Simple Parenting: Evolving beyond violence and intimidation

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”

Elizabeth Stone


As a parent I’m committed to not use fear or violence to control my children. In fact I don’t believe I have the right to expect that my children will be obedient or that they will respect my every wish.

Crazy right?

Let’s accelerate the madness.

I don’t even use timeout to punish because to my way of thinking to make another human sit in an invisible prison isn’t legit.

So if you don’t smack, you don’t scare and you don’t use timeout how do you keep things together?

I generally consider this question in my interactions with my child:

How would I feel if a smarter and physically superior person used this approach to control me?

This view has resulted in a decision to try to identify and outlaw the use of intellectual domination of my children as well.

Sure I still use the false choice like “would you like to put your shoes on or would you like me to help you put your shoes on?”.

It’s a false choice because no matter what the shoes are going on, but it’s a far cry from simply begging your child to put their shoes on while they assert their tiny will and bellow “I won’t!!”.

When you get in those types of confrontations there is no easy solution. My feeling is they can mostly be avoided. It’s a lack of understanding of your child and your child’s lack of understanding of the opportunity cost of not putting their shoes on.

So how the hell do you parent a kid without smacking, without intimidation and fear, without aggression and punishment and without using your smarts against a juvenile mind in a way that is unfair?

Good question.

Simply it comes down to coaching, guiding, negotiating (I’m massive on the value of negotiating), opportunity cost, clarification/reframing and bribery. You definitely have to do a little bribery sometimes! 🙂

Imagine you are back in college. You room with a really nice guy or girl who is still pretty immature. You care about them and want the best for them, but left to their own devices you can see they are a screw up in the making. You can’t bear to see all that potential squandered. How would you help in that situation?

Well you could beat the shit out of them every time they run late leaving the house. You could lock them in their room if they make a mess in the toilet. If you are scary enough you could make them stay at the table and eat dinner instead of allowing them to eat Cheetos, but tell me would you ever consider behaviour like this?

Face it you’ve slipped over from a strong desire to help to possibly committing a crimes against them.

If you agree that you’d never dare treat a buddy like this then why the hell do we think we have the right to treat the most vulnerable in our care in this way?

We need simpler and more effective parenting methods.

Using fear to parent your child is just a lazy excuse for real parenting. If you give up the violence you are going to need to become incredibly patient. You need to lay the table for the right behaviour and everything has a long lead time to avoid that store isle tantrum (seriously why are you even in the store in the first place…:)).

I started teaching my son about negotiation from 2 years old. He’s 3 now and he understands a few of the basics.

  1. We leave his presence (or ignore him if it is unsafe to walk away) when he tantrums. We are committed to making sure that is an ineffective expression of desire and that he sees the negotiating framework as the best way to achieve his aspirations.
  2. A ‘deal’ is an exchange of value and both people need to win.
  3. No deal means you need a new offer (his offers are hilarious and it’s a fun way to co-author your shared experience).
  4. Sometimes you can’t make a deal.
  5. A handshake is a binding arrangement (we do an olden style forearm grasp hand shake like Odysseus). I teach him that a man does what he says and that is where a bit of Greek bed time stories help to develop the concepts of integrity, honour and trut.

The other key to success in negotiation is to ensure that your child’s action goes first. Then you can renege if they don’t ‘do what they say’.

Of course you need a few other ongoing lesson layers because any prodigy of yours is going to quickly start to negotiate for the things that aren’t great for their health like lollies, TV, staying up and never bathing.

That said if my son crafts a very creative or innovative deal I let him won some things I’d prefer he didn’t have (e.g. staying up late) because I value the skill of negotiation and I think being an effective deal maker is going to set him up in life.

I want him to become a great negotiator and I’ll accept the risk that he gets so effective at negotiating that he can spike every at bat in his favour.

By that point hopefully some other lessons about health, humanity and the world around him have bedded in.

We fully expect our daughter to catch up fast under her brother’s tutelage. She’ll be speaking soon then we’ll have a houseful of little deal makers and deal breakers.

What we absolutely won’t have is physically or emotionally broken children. I want my kids to look back and say hey our parents really set us up with a few great skills for life.

I’m looking for future friends instead of the usual broken parent-child relationship thanks to overwhelming fear and loathing which children of abusive and intimidating parents get landed with in later life.

Simple parenting is harder. So what?

I believe it is so much more fun and so much more rewarding that once you give up violence and intimidation as your only tools you will realise how silly and childish that style of parenting really is.



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