Monday, November 22, 2010

unconditional parenting | 2. reconsider your requests

next up in my little review of the unconditional parenting principals is:

reconsider your requests

and it's a goodie.

here's a snippet:
"... the problem isn't with the child but with what it is you're demanding. It's remarkable how few books written for parents even raise this possibility. The vast majority of them take whatever their readers want their kids to do as the point of departure, and then offer techniques for getting compliance. In most cases, these techniques involve 'positive reinforcement' or 'consequences' – that is, bribes and threats. "

it's so simple but, dude... it's pretty deep stuff.

and now that i'm in tune with this, i really think about my requests.
of course, i realize that a request made to a sixteen month old is different to one made to a three year old and we're not even at a point where bribes and/or threats could even come into play (and i have every hope and intention that they will not) but this is some serious food for thought.
plus it's quite easy for me to imagine myself in situations that i have a 100% certainty of facing in the
not-so-far-off future that i can apply this mode of thought to.

it's pretty radical compared to what, i think, the norm is, too.
sometimes it's like the adult mommy-and-daddy figures are the bosses.
what they say goes.
do what you're told.
they're the ones in charge, you're the kid.

it almost stops me in my tracks to think how simple but how true the notion of reconsidering one's requests is, meeting half-way, negotiating, compromising – or at least just being open to the idea... and stopping for a minute to take the child's age and your own expectation into consideration.

alfie kohn suggests that we ask ourselves whether or not a child should do something just because they're able to do it.
if an experience is excruciating (in his example, a child who hates practicing piano) shouldn't we ask ourselves why we force it upon our child?

rewind to yesterday evening's swim lesson.
bonz does not love the swim lessons.
we started him a few months back and he hated it – the noisy and chaotic indoor pool environment didn't help matters, either.
so we took a few months off and started back last week.
and it was alright – we didn't go under water and just splashed and reacquainted ourselves with the pool and the class.
yesterday, however, he just wasn't into it.
he was crying – hard.
so we got out of the water and i held him close while he watched and cried and watched and cried... but then he was motioning towards the water so we got back in and finished up the class and he was okay – on the fence but okay.

it's hard not to look at a situation like this with alfie-kohn-lenses on.

should i keep at lessons even though he seemingly doesn't like them – just push through?
as the instructor said, "it's your will against his." (btw: ewwww.)

or should i put the brakes on the whole operation again and try it again another time – a different pool, different instructor?

i think my answer is in the middle: we'll try again next week and if bonzo responds to it we'll continue but if he's telling me no shouldn't i listen? reconsider my request maybe?

there's more of this reconsidering stuff to come as life unfolds, i know.
i've hardly even gotten my pinky toe wet at this point but i love the seed it plants in my mind and how it gets me thinking – and always challenging my thoughts and myself.

three cheers, alfie kohn.

ps: the first installment to what will become a thirteen-post-long series is here.


Talki said...

Just stumbled across your blog, and am enjoying reading it a lot! Particularly your thoughts on parenting. But I have a question with regards to this post (btw, Im not a parent, but Im studying educational psychology and development, hence the interest!) - I WISH my parents had forced me to learn the piano. I gave it up when I was 11 because "I didn't feel like it anymore." My parents said that was ok and let me be. But now I bitterly regret it, but at 11, how was I to know Id feel like this one day? When I talk to friends who play the piano now, they all say they went through a stage where they told their parents that they'd had enough - but their parents 'bullied' them into keeping at it. So they did. And while they hated their parents for it at the time, now they're really thankful. I bring this up because Im a believer in natural parenting methods (as much as I can be without having children!), but this scenario is the one that trips me up... would like to know your thoughts!

sara said...

hi talki,
thanks so much for writing – and reading!
i'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you... the past week has been cray-zeeee!! so much going on, so little time to get anything done.

i think the point you raise is a really valid one.

i don't think there's an easy answer here, either.
my hope is that, with a strong foundation of mutual trust and respect between – for instance – us and bonzo, a situation like this could be navigated in a way that everyone feels is appropriate, where everyone feels heard.

i think parenting this way definitely points parents and children in a direction where a child would feel less forced to do something to begin with because they'd feel heard and respected in the first place. and when a crossroads presents itself – like not wanting to take piano lessons – my hope would be that there could be an open discussion about it. the child could express why they're feeling the way they are about lessons and the parents can impart their beliefs, too and maybe a middle ground could be reached. maybe it's a trial break from lessons, maybe it's lessons but not as often, maybe it's truly just not a fit. and that'd be *okay.* i feel like when there's a history of acceptance, trust and respect that these things will be easier to navigate.
there will likely still be times later in life when a child will have regrets similar to yours – i think it's unavoidable! but i think at the end of the day, knowing that your parents supported you – even if they didn't agree with you and even if they tried to steer you in a different direction – would feel better than having your parents bully you into doing something you hated as a child.
i know it could seem crazy to let the eleven year old call the shot but, it's that eleven year old's life and they're truly unhappy – and there is no acceptable middle ground – then i guess it begs for the request to be reconsidered.

no one has a crystal ball to see the future and know what decisions they make when they're younger will disappear and which will haunt them later in life. i think ultimately there's going to be a price to pay in some cases – you're an adult and you have regrets about the piano and that's real and you're entitled to feel that way. there's no way to get around it or parent in a way to avoid it.

to me, the handling of the situation is more important than the outcome of the situation. i feel like it preserves the relationship – and that's what really counts at the end of the day.
i'm not saying that your friend's relationship with her parents is damaged because they bullied her but i bet it sucked for her at the time to feel that way: bullied by her parents, forced to do something she didn't like and hating them for it.

so yeah. no quick n' easy answer here!
but hopefully this is a little food for thought?!

xx sara

Talki said...

Thank you for your insight Sara! And I do think you're right - there is probably a balance. And I imagine that a child raised to trust their parents, would be more likely to trust the advice that "you can choose to quit, but you may regret it later, like I do." (I don't know what I would have done if my parents had said that - my parents were wonderful in many ways, but they were very very busy, were not musical themselves, and so devoted little, if any, time trying to convince me not to give up!)

I do think it must have sucked for my friend to feel bullied at the time (Im thinking of one particular friend now, although Ive heard the same scenario being talked about by many different people!). But I suppose the interesting part is that NOW she says she's grateful - that when she looks back, its not with resentment towards her parents, but almost like she's admonishing her younger self.

Still, like you say - it'd be nice to go through parenthood not having to wait for a later time in your child's life to be forgiven with the power of hindsight. Maybe regretting your own decision is better than risking begrudging someone else's decision that was forced on you (and leaves you feeling powerless).

Its food for thought for sure!