A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “Are You Raising An Entitled Child?” in which I looked at the qualities that trigger adults to label children “entitled” and the reasons such a position is ill-informed. Today, I’m going to talk about another dimension to the problem of misperceiving children’s motivations. I’m sure you’ve heard people speak of certain children as needing to “get their own way” in order to be happy, though I daresay we all know how nice it feels for things to go our way. That should be the first signal that there’s a problem. We know it’s lovely to have things go the way that makes us feel best, yet we criticize children for their very same, very normal, human desire.
This is childism, plain and simple, and it’s a paradox. On one hand, we won’t acknowledge children’s right to autonomy and agency. On the other hand, we expect more of children than we expect of ourselves. We place them in this impossible position, because we have relegated them to a position beneath us such that we don’t want them to be our equals and we also don’t want them to bother us. But, we can’t have it both ways. We have a couple choices. Either we pour goodness and gentleness into them when they’re little, so that they can gain wisdom, resilience, and empathy as they get older. Or, we order them around and hold them accountable to our impossible standards, preparing them for little more than compliance with an authority figure. Children can succeed because of our approach or in spite of it. The choice lies with us as caregivers.
Recently, in a group for caregivers of Autistic people, and I saw a brilliant commenter explain that the behaviors we’ve come to expect from children “not getting their way” are actually evidence of a difficult transition. The child meets a barrier to the thing they desire and they struggle with the change as well as the disappointment around it. What a wonderful insight! Children who are upset at “not getting their way” are, in fact, experiencing dysregulation due to a transition they were neither anticipating nor inviting. They simply weren’t ready. And, then, an adult effectively places the responsibility onto the child to self-regulate during and expertly navigate the upheaval of these moments of disappointment. Why not become part of the solution instead?
When children begin to demand that we bend to their desires, we need to listen. What are they asking for? Is it something we can provide? Have we been unreasonable in our expectations of them? Are we saying no because we don’t want to be bothered or is there a reason we have to say no that we can help our child understand? How can we respond empathetically whatever our decision might be?
Take this scenario for example.
Child: “I want another cupcake, please!”
Caregiver: “Not right now. We’ll have more tonight.”
*Child begins to dysregulate*
Child: *screaming and stomping* “I want another cupcake!!!”
If we view children as demanding, annoying underlings, the child in this scenario might look combative, entitled, even ridiculous. But, if we see what’s really happening, that the child met an unexpected barrier and does not have the tools to work through it, we can offer real, lasting help.
Caregiver: “Oh! I can see how much you want another cupcake! They are yummy. It’s really hard to wait when you see some cupcakes left over and you want one of them.”
*Caregiver might offer a hug, deep breaths, some time outside, or other calming strategy*
Caregiver: “Since there are just enough left for our family to share this evening at suppertime, I was hoping to put them aside until then. Would you like to have your cupcake now or would you like to have it with us later on?”
It doesn’t matter how the child responds here. That’s really the point. Children have a right to input on decisions that affect them. There will be times when the answer is simply no and we will need to stay with our children to offer empathy and support. But, the reality is that no is all too often our kneejerk reaction to a question from a child, any child really. We come up with all sorts of reasons to deny children even the simplest choices. If we can make these difficult transitions easier, especially when we can yield control over a child’s decisions to that child, why not go for it? We’d all be better off if we trusted each other to make age-appropriate decisions and jumped to empathy before judgment.
Y’all know I love a good “versus” post! Let’s talk about the difference between permissive and liberating parenting. First, though, I must acknowledge that what’s considered permissive parenting is highly cultural. This article from Parenting Science does a fantastic job of explaining about how permissive parenting outside of the U.S. isn’t always problematic and why that may be. In the U.S., when we talk about permissive parenting, we generally mean giving children virtually unlimited freedom without the requisite parental involvement.
Here, unlimited freedom is usually the dominion of white families, especially those who aren’t actively pursuing anti-racism and anti-colonialism. White children carry all the white supremacist messaging – and protections – they receive through osmosis and otherwise and that indoctrination factors into the choices they make. The result can be children who do not recognize safety limits or the personal boundaries of people around them. They can develop an attitude that “I do what I want and I don’t care what anyone says.”
To a significant extent, white children are the only group of kids who have the cultural privilege to do what they like without life-altering repercussions. Bottom line: white USian parents are the most likely to engage in permissive parenting and the least likely to suffer any meaningful backlash as a result. Something to keep in mind, especially when reading about what permissive parenting looks like outside of the U.S.
All of that said, I’ve put together a simple chart to look at the ways permissive parenting and liberated parenting might affect kids and the parent-child relationship. This chart is not comprehensive and each point could be argued but, in the end, it provides a comparative framework to better understand how each approach impacts children.
Family is intentional about disrupting oppressive systems
Liberated children hold tremendous autonomy. They have the space to be independent and make their own decisions within a conscious, respectful relationship with their parents. Permissive parenting and liberating parenting have so much in common, because they both embrace the free will and agency of children. However, liberation involves noticing, compassion for self and others, and intentionality that may not be present in permissive homes. I believe the goal of peaceful, gentle parenting should be liberation, starting with an end to childism and branching out to combat the oppression of all survivors of marginalization.
What is an entitled child in the first place? In an article by the same title as mine, Molly Lopez of Highlights.com asks that question. She posed it to a panel of experts and received this reply:
“Typically, entitled kids believe the world revolves around them, that things should be done for them, and that paths should be cleared for them without them putting in much effort. Signs of entitlement include not taking ‘no’ for an answer and acting helpless when they’re not. When an entitled kid messes up, he expects to be rescued. He tends to not be grateful for what he has, and he finds it difficult to be content. Also, he requires constant entertainment. Any child on the planet will exhibit these characteristics from time to time, but if you’re seeing them as a regular pattern, you should ask, ‘Is this an entitlement issue?’”—Ms. McCready “The entitled child feels that she deserves what she wants at all times—financially and/or emotionally. This is very common and normal for very young children. Toddler entitlement is a natural part of growing, but there are limits.”—Dr. Milanaik
Ok, pause. If we genuinely believe that behavior is communication, what might “entitled” behavior be communicating? What I’m seeing is a child who a) is craving meaningful connection, b) struggles with intrinsic motivation likely due to excessive rewards, c) has not been guided in perspective taking and emotional regulation, d) has not had an opportunity to feel bored or disappointed, and e) has not had their competencies respected. Children cannot learn how to meet these needs on their own.
I propose that entitled children do not exist to begin with and urge my readers to reconsider using such stigmatizing, childist terminology against children.
Any time we’re invited to classify children by their outward behavior, I will always have concerns. Labels do save lives when they are adopted by people who can use them to lean into their identities and find community. But, at the same time, when labels are imposed upon marginalized groups by marginalizing people, we need to stop and question what the motivation might be. In this case, it seems to me that adults label children “entitled” to avoid admitting that these same children are not being treated well by adults or guided appropriately. This is not to say that so-called “entitled” behavior is the “fault” of a parent, but there are certainly ways parents can help children not have to rely on uncomfortable behaviors to get their needs met. Here are some ways to help.
Children are full and complete human beings at birth. They desire to be accepted into the social circles they’re born into and those their paths bring them into. Connection doesn’t have to be complicated to be meaningful. It’s choosing our kids over and over, day in and day out, especially when life tries to distract us from our role as caregivers. Some of the simple ways we can connect with our kids, with their consent of course, include:
Reading to your children
Playing with them
Investing in their interests
Helping them with chores and projects
Doing fun activities away from home
A child who is firmly connected to a caregiver tends to be less driven to seek out attention and approval from other sources.
Intrinsic Motivation vs Rewards
Arbitrary rewards are the flip-side of punishments when they are used to coercively modify the behavior of children. They are harmful and unhelpful. So, when a child who is desperately seeking meaningful connection receives rewards in place of connection, they will become demotivated to seek out connection in a healthy way. In other words, if we meet a child’s desires without meeting their needs, we will contribute to intense connection- and reward-seeking behavior as an undesirable substitute.
The easy fix is to avoid punishing or rewarding children in order to change their behavior. Kids don’t need sticker charts or ice cream to encourage them to do what we ask them to do. That’s manipulation. Instead, foster a relationship with your child. Establish family expectations and teach them how to meet those expectations in developmentally-appropriate ways. Use connection and limits to gently guide and encourage them.
