Some thoughts on Parenting


Here’s a couple thoughts on parenting (from an old guy who made many mistakes, so keep or toss this advice as you see fit.)

The best advice I know for a parent is to shape the social environment as best you can to make sure the child (children) has a way to control their behavior. In other words, putting them in time out for 5 or 10 minutes because they lost their temper and are misbehaving is not as effective as putting them in time out and telling them to come back out as soon as they calm down and are willing to act appropriately. The idea is to make sure they know what the expectation is and that they have some measure of control over what happens to them by how well or poorly they meet the expectation. When kids just get punished for wrongdoing it tends to make them think they are “bad”, rather than develop a sense that the thing they did was disruptive or destructive. The first is about developing a negative identity, the second is about expressing constructive behaviors and restoring one’s place in a social context. Punishment delivered from authority also creates a learned helplessness and a dependency on authority figures which can be dangerous and is often exploited. The idea behind teaching children to steer rather than steering things for them is about crafting behavior so their identity develops in a healthy way to understand that they have a rudder and some influence on what happens based on how they behave.

It can be difficult with real small kids to convey the message that they participate in what happens to them, but as soon as they can learn to steer for themselves, a parent’s job is to do their best to guide them to steer themselves well in the social and environmental waters they will have to face. The point is, emotional and behavioral discipline is the engine that makes the difference between somebody who life happens to, and somebody who makes life happen.

I think it is also important to remember that the job of a parent is not to protect children from all harm, it is to help them to cope effectively in a world that will have some percentage of jerks and disappointments. They need to be exposed to some of these things to practice how to deal effectively. This means learning how to deal with unfairness, death, and things beyond their personal control as well as how to accomplish constructive things by effectively assessing what they can do and leveraging what they can do to craft intentional outcomes. If you create a safe space they may not have the coping skills when they face the real world and they will be shocked that laundry doesn’t do itself, things cost money, and choices have consequences.

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