how you would react if the child were unwell, that can help us identify coercion.
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.
As Karl Popper said, “our own free world is by far the best society which has come into existence during the course of human history.”
What non-coercive, curiosity-driven mathematics education looks like in real life.
What distinguishes families taking children seriously from those in which the parents favour coercion, and why compulsory school is necessarily coercive.
The casual disrespect shown to children by adults is really rather horrid.
Noticing the differences between tone of voice we find acceptable with our children vs with other people, or thinking about how our tone of voice might look to a third party, can be eye-opening.
Children are not a means to our ends, they are an autonomous source of ends—their own ends.
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.
Karl Popper’s theory prevails because it solves problems other theories of the growth of knowledge fail to solve, it is a better explanation than its rivals, and it unifies ideas previously thought to be unconnected.
Understanding that knowledge grows through creative conjecture and inner criticism facilitates non-coercive interactions.
Getting children to ‘agree’ to TV limits is coercive, and pretending that it is non-coercive.
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!
I and others believe that coercing children is harmful to them. We also believe that not coercing children is a desirable and possible lifestyle which also is nice for the parents. Please tell me how these views might be altered by correctly taking into account who my house belongs to.
Imagine if your husband denied you dinner because you had not yet completed the chores he had decided you must do before dinner…
Real-life examples may seem important, but parents invariably respond by saying that that would not work in their case.
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.
Suppose you suddenly found yourself in the body of a twelve-year-old child. Suppose that despite this physical transformation, your personality, your knowledge and every other aspect of your mind remained unchanged. How might this affect your life? This was the theme of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (entitled Rascals).
A Brit argues that an episode of The Simpsons is a moving classic of American culture.
How you think people learn informs all your interactions with your children. If you view learning as a creative act in a critical-rational process, you will value highly the idea of consent in decision-making. If you believe people learn through divine revelation or by having knowledge poured into them, that will inform your interactions in a different way from if you think that they learn though conjectures and refutations: you may well think coercion necessary.
What if our whole policy of maximising our children’s welfare is mistaken? We parents cannot maximise our children’s welfare without modifying our ideas and practices when they seem mistaken.
Adults tend to hold entrenched, irrational ideas, which no amount of reason on the child’s part will shift.
The idea that children taken seriously would ever want to be coerced is absurd. Coercion only looks good from the miserable mire of coercion.
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.
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.
If you are using language decently you do not use the word ‘rights’ for things that are compulsory for the person. Rights are supposed to be something we want, not something we don’t want.
The first priority should be to protect the victim!
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.
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.
It is educational coercion that sabotages learning, not teaching per se. WANTED teaching is different from unwanted teaching.
The standards used to judge legal competence differ when it comes to children. How could the law take children more seriously without disastrous consequences?
Never stop reading to your children. I remember not wanting to read to my mother even when I could, in case she stopped reading to me. Being read to is one of life’s great pleasures we can all enjoy, even as adults.
Many unschoolers have a very narrow definition of ‘education’ and hold an incoherent theory in which the putative ill-effects of coercion only apply to areas deemed ‘education’. They range from ‘never offer, never refuse’ (not interventionist enough imo) to having a pedagogical agenda, or in some cases they get their children to do projects.
If adults sometimes make bad decisions just like children to, why treat children differently?
Professor David Deutsch on why he himself values and plays video games, and why the arguments against them are mistaken.
Parents and teachers do far more to oppress children than the laws do, and could perfectly legally desist from most of this oppression if they so chose. There is no legal requirement upon parents to punish their children for a wide range of perfectly legal activities, yet they choose to anyway. There is no legal requirement upon parents to insist that their children live with them, and yet parents whose children seek other guardians usually invoke their legal right to force the children to return. There is no legal requirement to deny children freedom of association, and yet many parents do deny their children that. There is no legal requirement to assault children, yet, in the name of discipline, many parents do so. There is no legal requirement to deny children access to information in the home, yet many parents go to extreme lengths to do so. There is no legal requirement upon parents to subject unwilling children to extra-curricular activities such as piano lessons and Girl Guides. Indeed, there is no legal requirement for parents to force their children to go to school, yet most do.
This 1989 workshop advocated taking children seriously, not just ‘autonomous learning’.