Perspective-Taking and Emotional Regulation
Perspective-taking refers to the ability to see a situation from someone else’s point of view. It is a skill that cannot be rushed through the stages of development. There are a few schools of thought on how perspective-taking fleshes out in humans, but generally speaking, here’s where we stand.
1-year-olds can match the emotions they see in others
2-year-olds will try to help if they see another person is unhappy
3- to 6-year-olds start to recognize that other people have different emotions than they do and express empathy
7- to 12-year-olds can understand that emotions are complex and may not derive from the immediate circumstances
10- to 15-year-olds can hold multiple perspectives at once and form a big picture
14- to 18-year-olds can begin to investigate social systems and their influences on others
While we can’t rush development, we can certainly support it through emotion coaching in which we help our children name their emotions, notice how others are feeling, work through what has brought the emotions up, affirm their feelings, and help them problem solve. Children who have been labeled “entitled” by-and-large will have not been given opportunities to develop these skills, which is pretty obvious when we consider what an “entitled” child looks like.
Boredom and Disappointment
I firmly believe children have a right to experience boredom and disappointment without an adult swooping in to make it all better. That drive to keep our children impossibly happy is an unfortunate side effect of toxic positivity and a compulsion toward perfectionism, neither of which is healthy or helpful. We can bear with our kids as they get bored or feel disappointed. We can empathize and express solidarity. We can do these things without creating conditions where our children lose the ability to tolerate discomfort.
Assuming Competence Without Breaking Spirits
I once wrote about the adage that we should “never do for a child what he can do for himself. A ‘dependent’ child is a demanding child… Children become irresponsible only when we fail to give them opportunities to take on.” I cannot adequately convey how horrible this idea is to me. It’s probably one of the driving forces behind the overall concept of “entitled” children and it is utterly childist. Yes, absolutely, we should assume children are able to do the things they want to do until they show us they need help. And, we should give them space to try. However, letting children fail without support is not the answer. The description of “entitled” children seems to point to kids who have been treated as incompetent and that needs to change. By the same token, proponents for pushing kids farther than they’re able to manage on their own is equally troubling. I’ve found a middle ground that has been helpful for me as a parent:
A little failure is good. Letting kids figure things out on their own is crucial for their development.
A lot of failure is bad. Leaving kids to become helpless in the face of challenge does no one any good.
Our responsibility as parents is to help our children learn from failure without losing hope.
So, Should We Give In When Our Children Make Demands?
In a word, yes. I believe we should always give children what they’re asking for if is reasonably within our power. And, we absolutely do not need to manufacture opportunities not to give things to our kids. “Entitled” behavior does not derive from loving treatment by adults. I recently wrote about the power of “giving in” which explains my position:
Experts have lots of ideas for how to curtail “entitlement” in children, but I see so few acknowledging that “entitled” behavior is protective for children whose needs aren’t being met. Meet the needs, build the relationship, address any underlying mental health concerns, and stop labeling kids “entitled.”
“Entitled” children are children whose desires have been granted in place of meeting their needs.
I may be the last person not to have heard of this acronym before. Raise your hand if you haven’t seen it before. I knew about it instinctively and even more deeply through my efforts to connect with my kids. It’s such a simple thing to remember, especially when I’m overwrought myself.
I haven’t been able to pin down an origin, but I do see that HALT is used widely in trauma-informed therapy where people are struggling with such fundamentally dehumanizing experiences that they lose touch with their own human needs. It got me thinking about what children experience every day in childist cultures. They’re told what to eat, what to think, what to wear. They’re encouraged to obey even when obedience means they must deny their own needs. And, there is no escape for so many kids. Traditional parenting approaches demand hierarchies that disadvantage children. It stands to reason that children, who are just learning/have just learned what all the sensations inside their bodies mean, will not recognize their needs at all when they are overwhelmed.
So, when our children seem out of sorts, let’s HALT. Stop and ask yourself, when’s the last time my child had something to eat or drink? Resolve it, if needed. If that’s not the problem, consider whether your child might be angry. If that’s the case, emotion coaching may be the answer. Give it a try. If that’s not it either, maybe your child is lonely. This would be the perfect time to take a little break from whatever we’re doing and give our child some attention. Kids have varying attention needs day to day and even hour to hour. Some days, it might feel like you can get anything done and other days, you’re left wondering what your kids have been up to. That ebb and flow is important for growth in the relationship as is the quality of the interactions you have. So, please, take some time and hang with your kids. And, finally, if none of that resolves the issue, your child may just need some downtime and might not even realize it.
I’ve given up on asking my kids if they need a nap, because they never choose to Maui if I suggest it. I’ll just say, “Oh goodness, I need some quiet time.” I’ll turn the lights down (we already keep most of them off for sensory reasons), snuggle up on the couch with some books, and invite my kids over. If they don’t come right away, I start reading aloud quietly in my little nest. They have full autonomy over their bodies in these instances and I will not force them to comply with my quiet time. They can choose to go anywhere in the house. Typically, they will eventually join me and sometimes even take a little cat nap.
HALT doesn’t end with these four considerations. It is an opportunity to take a look at your child and discern their needs even when they don’t recognize them. In my house, “nature” and “water” could be their own entire letters in the acronym. If nothing else seems to be upsetting my kids, I know that getting them outside to run free in nature or putting them into some form of water will cure many troubles. So, try the basics first. Recognize that children communicate with us through their behavior and prepare yourself next time for the tough moments. You’ll be so glad you did!
Recently, I was involved in a discussion about the privilege inherent in the ability to homeschool. In order to homeschool successfully, one must have quite a few advantages such as financial means, stable mental health, and access to resources. That is not to say that there aren’t homeschooling parents who have varying degrees of such advantages. I’m a low-income, Autistic homeschooling mom with intense anxiety that I’m medicated for. I can homeschool because I have a partner who works and helps, a support network that can fill in when he can’t, graduate level education which has given me resources and also the ability to find resources I don’t yet have, and the means to obtain the medications I need for stable mental health. Homeschooling isn’t just the realm of well-off, white moms. But, every homeschooling family has advantages that make this lifestyle possible.
That got me thinking about other kinds of privilege I don’t really notice that I have and what that means for the way I’m impacting others. So many people I come across are resistant to accepting that they have privilege, often because they believe admitting it means they must be bad people. However, assessing privilege should not be an exercise in determining who is guilty and who is not. That’s not the point. Assessing privilege helps us recognize our responsibility in reshaping our respective cultures to genuinely serve and uplift everyone. We are presently far, FAR away from any reality resembling that ideal for so many reasons, most of which involve the oppressive authority of White Supremacy Culture and exploitative social class divisions.
Acknowledging Privilege We Don’t Realize We Have
One way we can undermine both White Supremacy Culture and social class divisions is by knowing the kinds of privilege we have and allowing that knowledge to help us empathize with others and recognize where our perspectives can lead to harm. “Bootstrap mentality” is one such example. The idea that working hard leads to success, as long as you’re doing it right, ignores the real reasons people are not successful. People have to contend with challenges such as lack of access to information or education, inability to generate the resources necessary, unavailability of support structures, and the like. Many of the hardest working people have the fewest resources to show for it. Just because one person is able to overcome their personal challenges doesn’t mean that someone with similar circumstances will be able to do the same. That’s just not how life works.
Two lesser acknowledged benefits of privilege we should observe are the presence of choice and the absence of barriers. Privilege bestows choice predicated on unequal circumstances. For instance, people do not choose to be born into wealth but, once they are, their options and choices in other areas of life are apt to increase. Privilege also shields us from barriers that others face. Considering again those who are born into wealth, will they ever have to navigate the structure of public assistance which is designed to conserve resources and limit pay outs to people who are barely scraping by? Possible, but doubtful. This is why lived experience is so important to understanding the reality of the lives of people who do not have the same advantages we do.
It can be difficult to recognize privilege when we all have our own struggles. We can be privileged in some areas and experience significant challenges in others. The balance of privilege and struggle matters. Those for whom this balance leans heavily toward struggle need more support and consideration, more relief, in order to prosper. This is where we can all benefit each other. By harnessing our privilege and using it to advantage others, we shift the balance and create a more just society for all of us.
We’ve all likely heard of white privilege, but there are other areas that aren’t as commonly discussed. With the help of my readers, I’ve compiled a short list of privilege points we don’t talk about enough. How many of these examples of privilege apply to you?
