Thursday, November 15, 2012

Treating Children Like People

If the day ever came when we were able to accept ourselves and our children exactly as we and they are, then, I believe, we would have come very close to an ultimate understanding of what “good” parenting means. It’s part of being human to fall short of that total acceptance – and often far short. But one of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is the gift of accepting that child’s uniqueness. ~Mister Rogers

A couple years ago, a former Woodland Park parent sent me a link to an article from the New York Times that examines the practice of “conditional parenting.” This is a parenting approach that advocates withholding acceptance, approval, praise, and even love as a way to get one’s child to do what one wants. I know, it sounds awful, but it’s exactly the technique being advocated by such popular leading lights as The Supernanny (Jo Frost).

I don’t need research to know that this is a horrible idea (although the article does site several studies that show long term harmful results). Using our love and acceptance as a kind of currency to buy certain behaviors, cheapens what it means to love our children. In fact, I wonder if it can really even be called love when it’s used as a tool of control and manipulation. This isn’t to suggest that the alternative is blindly heaping praise on children. In fact, that’s just another form of conditional parenting (e.g., I’m giving you this love and attention because you did X or Y).

In practice . . . unconditional acceptance by parents as well as teachers should be accompanied by “autonomy support”: explaining reasons for requests, maximizing opportunities for the child to participate in making decisions, being encouraging without manipulating, and actively imagining how things look from the child’s point of view.

That’s certainly how I like to be supported. Maybe the bottom line is to treat children like people.

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Unknown said...

Hi, would you share any ideas and practical examples on how to be supportive without being manipulative?

Teacher Tom said...

This is going to sound like a copout, but almost everything on this blog is intended as examples of how to be supportive . . . Manipulative is in the eye of the beholder. My bottom line counsel, however, is to try to avoid commanding children or asking them too many questions (especially of the "testing" variety) and instead focus on making informative statements of fact, especially of the narrative variety.