Saturday, July 31, 2010

Recent Comments on Parenting

Some of my more thoughtful writing over the last few days has been in the comments section of Kelly's post "The Mistaken Goal Chart: The Swiss Army Knife of Parenting." It's a great post, by the way, and the Mistaken Goal Chart as developed by Jane Nelsen is an extremely useful tool when dealing with a tricksy parenting situation--you know, the kind of parenting situations where you pretty don't know where to start.

To get the full effect of the discussion that is occurring in the comments, you ought to read the entire comment thread from the beginning. It's long, but full of very thoughtful remarks about really important parenting ideas, the very ideas I've been thinking through and talking over with Brendan and Kelly lo these many years. I will, mostly for my own memory's sake, republish a few of my own here even though they will lack the context of the other comments. They're not super-polished, but I want to think them over some more, and thought maybe a few of my readers would like to think them over, too.  (I did fix some typos and added italics, etc for clarity.)

Fwiw, I got hung up on "belonging" too when I first encountered PD. Learning more about the psychologists who influenced Jane Nelsen (their names are Rudolf Dreikurs and Alfred Adler) helped me understand that this idea of belonging is really another way of saying that children want to feel that they are a value of their parents.

All people, including children, want to be valued by the people they value, and when a child is first developing a sense of self-esteem, he couldn't learn it from parents who ignore him or treat him as if he's not a value to him.

Healthy self-esteem begins with a child's feeling that he is a value to someone, his parents. From there he can learn to value himself, which will become primary, of course. But it's hard to imagine a neglected child who doesn't feel as if he's worthy, that he belongs to his family, will easily figure out that he ought to value himself most of all.

That may not make sense as it was written during many interruptions, and I see that Kelly has left a terrific answer instead! Oh well, I'll throw it out there, too.

I am curious about your objections/criticisms, Amy, because I think it would be helpful for me to think them over and check my premises. So when you figure them out, please do let us know!


I agree that self-esteem is only part of what a child needs to develop with a parent's encouragement/guidance.

I was reading The Virtue of Selfishness the other day, and the three primary values are, as I'm sure you know, Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem. And the virtues are the actions a person takes to get there. I think a parent's primary job is to do what you can to encourage kids to value reason, develop their life's purpose(s), and develop healthy self-esteem.

Kids need help and guidance, not having instincts, and what with being new and all, but I think that's the fundamental job of parenting. They're new here; we're not. We love them and value them, so we're here to help, and this is beyond the basic obligations of food, shelter, etc. A parent who is trying her hardest to raise her children according to her values will want to try to help her children value those things, too.

Every single tool I use with my kids (when I do it according to my principles and not when I lose my temper, of course) reinforces those values and teaches them a virtue or two, gives them practice in acting morally. Conversely, I believe that punishing (doing something else apart from the natural consequences in order to reinforce a negative lesson) and rewarding (doing something else apart from the natural consequences in order to reinforce a positive lesson) do not support those values or teach virtues.

When I'm unsure what to do in a parenting situation, I always go back to the things I want my children to value (Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem) and the virtues I want them to learn/experience/practice (Honesty, Independence, Pride, etc.) and see if I can find a way to treat them/teach them/parent them that will reinforce those values. PD tools, almost without exception--in fact, I'll have to really think hard about whether or not there is an exception--help me do just what I want to do as a parent.

It has been very useful to have parenting principles that I can use in different contexts, and the principles are derived from the values/virtues. My principles are the same for my 2 year old, my 5 year old and my 8 year old, even though they are all in very different stages of development.

I'm not finished articulating them all perfectly just yet, and continue to check premises and refine my ideas, of course (that's what Brendan and Kelly are for!), but this is why I'm confident that I can say I will continue to use these principles as they get older, even though I am not entirely certain exactly HOW I'll apply them, not knowing the contexts in which I'll need them.

The people who created the PD ideas and tools are beginning from different starting premises than we are, which is why Kelly and I are making the effort to explain why parenting according to PD ideas falls in line with Objectivist principles. There are a few points of disagreement that we might have with some people in PD, but they are very minor, not fundamental (for example, the "use logical consequences very sparingly" is something some PD proponents would agree with, but Kelly and I would disagree with).

By the way, all of this is a provisional statement, made off-the-cuff as I write this comment, so I reserve the right to edit/rephrase this in the future. I stand by it, but I haven't taken the care I typically would if I were writing this into a post, for example.
I enjoyed reading your comment, and much of what you say makes sense. I also struggle against what was ingrained into me about the parent-child relationship--that it's my job to "fix" them, and that somehow if left to their own devices, the kids will gravitate toward bad choices. When I consciously remember to stay out of their choices and let the consequences (natural) fall where they may, I am still so often surprised when they choose the good, which happens at least as often as they choose the bad.