I can clean my body every day.
I had stable housing as a child. Bonus: I have financial resources now that cushion me from becoming unhoused.
Chronic physical pain does not significantly impact my quality of life.
I can seek healthcare when something is wrong.
I have reliable power and temperature control in my home.
I am able to comfortably sleep through the night.
I can afford to eat a diversity of foods that contain all the nutrients a human body needs.
My parents had stable physical and mental health when they were raising me.
I was not spanked or otherwise abused as a child.
My partner(s) and I can be together freely in public with no fear for our safety.
My neurotype is dominant in my culture.
I see people who look like me in positions of influence.
The majority of my country’s primary and secondary schools require students to take classes on the history of my people as told in our own voices.
I am cisgender and heterosexual. Bonus: I am a cishet man.
I do not have to use paid time off or forfeit pay in order to observe the holy days of my religion.
I am an adult with all the rights and freedoms afforded to adults in my country.
I can make personal decisions for myself without anyone else’s approval.
I have never been removed from my first family to be adopted or placed into foster care.
My parents were married when I was growing up.
I communicate in a way and with a language that most people in my country understand. Bonus: I am not discriminated against for the way I communicate.
I can call the police for help without fear of being killed.
My personal qualities and traits are not pathologized.
I can easily get enough clean water to satisfy my thirst.
The adults in my household do not have to work more than one job each to meet the needs of our household. Bonus: At least one adult is able to stay home.
ACCESS AND OPTIONS
I am not expected to purchase two seats on for a flight due to the limited size of each seat.
I have a high school diploma. Bonus: I have education beyond high school.
I have the psychological, financial, and educational ability to homeschool my children.
I can afford clothing. Bonus: I can afford clothes that fit my body.
Vaccines are available to me and I can refuse them if I wish.
I have internet access. Bonus: I have a computer in my home.
I have a committed support system. Bonus: I have contacts and mentors who can help me access resources, information, and networks.
I can read. Bonus: There is an easily accessible library in my community.
I have a car and can drive it.
I can access any public space I want to visit.
I can boycott stores like Amazon and Walmart without risking hunger.
I do not have to pre-plan my grocery shopping trips.
I have a job. Bonus: My job provides paid leave and other benefits.
I am able to do my job from my home.
My full-time job allows me to pay my basic bills without regular assistance and without going bankrupt.
I can access natural, green spaces without much effort.
And, one of the most significant aspects of unknown privilege is simply the ability to say, “I do not believe in privilege” and really mean it.
Check out these articles to learn more about how to use your privilege for good!
If you’re not here for the Christian stuff, please bypass this. As a reminder, I’m a clergy wife and seminarian in my own right. I talk about all things Christian every day of my life.
Last month, I came across a post on Facebook that deeply impacted me. It came from humanist chaplain, Jim Palmer. At one time in his life, he was a pastor at the largest church in North America, but he gave it up because his conscience grated against the contradictions he found in his evangelical church. I would say many of us Christians, especially those of us with ties to the clergy, have similar points of crisis. There’s that famous quote (that’s falsely attributed to Mahatma Ghandi), “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” As an aside, it is probably a play on a quote from Bara Dada that says, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.” I’m sure you get my point. Churches, which are supposed to be where people come to draw closer to God and find healing, end up perpetuating the same harm that drives people to them in the first place.
I fully admit that I have had many, MANY points of crisis and moments where I turned my back on churches altogether. It’s been a long and difficult journey to find balance between what I know in my heart to be true of God and how much perversity I can accept from Christians. Here is what Jim Palmer had to say about it:
If you think I have responses to these points, you’re absolutely right! His post fired me right up. And, this read goes out to those who delivered cruel messages to me as a child.
Children are not born evil. They are born precious and beloved of God with a predilection to go their own way and use their free will to choose their own path outside of the will of God. But God is gracious and impossibly patient.
Jesus didn’t come here to be brutalized and murdered. The method of his execution was purely the work of free will. Boiled down, the Bible is the story of how death entered the world and was conquered in the resurrection of Christ. Death is the legacy of Adam and Eve. Not sin. Sin is a corruption of the system that was broken when death became a reality.
This is disgusting. We are made in the image of God. God is in each of us. So unless there is nothing good in God, this cannot be true. It’s an unfortunate inheritance of Augustine’s self-loathing. I do agree that we must be wise about our thoughts and feelings. Suicidal ideation is obviously not of God. We grow in wisdom through spiritual disciplines.
The enemy is the author of chaos, fear, and shame yelling half-truths to blot out the light of God in each of us. God is the God of love. God brings us to understanding through inborn conviction that lets us know something is wrong. God is not an accuser. That’s someone else altogether, the Σατανᾶς (Satanâs).
Hell as a place created for punishment is an innovation. It would have been foreign to early Christians. Hell is a state of being. It’s the experience of God at different points on the journey to salvation. Those who spend this life ignoring spiritual disciplines and/or hating God would necessarily end up rather uncomfortable in God’s presence.
Every person who has walked the earth is beloved of God. It’s utterly disrespectful to section off entire groups of people as untouchables.
God gave us minds to explore our faith. The reason we have a Bible is because of theologians who got together in lengthy council meetings to observe, test, and debate. If we aren’t asking questions, something is wrong. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s a brittle certainty.
Now, the reason this topic bubbled back up to the surface was because I was horrified to read a post online where a child was terrorized by other children and their warnings of hell as a place for people who are bad. So, let’s talk about hell as a place. Jesus talked about Gehenna in several spots in the New Testament. Gehenna is an actual place on earth where children were sacrificed. Jesus was brought up in a culture that believed that place to be cursed. The area became a garbage-burning dump and sewer. It smelled horrible between the burning garbage (i.e. lake of fire), hot sulfur (i.e. brimstone) from the rich mineral deposits in the area, and sewage, making it the perfect metaphor for a horrible way to spend eternity. We know from Revelation 21-22 that the garbage dump version of Gehenna doesn’t exist in the restored world. It couldn’t because it will be refreshed along with everything else. Which means… we’re all going to be in the same place together. I use this quote from Bishop Irenei Steenberg: “hell is heaven experienced differently.” What we do in this life shapes our eternal experience in ways we don’t yet understand. In other words, stop telling children they’re going to be tortured for eternity if they steal a roll of Lifesavers.
A few days ago, I shared a story told to me by a fellow Autistic mom friend (see Facebook post below). I’ve been wanting to write about children and lying for a long time now and just never had the inspiration. That all changed when I learned what my friend had done. It was beautiful! I’m so pleased to get moving on this topic and offer some education and guidance I’ve learned along the way. Let’s get right into it!
1. Our Children Are Not Manipulating Us
According to the word experts, deception involves convincing someone of something that is not consistent with the facts and manipulation involves controlling someone without their knowledge to one’s own benefit. Can children really do these things? Adults often assume children are capable of behaviors that are beyond them. The Zero to Three Foundation found the following in a survey they conducted:
About half of parents believe that children are capable of self-control and other developmental milestones much earlier than they actually are.
43% of parents think children can share and take turns with other children before age 2, and 71% believe children have this ability before age 3. In fact, this skill develops between 3 to 4 years.
36% of parents surveyed said that children under age 2 have enough impulse control to resist the desire to do something forbidden, and 56% said this happens before age 3. In fact, most children are not able to master this until between 3.5 to 4 years of age.
While children may be capable of the cognitive and social process that results in deception, manipulation requires skill, scheming, and intent. To manipulate, children must:
Understand the intent of someone else’s behavior or actions. In neurotypical children, this ability begins around 15 months.
Know that what they want is, in fact, different from the person they’re addressing.
Develop an alternative version of the facts that they will use to convince someone of their perspective.
Convincingly present the narrative.
Avoid revealing the facts they are concealing.
These skills grow with age, of course. In children, what we often read as manipulation is an effort to address unmet needs. Children get our attention however they can, and they communicate through behavior. By the technical definition, sure, children can demonstrate many of the qualities needed for manipulation, but it is both childist and ableist to respond to a child’s behavioral communication with such an accusation. We can advance anti-childist aims by using different words. Our children aren’t manipulating us. They are seeking connection and support.
2. Lying is Developmentally Appropriate
The ability to deceive marks an important point in development where children begin to understand that reality involves different experiences. The flip side of deception is a child who is better able to empathize because they start to understand that experiences vary, even within the same life circumstances.
