Keep Calm And Raise The Kids
We can choose how to govern ourselves through better parenting.
The world is full of suffering. Most of that suffering is self-imposed. I see it in the music, the dramas, and everything else that we call, “entertainment”. The world is hard, no doubt. People suffer as a natural consequence of their mistakes, their skills deficits. There is no reason to add insult to injury. So rather than complain about someone’s mistakes, or punish them for their mistakes, I make a point to let the feelings pass and help people fix the problems they can’t solve themselves.
The same is true for parenting. We have kids and they’re so cute when they’re babies. They suffer a little bit as they grow older. They have teething pains. They wear diapers and we change them until they don’t need diapers anymore. They make mistakes over and over until they get it right. When they’re young, their mistakes are small and easy to fix. We forgive them for their mistakes. As they get older, they make bigger mistakes and we become less forgiving. And as kids get older, parents begin to make an erroneous assumption about their kids: that kids know what they’re doing when they make a mistake.
As a father of two, I know from personal experience that when kids make a mistake, they have no idea what they’re doing. They spill milk, they spread the baby powder all over the house, they break things, they lose things, they forget what they were told, and on and on and on. As parents, we can expect this from kids. As adults, we are aware of the deep potential for error in our own lives and we punish ourselves when we make a mistake. As parents, we tend to think that no mistake should go unpunished.
Some time ago, my wife bought some slime with these little beads that “decorate” the slime. My kids love the slime. But my kids must be supervised while playing with the slime. We learned this lesson just yesterday. My wife and I were playing ping pong while we thought our kids were watching TV. When we finished playing, we found that our kids had made a big mess with the beads. I learned that the beads absorb water and color the water. The beads were all over the carpet and the carpet was stained from the beads and the water together.
My wife, who comes from Vietnam, wanted to punish them. I wanted to talk with my kids and to learn what happened, then explain to them what happened with the beads, how we were going to clean it up, and that they would help me clean it up. The kids were already nervous with my wife. But I kept calm and focused on the problem at hand and fixed that as best as I could.
After a somewhat tense exchange of words with my wife, she began to help me after she became aware that I wasn’t very good at cleaning the beads from the vacuum cleaner. She began to calm down because I was calm. I got everything cleaned up. I showed the kids the stain on the carpet, and I told them that I think we will need to buy new carpet someday. But I think I’d like to wait until the younger kid has better skills. Skills?
My kids didn’t know what they were doing or they wouldn't have done what they did. They lacked the capacity to do better. Kids come into the world with no rules other than, look at me, talk to me, feed me, hold me, and clean my poop. That’s it. We’re all like that. From birth on it’s nothing but learning until we die. We never stop learning.
I have noticed a real problem with our culture, too. That urge to punish is everywhere we look. True crime, action movies, politics, religion. We get a hit of adrenaline when we watch people get punished for their crimes. We can’t throw a stick anywhere without hitting someone in a society who’s character was built on punishment and reward. The problem with this punishment and reward regime is that I’ve never seen it actually work out for anyone. Punishment and reward don’t teach any skills, and they never made anyone happier. They do reinforce behavior, though.
Here is a thought experiment: Your kid makes a big mess in the house. You know it’s going to take you an hour to clean and you’re pressed for time for a prior commitment. What do you do?
A. Scold the kid, spank him and send him to his room while you clean the mess. Then reschedule the appointment.
B. You reschedule your appointment, talk with the kid to see what happened and work with the kid to clean up the mess. Then after the mess is cleaned, you talk more about how the mess was created and how to prevent that from happening again.
Gues which plan is more effective? I’d use Plan B. The majority of parents worldwide use Plan A, which is adult solutions imposed on the kid. Plan B is about collaboration and problem solving together.
Dr. Ross W. Greene, Ph.D, has been working with kids for 40 years. Studies have found that his method, Collaborative Proactive Systems, is at least as effective as traditional behavior modification (think B. F. Skinner), but without the emotional damage that behavior modification does. Dr. Greene uses Plan B. Plan B is about asking questions and drilling for problems before they become a crisis. Plan B is about being proactive problem solvers than waiting for the problem to recur and then punish the kid for the problem. Plan B is about solving problems with kids.
Guess which plan tends to lead to Big Brother authoritarian styled government? Plan A. If you raise kids through authoritarian parenting, might makes right power on your kids, you can expect your kids to grow up being comfortable with a loss of personal freedom at the hands of government. Kids raised in authoritarian homes grow up to work in authoritarian governments. This is because as adults, we do what is familiar to us, regardless of the roles we assume in our work life.
Plan B is not about being permissive and letting our kids do whatever they want to do. It’s about collaborating with them to solve the problems they’re going to encounter as they grow up. With Plan B, we do set limits, but we manage those limits by giving kids the skills they need to adhere to the limits we set. We set our expectations based upon the skills we know that kids have. We respond to challenging behavior with non-confrontational, non-punitive intervention. Then we collaborate to resolve the problems that give rise to the challeging behavior that kids sometimes present. You’d want a government that works like that with you, right?
If we want true freedom for our kids, we must consider how we raise them. They will not know freedom if they are not free. They will not know freedom if their minds are not free, either. And they will not find freedom from behavior modification, for they will always be looking outside for gratification or relief from suffering. But if we collaborate with our kids to solve problems that they cannot solve themselves, then kids will know to ask for help when they need help. They will know how to help others because helping other people was modeled for them by us, their parents. And with that knowledge, they will fashion government in the way that they were raised.