I wrote about the specific principles I use in a post last November (Kelly uses these too), called "On Children, Parents and the Use of Force." The principles I use on an every day basis when making decisions about whether and how and to what extent I need to involved myself are:

The Life, Limb, and Rights Principle (When do I step in? When the child's life or limb is at serious risk in my judgment, or when the rights of others are or will soon be violated. In other words, I try to set limits by rational standards.)

Erring on the Side of Freedom (A corollary of LL&R--means if I can't think of a good rational reason to say "no" then I say "yes" and let the consequences--good and bad--happen and let the child experience them, and help them cope if necessary.)

Enforcing Limits (If a limit must be set, then I need to enforce it--since the limit is based on LL&R then it is just that I enforce it.)

The Minimum Use of Force (When enforcing a limit, including the times when physical limitations must be set, I use the least amount of physical force to keep the kid within the limit, for the least amount of time. The child always has an option to demonstrate he can remain within the limit at any time. The moment he can do so, I stop doing what I am doing. I never hit them.)

Those principles apply only to discipline situations though, and there are wider principles such as:

How I interact with them (respectful and kind communication, and I never, ever lie to them, though I try to present information in ways they can understand)

How I help them gain skills such as problem-solving (modeling and coaching and encouraging--never bribing--and through giving them lots and lots of practice)

How we negotiate conflicts (The Trader Principle, etc.)

How we do work around here (productivity, and we respect each other's right to work uninterrupted--well, some of them are still learning that!)

Sharing passions and having fun!

I'm sure there are more, too--those non-discipline examples are off the top of my head.

Positive Discipline tools are all very consistent with these goals--discipline and communication and sharing our lives together in a mutually respectful way.

Jane Nelsen offers concrete ways to achieve these ends, and though Kelly and I modify our language a bit when explaining the ideas to Objectivists, the underlying principles are pretty much already there. By the way, Jane has told me a number of times that she is an "Ayn Rand fan." :o) Always nice to meet a fan.

Because I have some principles, and because I have tools that support those principles, I have options as a parent when I encounter situations I wasn't prepared for (every day, and again, I can't even imagine what the next decade will bring as they all hit the teens). I have options that will help me guide and encourage and reinforce Objectivist principles, and I have options that will help me do that guiding and encouraging and reinforcing while behaving virtuously myself.

Other PD authors who might be worth looking into if you are not a fan of the PD books themselves are Barbara Coloroso and Faber/Mazlish. 


Agreed. This is where having principles helps me (versus being focused on concretes). Kelly & I argue that the relationship between parent and child is unique because of the nature of children, and that it changes as the child develops (see her Nature of Children post). The parent-child relationship is inherently unequal, and it is because of this metaphysical given that we parents need to make sure we are not being arbitrary in our decision-making and when we use our judgment to override the children's desires. It is not easy.

(Part of the reason I cut out most of the comment was because I'd extensively quoted another commenter and haven't asked her permission to reprint here.)

 Also also:
(Again, haven't asked permission to quote--but you can see the comments at the original post.)   . . . I tailor how we talk to, interact with, teach/explain ideas, etc with the child's stage of development.    But I do not use excessive physical restraint when a tap on the shoulder will suffice, and I do not let a child yank a toy from another's hand (a use of force) because it is wrong. I do not let the baby hit people because it violates the victim's right to not have his body hit. I do not let people wantonly destroy property unless it truly 100% belongs to them, because it's a violation of property of someone else.  No matter what stage of development the child is in, these principles apply.  I am possibly misunderstanding something though, so I'd appreciate clarification.    The beauty of Objectivism as an integrated system is that the objective principles still hold is this very unique context--that of a young human being developing and a parent trying to guide him along. 

Also also also:

. . . I think the way I'd essentialize the [parenting] principles would be something like "treat the kids as if they are human beings who need my help and guidance to learn and practice moral behavior."

Because the way I treat them and communicate with them is very very similar to the way I treat adults--the main difference is that I explain more of the whys and wherefores of my actions and the actions of others.

Also, I have the obligation to restrict their improper behaviors when/if they can't do so themselves, so when I must do that, I do it in the most respectful possible way, using the least amount of force/restriction/I'm sure there's a better word here possible to ensure that the behavior is stopped until they are prepared and able to be back in control. Remembering that they are human beings worthy of respect and kindness helps me handle difficult discipline situations where I must use some kind of force/limit-setting in a "kind and firm" (to use a PD phrase) way. Remembering that they are young and learning and need my guidance helps me remember that other famous Mommy Mantra: "This, too, shall pass."

I'm not sure if this is clear or not (it's late and I'm not feeling well), but it's the best I can do for now. If I can think of a better way to phrase what I'm trying to convey, I'll be sure to let everyone know! I think it is important to have the ideas distilled down in some way.


Anyway, good stuff, and lots food for discussion. Thanks to Kelly, Beth, Amy, and the other commenters for making me stop and think, generally a good and fun! thing to do.

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