Younger children are also apt to make-believe both out of a need for fun and also when they want to escape their experience (or the consequences of it). Their imaginations run wild and they dream up an outcome that they like better. We should want our children to do this! The ability to see a better way is the basis for all true justice.
And, then, of course, is the fact that little kids do not deceive very effectively, because they are simply not yet sophisticated enough to understand practical neuroscience the way adults can through instinct and observation. While they are still in this stage, we can model honesty and talk about what it means to tell the truth. We can explain the difference between truth and accuracy and help our kids see truth from many perspectives. We can talk about the (life) consequences of lying versus telling the truth, because telling the truth can be hurtful. They need parameters and examples and, above all, acceptance and understanding from us.
Our response is never more important than it is with our neurodivergent children. Keep in mind that children with ADHD face lots of memory scrambling and disorganization as a result of their neurology. They may not remember with great accuracy and their brains may simply be moving too fast to catch all the details they need. Likewise, Autistic children are often known as being very honest, but this may not actually be the case. Many Autistic children are comfortable with the facts; so comfortable, in fact, that they can make the facts work to their advantage in a way that is deceptive. They may stick to the letter of the law, even when they know a spirit of the law exists. It’s all part of negotiating a typical world with a divergent mind.
3. Lying Actually Has Some Benefits
Author Michael Lewis wrote a fascinating piece for the American Scientist called The Origins of Lying and Deception in Everyday Life. In it, he proposes a taxonomy of lying and deception that can help us parse out the motivations and intentions of our children when they lie. I’ve touched on a couple of these already in this piece, and I will include them here to provide a complete picture of his ideological framework. He names four types of lies:
Lying to protect the feelings of another
Lying for self-protection to avoid punishment
Lying to the self, or self-deception
Lying to hurt others
The first three relate to cognitive skills that we (should) want our children to develop. Consider the following instances:
Lying to protect the feelings of another
Many of us tell our children to smile and be “gracious” when we receive a gift of an item we already have. I know I was given this directive as a child. And, I know that it did not come naturally to me to tell a so-called little white lie to protect the feelings of the people who gave me gifts because they loved me.
How many of us are completely honest in our relationships? How many of us have lost relationships because we we revealed just a little too much? Children as young as 3 may be able to discern the trajectory of a question and spare someone’s feelings by adjusting the truth. This skill is an early one for neurotypical humans, which leads me to wonder if it is an aspect of social survival that is built into children’s natural development. In that case, a nuanced and developmentally sensitive approach to talking about lying is certainly warranted.
Lying for self-protection to avoid punishment
Lying to avoid harm is a very early development for humans. Children as young as two-and-a-half will try to deceive their parents to avoid an uncomfortable punishment. And, frankly, this is also something we should want our children to be able to do.
This form of self-preservation extends beyond the safety of the parent-child relationship. Think about how we’d hope our children would address predators who mean them harm. Would we affirm our children for lying to a potential kidnapper if it meant keeping them safe? I daresay we would! Yes, I’d want my children to say whatever they needed to say in order to escape harm. This kind of lying also requires a nuanced approach.
Lying to the self, or self-deception
Self-deception is one way we preserve our mental health. We can come up with reasons to accept a hard reality, such as being rejected from a job, that may or may not be accurate for the situation. A lot of people simply call this positive thinking and it can be both helpful and harmful.
As it applies to children, giving them hope is helpful. Encouraging them not to dwell on painful things, but rather to work through them can keep their mental health intact. However, they can also self-deceive in a direction that causes them hurt, such as a teenager not being able to admit a substance abuse struggle. Again, nuanced is most certainly called for here.
Lying to Hurt Others
Now, the one type of lying that has no real social or personal benefit. If you see a pattern where your child does lie simply to inflict pain or shame onto someone else, please keep the option open to call on a mental health professional.
4. We Shouldn’t “Catch” Our Children in Lies
As with everything else we do, our response to lying must be conscious and connected. Loudly accusing a child of lying will get us nowhere and may, in fact, push the child to retreat further into the deception in hopes of avoiding more scary reactions from us.
You can help prepare yourself for the stages of development by doing some research and reading of your own. I’ll get you started by letting you know that most neurotypical children gain the ability to deceive around 2-years-old; they begin to be able to cover their tracks around 4-years-old; and, they can both understand different perspectives and hold onto a falsehood around 7-years-old. However, even at age seven, your child is very, very young and is still learning how their dishonesty lands. It will be many years more before they can effectively deceive and manipulate.
It is absolutely crucial that we, as peaceful parents, prioritize dialogue over coercion and control. The less we rely on rules to force our children into a mold of our making and, instead, get to know their hearts and fulfill their needs, the easier it will be for them to be honest with us. As you likely know by now, demanding a child to tell you why they’ve lied is usually fruitless. While they might seem calm, children who are found lying are often in a state of distress. So, we can start by letting our children know we love them and we want to help them. The next step is to ask the right questions to get the dialogue going. Here are some prompts to try:
If your child is very young and first exploring these limits, be invested. For instance, if a child claims that an imaginary friend did the thing that the child did, ask about it. “Hmm… I wonder why [friend] did that?” Taking an inquisitive approach and investing in the story can help draw out the truth.
If it’s an easy fix, be helpful. “I see that [state what you see]. May I help you [state resolution]?” Immediately offering to help without first scolding or accusing will build trust with your child.
If you know the truth, be curious. “I see that [state what you see]. What were you hoping to do?” You’ll give your child an opportunity to explain themself, so that you’ll have the information you need to help rectify what’s happened.
If you can see that your child is afraid of the consequences, be loving. “Is that what you wish happened?” This one is a beautiful way to connect with a child’s heart and let them know you receive their intent and will honor it.
If you notice that your child keeps lying about the same thing, be proactive. “I know you want to [state desire]. I get it! Next time, please come tell me first and I will help you.”
I encourage you also to work toward an environment where deception is received neutrally and resolutions are always accessible. Give your child less reason to deceive by avoiding punishment at all times, guarding their vulnerability, not harping on past deceptions, and helping your child see a way out of a tough situation. And, of course, think about how you will impart your family’s values around the types of lying that are socially acceptable, and even prescribed. Particularly for neurodivergent children, the boundaries and expectations around “little white lies” must be directly indicated.
A final note: There may be cases when children doggedly hold onto a lie. While deception from children is completely normal and expected, extreme commitment to a lie could be a sign that your child is going through something they can’t manage on their own, such as declining mental health or abuse. It’s so important to pay attention and keep the dialogue open.
If you suspect abuse, you can make a report to your state to get the process started on an investigation. If your child reports abuse, it’s important that you receive what they’re saying without suggesting that you don’t believe. Limit questions to what happened, where and when it happened, and by whom. Asking leading questions (such as suggesting a name of a potential culprit) could hinder the success of a future investigation. Check out a brochure for mandated reporters to understand how they handle cases of suspected abuse. And, see this site for a contact in your state (within the U.S.) for reporting child abuse and neglect.
Earlier this week, I saw a reply on a Facebook post about urgency vs control, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since. I’m reminded of all the “what ifs” I see from parents starting to question the way they’ve disciplined their children. They’ll say, “What if we absolutely have to get to the doctor’s office and my kids won’t cooperate? What’s the gentle approach to that situation?” Or “What if my child is about to pour their drink out and I need to take it from them? How can I do that gently?”
So, first, let’s look at the difference in definitions between urgency and control.
Urgency: a force or impulse that impels or constrains.
What do you notice about these words? The first thing I notice is that both words involve some force. In the case of urgency, that force impels or constrains. In the case of control, that force claims power over someone or something. I think this distinction is important for parents to consider, because my next question is this:
When you are feeling pressed to take action with your children, is it because you are being impelled or constrained bya force outside of yourself?
Think about the last time you used your adult power and parenting authority to require your kids to comply. Was that something completely unavoidable or did you have control over the situation? When we’re stressed out trying to get our kids to the car for a doctor’s appointment (especially one that we’ll be required to pay a fee for missing), what is the cause of our stress? Is it the money we’re going to have to pay? Or is it a lack of planning that evolved into a situation where we’d manufactured urgency where it never needed to exist?
