Friday, September 17, 2010

Trader Principle Progress

As you may be aware, we explicitly use, explain, refer to, and discuss the Trader Principle in many of our parenting situations. According to Ayn Rand:

A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange—an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment.

Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics," The Virtue of Selfishness (via the online Lexicon)

Free exchange and independent equals--this is how we deal with things like sharing and taking turns. You don't have to let your sister take a turn with your toy merely because you owe her some kind of duty because she's your sister or because she's younger or because she needs or wants it. She is not owed a turn merely because she has decided she wants a turn. You have no moral obligation to share toys, and she has no moral claim on your toy by virtue of her desires or needs.

Indeed, this is generally how kids are taught to share. "Give him a turn, he wants it!" "Share that toy because he's a baby!"

A somewhat separate though related issue is that often the adult will swoop in and make a declaration as to which kid ought to have a turn, and skip over the process of teaching kids to negotiate their own terms independently.

But here, we trade. We trade goods (like turns with toys) and services (like help or kind words). If someone really, really doesn't want to share, he doesn't have to (but he may have some negative consequences that go along with that decision, such as a mad friend who stomps home or a sibling unwilling to share with him in the future).

My role is not to make people take turns, but rather to help them negotiate kindly and properly, and only step in where necessary. Sean, at 27 months, sometimes needs a little assistance in letting go, so sometimes I need to pry the toy away from his little hands and help him cope with the ensuing sadness. Ryan (8), who has never been Mr. Willing to Share, needs daily (hourly!) reminders to speak kindly and what to do if someone is touching his stuff. Morgan (5), generally willing to take turns and speak kindly, needs help in surviving the interminable negotiation process. (How could I ever have considered Ryan "not persistent?" That's clearly Crazy Talk, as nobody has his stamina or motivation when it comes to a negotiation.)

And as with any developmental stage or new skill, kids seem to make some forward progress, take a step or two backwards, and then move forward again. We're in Forward Motion around here lately, and it's so enjoyable!

For instance, I was playing Chutes and Ladders with Morgan the other day, and Sean's job was to spin the spinner when it's my turn (always best to give him a job where he can be kind of helpful in such situations). He was resisting handing the spinner back over to M for her turn. She sat there patiently, hand out, and would say in a sweet little voice "Come on, Seanie! It's my turn now, but YOU can have the NEXT turn!" And he would then hand it over of his own volition (though with some pouty face)! The fact that he is able to do this at least sometimes is super great, as he's still quite young.

I was also really impressed with Morgan. By explaining the process, she's helping him get an understanding of turn-taking (first you, then me, then you, then me). And she appealed to his self-interest, that he wanted a turn, and reassured him that he would get what he wants. So cool.

Then yesterday, Ryan surprised me with this exchange:

"Mom, can you help me reach the UNO cards that dropped down by my bookcase?"

Me: "Not right now, because I'm about to take all the garbage to the curb."

Ryan: " Well why don't I help you? That way your work will get done even faster and then you can come help me sooner!"

Me, jumping up and down: "Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Oh I've waited for this moment my entire life!" (or similar)

So we did that. He worked hard and helped me do my job, and then we came back in and I helped him reach the UNO cards. I played it cool (though inside I was shouting and jumping as previously described), but told him thanks for helping me out. And I mentioned that trading work and kindness helped us both get what we want, and made us happy, too!

It was pretty cool!


Ansley said...


Ansley said...

...Sorry, not feeling very wordy today. But I really enjoyed this post.

bob said...

Reading your blog makes me both excited and scared to have kids. You and Kelly seem to have a pretty good grasp of it though and I thank you for sharing. I am doing me best to learn what lessons I can as I really want these skills for the future! Of course dating and what not might be a good idea first though....