While I’m asking you these questions, I’m asking myself too because, honestly, I can’t recall a time recently when external forces were pushing me to take immediate action. Every time I’ve exerted control over my kids, it’s been by my own choice or by urgency I created for myself by my own inaction. All those times I hollered, “Hurry up, please! Let’s get to the car quickly! We’re late!” it was all me. It wasn’t the kids.
In fact, when I do leave plenty of time, I find that the process of getting to the car is really easy. There’s some playfulness along the way, but a good time buffer leaves room for play. If my goal is to preserve my children’s autonomy (and it is), then who am I to tell them how they will move their bodies from the house to the car? As long as they aren’t harming themselves, whatever their bodies need to do in that moment should be ok.
How about instances that don’t involve a force outside of yourself by impelling you to action? What happens when it’s your child crossing a limit you have established? Earlier, I used the example of a child about to pour their drink out. Is this an urgent situation? Is there value in letting children be messy? Whenever my children are about to make a mess, I think of all the things that could go wrong. The wood floor could warp. Their clothes could stain. Their hands could get sticky and then they could transfer that stickiness to other parts of the house. It’s more for me to clean up. It’s going to take up time that I don’t have. All of these things are valid concerns. What’s the solution? I could snatch the cup. In fact, I find that this is my default. Control the environment. Remove the offending object. But, is there another way to control the environment?
What about handing the child a giant metal mixing bowl to pour the drink into and listen to the sound as it fills? In my house, I already have a large waterproof cover that permanently sits on the table just for this sort of messy play. However, it’s not my first instinct to find ways for my kids to maintain their autonomy. I have to remember to try. My instinct is to stop problems from happening, and that comes from a control mindset. I’m just not so sure anymore that a child pouring out their drink is an urgent situation as much as it’s a problem-solving situation.
Are you yielding to urgency when you push your children? Or, are you taking undue control over them (like me a lot of the time)? I’m going to keep thinking on it and I hope you will too.
I recognize that there are A LOT of people out there who believe we should stop using labels and simply embrace each other as we are. That’s a lovely thought, but it hasn’t played out in my life in any positive way. The trouble, as I see it, is that our differences make us stronger, therefore, ignoring difference hurts us all. Labels are neutral categories that help us figure out our identities. We keep adding new ones to accommodate differences and that’s ok. Then we assign morality to them. That’s why the meanings behind labels can change over time.
So, how do labels save lives? I’ll give you one way. Labels serve to neatly categorize huge ideas into compact spaces. If I were to ask, “what is autism?” that’s a big question. But, if I offer a list of human traits and ask you to label them as a group, it might be easier. Think about things like sensitivity to stimuli that is neither respected nor understood by the general population because it comes across as too much or too little, focus on more concrete thinking that is straightforward and genuine, and the tendency to experience the double empathy problem. I could make a checklist and say, if you check off 90% of these items, you might just be Autistic. The label is Autistic and the traits are the evidence that point to the label being accurate.
My story is much like that of other late-diagnosed Autistic adults. My parents knew I was Autistic from a young age but could not access diagnostic services for me. So, they ignored it, suppressing my traits through behaviorism. I grew up thinking something was terribly wrong with me. I suffered through bouts of suicidal ideology from a very young age. It felt like no one understood me. I was just too different. So little about my life actually made sense until I went through the autism evaluation process as a parent. The questions that the doctor asked made me realize how many Autistic traits I had possessed all my life. I sought out my own evaluation and ultimately received a diagnosis. I was Autistic. I am Autistic!
This affirmation of my entire life and being changed everything. I knew why I thought the way I did. I knew why I was always a step apart from what others were doing, feeling like some sort of bystander to my own life, manufacturing a façade that allowed me to be the alien behind the mask. I started to join groups for Autistic adults and learned even more about myself. I found camaraderie and purpose. I embraced the social model of disability, noting all the points in my life where forces outside of myself stood in the way of my progress. I recognized the symptoms of trauma within my psyche and came to understand that this trauma was the source of my debilitating anxiety – anxiety, in fact, that I didn’t realize I had until other Autistic people described what anxiety looks like in day-to-day life. Then, I started medication. Finally. After decades of misdiagnoses and drugs that never helped, I got the right medication and the right support.
And, you know what? I no longer descend into suicidal ideation the way I once did. I don’t dwell on the troubling parts of my life and do battle against the little voice in my head telling me it would be easier on me, and everyone else, if I weren’t here. Recently, I had an especially difficult week. One evening, while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, it hit me that I wasn’t perseverating on suicide. It was like there was a bottom under me. I had caught a ledge in my mind and I wasn’t sinking any further. I can’t remember anytime in my life when I’ve felt like this.
So, yes, I fully embrace the labels that describe who I am. I use them in healthy ways to understand myself and connect with the communities that have become literal lifelines for me. And, I reject the idea that labels are bad for us. I hope you understand why.
When I first set out to home educate my Pre-Ker, using an eclectic Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that I didn’t want to take an academic route. I wanted to provide minimally structured, play-based learning with plenty of time for self-directed interests. I also wanted to avoid Christian curricula, which probably sounds strange since I’m a clergy wife. The trouble is that I rarely find curriculum authors who share my family’s Orthodox Christian theological perspective. Our theological foundation is fundamentally different from other branches of the Christian family, and I find there’s too much emphasis on things like depravity, shame, and substitutionary atonement that I prefer not to encounter and I certainly don’t want my children to encounter.
While I shuffled things around at the beginning of the year, we ended up settling into a four-day schedule plus unschooling-friendly Fridays. Our Fridays have been wonderful! Following the children’s interests has brought us to interesting places on field trips, informational documentaries on Curiosity Stream (for less than $20 a year!), lots of outdoor play, and new revelations, like the fact we apparently have artistic talent under this roof.
Blossom and Root Early Years, Volume 2 is a gentle, secular pre-k program with 36 weeks worth of easy-going activities. Each week includes an assignment for nature study, picture and composer study, art project, kitchen classroom, early literacy and math, STEM projects, and read-alouds. This curriculum was a hit! It was slow enough to enjoy savoring, yet robust enough to keep my curious child interested.
I chose Blossom and Root, because I was drawn in by Kristina Garner’s beautiful blog posts, the samples, and testimonials from other parents.
What You Get
This is a pdf resource you must download and either print yourself at home or by a professional. Lots of families choose to bind their copies, but I hole-punched and stored mine in the same binder I use to store my child’s portfolio. Please note that some, but not all, of the pages are numbered to allow flexibility in how you print and store your materials.
When I first purchased this curriculum, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed I’d see stodgy bullet lists in a neat line down the pages perhaps with some tables thrown in. What I got was more of a cross between a visual schedule and a to-do list. It took a little getting used to as the content is more artistic than orderly, not to say it’s disorderly, because it isn’t. It’s just different. As I went along, I became proficient as quickly flipping and scanning for what I needed to prepare each week.
I opted to use a loop schedule that had all the activities filled out in advance on one-page. Each day, I would note the date on which we completed the activity (or cross out activities we elected not to do). Then, I’d transfer the information into my planner to keep as a record. I plan to do the same thing next year, except that I’m going to pre-print the entire year of activities on a series of loop schedule sheets to make my weekend prep easier.
This curriculum created such beautiful experiences for my family! I’m not terribly creative when it comes to children’s activities, so it was a delight to come to each new activity and find they were all fun and educational. We used Blossom and Root’s Early Years 2 for music and art study, English language arts, gentle math fundamentals, read-alouds, STEM, nature study, artistic expression, and kitchen classroom. It took only 5-10 minutes per lesson per day, since we didn’t do every single thing every day. So, the time spent one-on-one over the course of the day never exceeded 30 minutes. I highly recommend this curriculum to anyone who is looking for a Charlotte Mason-inspired, gentle, pre-k curriculum for children around the ages of 4-5.
There really isn’t much I can call a con about this curriculum. If I dig deep, I’ll note two things. 1) I was concerned that it wasn’t as complete as I needed it to be, so I did supplement with two other resources which I’ll note below. The same might be the case for other families, especially those with Autistic children. 2) This curriculum requires A LOT of parental involvement. I had to set everything up each week and then each day. On some days, that felt like a burden as I tried to wrangle my brood and put activities together. That said, it didn’t take long and the activities are brief. We were able to finish all 36 weeks with little difficulty.
Discover Reading combines a teacher guide, activity explanations, and sample lessons that give children a start on recognizing sounds, letters, and the words they created. This curriculum promises to help you:
grasp and apply Charlotte Mason’s principles
develop your child’s skills in phonemic awareness, blending, word-building, visualization, word-analysis and automaticity in word recognition
encourage a love for language and stories using interesting activities filled with inspiring ideas
find special delight in teaching your unique children
I chose Discover Reading because I wanted a gentle, Charlotte Mason resource for introducing the concepts necessarily to effectively begin reading.
What You Get
This resource is another PDF product that requires you to print the materials and store them in your preferred way.
The author takes a minimalist approach to the presentation of the materials within the PDF. She uses almost all text, and the rare graphic here and there. It is clean and easy to navigate. I especially appreciated the section called A Scope & Sequence of Sorts as it described how to use the curriculum with children of different ages and abilities.
Each lesson begins with the wise words of Charlotte Mason, herself, followed by preparation tips and materials, and then an explanation of the activity. Little notes from the author are sprinkled throughout the document, helping the homeschool teacher understand how best to regard the child and present the information. Quotes from Charlotte Mason feature prominently across all the activities, placing us modern homeschool teachers in the frame of mind of our educational mentor. Each activity comes with an example of how it may look in real-life application.
Discover Reading is as Charlotte Mason as you can get. If you are a Charlotte Mason purist, I expect you will love it! For the rest of us, it is a solid and helpful resource. The activities are logical and the progress by building on each other. I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity with which I was able to implement each lesson.
The biggest con for my family is that it’s pretty dry. It’s not a very fun program to follow. There are some bright spots, but overall, it wasn’t very playful. Perhaps it’s not meant to be. I know that Charlotte Mason took studies seriously and her philosophy involved very intense, very brief lessons… but not until age 6, which is the age at which author, Amy Tuttle, recommends taking a more gently rigorous route with the materials. It just seemed to me that, even for 5 year olds, it was pretty grown-up. Also, one other thing. I’m not sure that this is the best curriculum of its kind for an Autistic child with communication barriers. There were more moments of frustration than joy.
Preschool Math at Home is a very gentle, play-based program to introduce young children to math concepts like counting, numeral recognition, subitizing, comparing quantities and numbers, and addition and subtraction. The lessons take no more than five minutes and you can use whatever you have around the house as manipulatives with great success.
I chose Preschool Math at Home because I loved all the things Kate Snow had to say when she reviewed other math curricula and gave recommendations. Plus, I’ve only heard good things about the Math With Confidence series.
What You Get
This one is a physical book you can get from several bookstores. The publisher, Well-Trained Mind, also sells a PDF version.
This 140 page book is absolutely packed with playful, short activities that build, one to the next. It reads much like a textbook, in the sense that there are chapters and sections, explanations, activities, reviews, sidebar style notations, and end of unit “Is My Child Ready to Move On?” check-ins.
We thoroughly enjoyed this book! It’s autism-friendly, adaptable, and fun. I was able to communicate concepts to my child that had previously been elusive. If you’re anything like me and you have no idea where to start with early math skills, this is definitely a book to check out. I plan to stick with Kate Snow’s Math With Confidence series as long as we can. I highly recommend this resource!
There are very few. One thing that stood out to me was that a lot of the activities were very much alike, which helps in terms of building skills, but my child would lose interest with some things we attempted.
Prodigies Music Lessons are a cost effective (compared to traditional music lessons) way to teach children ages 2-12 the basics of music theory, pitch training & playing a pitched instrument in quick, active video lessons via hand signs, solfege, bells, recorders, ukuleles, and books. According to their website, children will learn:
Pitch development through songs, games & activities about the musical notes
Rhythmic development through fun call and response songs (like Sweet Beets)
Listening & aural comprehension skills with “Name that Note” & other listening games
Play their first instrument, either on the Deskbells, xylophone, piano, recorder or Ukulele
Cross-curriculum skills like patterning, sequencing, early math & hand-writing
Composition skills using composition activities
I chose Prodigies because it was so portable and open-and-go. I was also able to get a slight monthly discount on scholarship due to our financial situation.
What You Get
When you sign up, you get access to the complete streaming library of over 600 videos that can be accessed on ProdigiesMusic.com and through the app, Prodigies Music Lessons (AppleTV, Roku, fireTV, iOS, Android, Chromecast). If you will not be using hand signs or singing along, you will need an instrument.
We chose deskbells. At first, we ordered some from a different website, but found they didn’t match the colors or sounds of the Prodigies lessons. That was a big hassle. We didn’t get refunded. Just store credit. Don’t do that. Then, I went ahead and got a couple sets on the Prodigies site, so my kids didn’t have to share during lessons. Let me stress how very expensive this proposition turned out to be. For two sets of bells, I paid $124, which was only made possible with assistance from my family.
Prodigies is extremely easy to use! The videos are engaging, simple to follow, and entertaining. If you’re looking for an all around early musical education that will engage your kids, I recommend this service.
The price. The price. The price! We wouldn’t be using this service without a scholarship. It doesn’t seem like much at $12.99/month, but that’s $156 per year on top of other curriculum you may be using. It’s not cheap. And, the cost of the instruments is going to be a consideration as well. Also, I hadn’t anticipated how rough my kids were going to be on the instruments. They get so amped that they start banging the deskbells into oblivion, so I have to stay right with them. This year, we’ve been following the videos while sitting on the floor of our living room with the bells. Next school year, I’m planning to move to the dining room table (our homeschool hub) and play the videos on our school-only tablet. I’m hoping that will help reduce the potential for destruction.
Salsa is a free, award-winning PBS show designed to teach Spanish to children from kindergarten through third grade. It incorporates familiar stories and fairytales, puppets, animation, and live action into 42 slow-paced video lessons. The creators explain that teachers, “do not need to be certified to teach a foreign language or be familiar with Spanish in order to use Salsa. It can be used in the classroom and homeschools and by anyone interested in teaching young kids to speak Spanish. Each video lesson is preceded by a staff development component that acquaints the instructor with the content and the objectives of the lesson, reviews all vocabulary words and demonstrates the correct pronunciation of all Spanish words included in the lesson.”
I chose Salsa mainly because it’s free and I know it passed the academic rigor of the Public Broadcasting Service which is an organization I trust for high-quality children’s education.
What You Get
These free video lessons can be accessed online or via the PBS app on compatible devices. We use our smart tv to watch the episodes. Plus, the Wyoming Department of Education created a scope and sequence guide that’s extremely helpful in creating easy lesson plans using the Salsa videos.
It’s free! And that means it’s accessible which is important to me. There are 42 lessons that build on each other, but can be watched individually like a regular kids’ tv show. I like that the show seamlessly highlights vocabulary words in each lesson.
There aren’t any bells and whistles. It’s not exciting or especially engaging. The show looks a bit like something I might have watched as a child back in the 1980s. It’s not a big deal for my family, because we live a slower pace of life anyway, but I could see how it could be considered “boring.”
My choices this year weren’t entirely low cost. I know you can conceivably homeschool for near-free, but I don’t have time to ferret out a bunch of free resources. Things will change as I become more comfortable as a homeschooling mom. My curriculum choices this year were beneficial overall. I noticed exceptional (and unexpected, by me) gains as a result of all the good work we did and I’m looking forward to taking a few weeks off this summer to reset for next year. Oh, and those unschooling-friendly Fridays were everything! If you’re looking to maintain a helpful rhythm and avoid burnout as a homeschooler, consider moving to a four-day schedule and unschool on Fridays. It’s been so worth it for us!
A couple weeks ago, I posted a response after seeing the fallout from a post made by Kristen Coggins of @krissycouch where she stated, “You are not a bad parent. You are triggered.”
Gentle parents jumped all over her. This is what I said,
If you felt your parent was a bad parent and this post feels dismissive, I get it. There may not be room for any grace when your wounds are raw from harsh treatment and abuse. You don’t have to be the person who intervenes when you’re so close to trauma, but someone needs to. I wish I had folks in my corner speaking gently to my parents and helping them change their ways even today.
Every parent harms their kids. There’s no way around that. This post is speaking to the parents who are consumed with guilt and want to do better. It excuses no one for their abusive behavior. We are still responsible for the pain we inflict no matter our intentions.
So, how do we hold parents accountable and also leave room for the grace required for growth?
Y’all know I can’t stand the phrase “shit parent” and it’s for this exact reason. I’m trying to give parents an alternative, wake them up to their own need for intervention, reorient them to their children’s humanity. And that is what this post is about.
We call ourselves cycle breakers, but let’s not be so limited as to believe those around us who haven’t embraced conscious, gentle parenting aren’t also breaking cycles of their own.
When we box people into impossible standards, we lose them. The most consistent request I receive from readers of this blog is for real-life advice on how to gently parent given their particular life circumstances. [Sidebar: If you aren’t following my Facebook page, please head over and hit that Follow button! Because I don’t talk about my kids on this blog, I don’t have much of a means to provide real-life scenarios, so I use my Facebook page to search for great examples of peaceful parenting and share them there.] I have dear friends who read what I write here, and I have been convicted by some for the way I word things sometimes. I can get so impassioned that I sometimes come across as a harsh critic of anyone who doesn’t parent the way I do. That’s never my intention though. My goal is always to amplify the voices of children who are impacted by the ways we choose to interact with them.
I think it’s helpful for all of us to examine our approach through an anti-childism lens. I’ve written about the rights of children and the freedoms of children in relation to childism and I understand it’s difficult to strike a balance. Not only are we working against the current of modern “wisdom” about children as their parents’ property, but we are dealing with real human individuals who have varying capacities and intelligences. The freedoms we can negotiate for one child may not be the same ones we can negotiate with another. I’ve gotten criticism from more traditional parents that my approach is too lenient and also criticism from free-range parents that my approach is too strict. Again, I’ll note the importance of balance and giving our children what they need to thrive. I want to urge nuance in these conversations because, in excluding parents from what we view as the only right way, we leave them standing in that awful current of modern “wisdom” with no support.
The very idea that there is only one right way derives from the legacy of white supremacy. It’s true that there is right and there is wrong. Domestic violence against children is wrong, for instance. Calls to end spanking are right. However, the way we carry out our efforts to curtail spanking impact different people groups in different ways. If we support laws to arrest parents who spank, we will perpetuate the racist oppression of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Melanated People (BBIMP). If we demand better education and support for parents who spank, we risk harming poor parents who can’t take time off work to receive educational services. Perhaps a better use of the law would be to bring education and support to the workplace through some sort of mandatory federal funding stream that ensures no one will lose out on their income as they learn to make healthier choices. I don’t have the answers and I would much rather hear from the people who would be impacted by such measures.
Now, I’ve noticed some peaceful parenting voices wishing to separate our approach from the quadrant system advanced by Maccoby and Martin, based on the work of Baumrind. From their perspective, gentle parenting functions outside of any traditional understanding of parenting approaches. I recognize the desire to break free from traditional ideas around children, but I disagree. I appreciate the structure of the quadrant system in helping us understand where we are with our children in terms of connection and expectation. We lose a valuable educational tool when we toss it out.
Actually, a true quadrant graphic makes it even more apparent how flexible this system really is. In the following graphic, the blocks are in the same places as the chart above, but the arrows demonstrate how we move throughout the system. You’ll see there is plenty of space to stretch out in the authoritative block. Some gentle parents lean more toward the permissive side and some lean more toward the authoritarian side, but all reside firmly within the high connection/high expectation block.
A fair goal, in my opinion, is to give people the tools they need to plant themselves inside the authoritative block without all the extra criticism. There are some authoritative parents who punish their kids through logical consequences. Y’all know good and well that I am opposed to the use of punishment, but you better believe I’m still going to keep the lines of communication open with these parents. Some of my readers spank their kids and they admit it to me. In emotionally charged moments, they strike out. They know how I feel about it, but they still tell me about their experiences. Many of these same parents credit the things they’ve learned through my, often fraught, experience for the ways in which they’ve changed their perspectives on the relationship between parents and their children. This is a process. I have never met a parent who, with one salvific decision, suddenly became an ideal gentle parent who never, ever harms their kids. I’m a gentle parent and I know I’m doing things that my children will grow up and remember with sadness. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m trying to be genuine, humble, kind, and open to change.
Let’s keep talking about a different way to parent even in the face of criticism from people who don’t get it and those who don’t want to get it. Let’s give parents a new path even if they aren’t in a place where they can manage it themselves. But, please, stop gatekeeping peaceful parenting and stop telling parents they aren’t doing it right. Who is served by the weaponization of rigid and lofty morality?
We cannot sacrifice parents for their children or children for their parents. Choosing one over the other is not liberation from childism. We fall short when we do not honor both.
Remember when the Massachusetts Supreme Court expelled a student who couldn’t keep up academically with their peers? Or when the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to educate a student with cerebral palsy, because his teachers and classmates found him gross? Perhaps not, because it was quite some time in the past although, in the scheme of history, it wasn’t really that long ago. The Massachusetts decision came down in 1893 and the Wisconsin decision near the mid-20th century. The history of educating disabled students boggles the mind. Let’s remember that unconscionable discrimination against disabled people was commonplace and accepted during our lifetimes and/or the lifetimes of our parents. We still face inordinate levels of oppression to this day, but now we have laws and self-advocates and allies and nearly 70 years of civil rights wins that shield us from the kind of treatment those who went before us were forced to endure.
It was the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 which dealt the first blow to prejudicial ideologies that denied disabled students their fundamental human right to information access. We owe so much to the Black activists who pushed racial segregation into the laps of the U.S. Supreme Court, spurring the justices to rule unanimously that states do not have the right to deny equal protection of the laws to anyone.
Over the next 19 years, disability advocates made strides toward greater protections for disabled people, gaining wins along the way until the passage of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, followed soon by the Education for All Handicapped Act (later named Individuals with Disabilities Act or IDEA) in 1975.
The hard-won Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was spurred by the famous Capitol Crawl, a protest involving over 1,000 disabled people who marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol where dozens of people crawled to the top. Among them was 8-year-old Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins whose resounding words demonstrated the tenacity and power of self-advocacy as she announced, “I’ll take all night if I have to.” If you haven’t yet watched Crip Camp, I strongly recommend it. Crip Camp is a story about the Disability Rights Movement and the emancipation of the disabled.
We’ve come a long way from the days when disabled children were summarily rejected from public spaces because other people were uncomfortable, but we haven’t let go of that discomfort. No, it has shifted. Now, we use euphemisms like “special needs” to describe the unpalatable realities we dance around as a culture. “Special needs” was added to our social lexicon about 30 years ago and was notably codified in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
It is the root of other euphemisms like “special education” which is yet another way we make the segregation of disabled people seem less repulsive than it actually is. Here we are, all these years later, having witnessed the brilliance of disabled students and the hard work of disabled self-advocates. Yet, we still use euphemisms that serve to infantilize all of the aforementioned people. These terms do not honor the sacrifices and the bravery of the disabled self-advocates who paved the way for liberation.
Do we believe disabled people are human?
Do all people deserve to have their needs met in the most effective way for them?
Are accommodations and solutions a reasonable request, especially considering how helpful to society many our innovations have become? Think about how many parents use wheelchair access ramps for their strollers and sign language with their infants and toddlers to improve communication.
If you answered yes to these questions, then you must implicitly understand that meeting the needs of disabled people is no different from meeting the needs of anyone. We all require accommodations throughout our lives, sometimes a lot of them and sometimes not. The needs of disabled people are neither special nor exceptional. They are human needs and they should be met in the most dignified manner possible.
If you must use the term “special” in order to communicate within this ableist society, please find other ways to disrupt the system. I myself have used terms like “special education” in contrast to “general education” when advocating for my children or talking about specific programs at specific schools. I get it. Ableist terminology that’s so embedded in our lives is hard to part with. So, try to incorporate better terms. The best one for us, as far as I’m concerned, is “disabled.” And, keep this in mind when it comes time to be an ally: Accommodations for disabled people are not a special request. They are a civil right.
It can be so tempting to hope our kids are happy and to create an environment with a goal of fostering happiness in our children. It seems reasonable, right? Everyone wants their kids to be happy. My husband and I talk about this topic a lot. We find such joy in seeing our children squeal merrily as they play. I had been meaning to write about happiness when a post crossed my Facebook feed and I realized the right time had come.
In order to foster our children’s good mental health, we have to become comfortable (or at the very least, intentionally coexist) with their range of emotions. Children need to know that feeling sad, angry, defeated, and furious is all part of an appropriate, completely human experience. Many of us find holding space for these emotions difficult, because we were never afforded the same respect and grace by our own parents. That learning curve can be steep. It may even be made more difficult as we work to reparent ourselves and embrace all the ways we feel about any given situation. Emotions are crucial barometers for how we feel, but they are completely subjective. They can change over time and even in the present depending on how hungry we are! Hangriness is completely real. Let me tell you…
So, if we aren’t explicitly fostering happiness and are instead working toward helping our children avoid floundering as they experience their big emotions, what else can we do to support this kind of growth? I have an answer for this that comes from my own upbringing of all places. As a child, the adults around me drilled into my head the importance of finding “peace in the Lord.” I couldn’t fathom what that meant, at the time, because I had no peace at all. My childhood was chaotic, scary, and unpredictable. I was an Autistic child who didn’t know I was Autistic. As such, I was left to fend for myself from a desperately young age without understanding what my true needs were. Preaching peace is a lot different from experiencing peace.
What is peace anyway? The way I experience it as an adult is as a stable grounding no matter what kind of storm is happening in my mind. It’s fragile though. I can lose the peace and descend into the realm of despair and suicidality quick as a wink. I have to be incredibly intentional to acknowledge the crashing waves of emotion and then let them recede into calm. I got here through many years of many different kinds of therapies. Altogether, the therapists taught me how to cope and how to remain grounded even as my mind started to dysregulate. My husband could tell stories about how different I am now than I was when we first got married. I was explosive, unstable, and driven by my emotions in a way that verged on abusiveness toward those around me. Whatever “calm” people saw from me on the outside was mostly a series of shutdowns and a lot of freezing as a trauma response. I wavered between being completely reserved and roaring at people in anguish.
These many years later, I have found my source of peace through prayer and meditation. I’m further helped by taking medication that decreases the impact of anxiety. I’m never doing great, but I’m okay most of the time. I can only imagine who I might have been without the spanking, slapping, yelling, mocking, and the rest of the oppressive childism I experienced. While emotions do carry me away sometimes still, I have a place to return to, deep in my being, that reminds me who I am.
And, that is also what I hope for my children. I want them to build for themselves an unshakeable sense of self that is impermeable to the whims of a racist, classist, sexist, and ableist culture that wants to try to mold them into the most consumable people they can be. So, I bear with them through their emotions. I draw them close when they are feeling their worst. And, in the process, I find that they are even better than I am at identifying what makes them happy and seeking it out in a nonjudgmental way. They don’t seek happiness as a reward for success. To them, happiness is just a pleasant way to regard the experiences they encounter in life. It’s not an emotional high they compulsively pursue.
If you share similar desires for your children to be at peace no matter what is happening around them, keep these tips in mind:
Help your children wind down and be still by spending time in nature, watching the wind blow through the trees and the little ants dutifully storing away their food.
Accept all emotions in any form they come by guarding your child in a safe space even if they need to thrash and move to get the feelings out.
Find ways for your children to address the needs they see in the world. Let them “be the change” so that they know hope is real.
Honor your children’s agency and autonomy, and accept that they are your equals in humanity and rights, even as they may not have the life experience needed to make the wisest decisions about how they exercise their freedoms.
Model self-care and healthy boundaries. Children learn what to expect from others by watching what we do.
Be intentional with your language. Examine how you speak to your children. Do you praise them based on your expectations rather than affirming their own decisions? Do you use the dreaded “but” with them that negates anything you say thereafter? Do you tell them what not to do instead of telling them what to do?
Speak respectfully about yourself too. Reject diet culture and embrace your body the way it is. Celebrate yourself for the accomplishments that make you proud. Avoid using negative (typically ableist) language like calling yourself st*pid.
…and other things parents say. When I was a child, my mother was very open about wanting to get some distance from me. She would mournfully say she wanted to “go home.” In time, I came to understand that “home” was heaven. In other words, she wanted to die and be as far away from me as possible. I’m sure many parents can relate to the feeling of wanting to escape. But, let me speak for the kids. The more I understood what she really meant, the more anxious I became. I would try to alter my own behavior, as a young child, to try to keep her from feeling bad. The more she pulled away, the more urgently I felt the need for connection.
Those wounds haven’t healed. So, when I see parents openly talking about getting away from their children, it scratches at those scabs. I see it online and wonder if the kids can feel their parents pulling away like I did. I see it in person too and I know the children are listening, because I listened. I write this not to shame parents or suggest that we don’t need alone time to recuperate and center ourselves.
We absolutely do need that time. Every person, adult and child alike, needs time to do the things that energize us to take on the challenges of life. Setting aside time to do this is a healthful behavior. Encouraging our kids to do the same prepares them for a lifetime of positive self-care. But, making our kids the reason we need a break – rather than our own very human need for time spent alone away from adult responsibility – may end up remaining with our children into adulthood, like it has for me. It’s not the kids that are the problem. The problem is trying to pour from an empty cup.
It is always positive for children to see us set healthy boundaries in a gentle way with them. It can be as simple as “I’m starting to run out of emotional energy and I need a little time to recharge. I’ll be ready to paint with you then! Give me about 20 minutes and I’ll be right back with you. I love you!” Try to let your kids know what you need and then make sure take your own boundaries seriously. That’s how they’ll learn to do it themselves.
This past weekend was Mother’s Day and the half-joking, half-exasperated posts online about life-draining children abounded. It’s so uncomfortable for me to see; people relishing the time they have away from their kids to feel “complete again.” I have to wonder how these parents might feel if someone were to say the same thing about them.
I ask you to receive this as a vulnerable insight and not as a criticism; to remain available and connected with your children without laying the responsibility of your mental health at their feet; to find the things that genuinely recharge you and seek them out; to model positive self-care; to recognize the importance of knowing when it’s time to disconnect and recover; and to frame the problem not as one’s children but as a valid need for sustenance of spirit.
Sometimes women do take things too far. Even though they’re adults, it can be appropriate for men to discipline their wives as necessary. These modern day liberals love to cry “domestic violence” but what happens between man and wife should remain between them in private. It’s important to always try a gentle approach first, but a slap or a light beating should be considered as a final resort if a woman absolutely refuses to listen. Sometimes you have to get loud to be heard and, as long as a man doesn’t leave bruises, disciplining a woman can help improve a marriage.
And, that’s exactly how some of these folks sound defending spanking as a legitimate approach to disciplining children. I based that super heteronormative, violent, and absurd paragraph on what I’ve read of the real “domestic discipline” that goes on in some fundamentalist, Christian homes. When I tell y’all it’s off the wall… gracious.
All of that nonsense leads me into this continuing nonsense. A friend of mine, who is actually not opposed to corporal punishment entirely, sent me this screenshot to work through what she read. In fact, she asked in advance if it would be triggering for me to read about pro-spanking efforts. I’ve been in a pretty good place of late, so I agreed to view her screenshot out of burning curiosity. It’s so over-the-top as to be nearly unbelievable. (And, my friend promptly left the group, because this was too much for her.)
Image Description: Facebook post in a group for parents who “discipline” shows two teen/tween boys standing under a tent in the woods. The original poster says, “Good morning .. when is a child to old to go over lap for spanking. What position is appropriate for them?” The first response is “lay on his bed or the sofia” and the second is “Over the knee is the best position in my…” and trails off. Presumably, the rest of the comment says “opinion.” No other replies are visible.
Can we talk about how disgusting this is? It’s bad enough that people are hitting little kids, but now you’ve got a whole group of parents trying to work out the physics of spanking teenagers?? It seriously gives me the creeps. As a reminder, the buttocks are an EROGENOUS zone and there is a whole bundle of nerves in the lower back, all of which are impacted by spanking.
Hitting a child on their butt- spanking- can conflate pleasure and pain for children. Attention, is attention, is attention- it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative. It is ALL processed the same in the brain. So if your child is attention seeking and the way they know how to get it is through acting out- resulting in a spanking, what do you think that’s going to do them neurologically? It’s confusing as hell and has documented consequences into adulthood. And to add to that- even relatively moderate blows to the lower end of the spinal column send shock waves along the length of the spine. There are cases of children who have permanent nerve damage from spanking, and even DEATH- and not from severe beatings either. Several of the cases I read were classified as “mild paddlings.”
I’m just so skeeved out by this. I was spanked well into my double-digit years before my mother moved on to more “mature” methods like slapping me across the face. Y’all gotta stop this mess. It’s abusive, ugly, and cruel.