Children are People Too

Children are people too is a great parenting book by Louise Porter from which I learned a lot when my kids were born. Here are some of the important takeaways from the book.

Fundamentals of a guidance approach

– There is no right way to do the wrong thing
– If you use power, you will lose influence
– Look for a solution, not a culprit
– When someone is drowning, that is not the time to give swimming lessons
– Locus of control is inside the children, not outside (us)
– Two styles of discipline:

  • Rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad one is not the right way because it’s a controlling form of discipline
  • The alternative approach to disciplining children is based on guiding or teaching them to act thoughtfully. It regards behavioural mistakes as inevitable because child is developing social skills

– Locus of control: internal (guidance based) and external (controlling)
– Guidance approach says that people have an internal locus of control: their actions are triggered by their own needs
– Psychology of children is not much different than the psychology of adults
– 1/4 of disruptive behaviours comes from 4 internal triggers: exuberant and excitable, exploration (instead of asking you how you would react if they flick their food on the floor, they try it out and discover what you will do), children typically know how they should be acting as they have excellent memories (example: hidden chocolate biscuits) but they do not yet know better, lost control of themselves like adults do on seeing fried chips
– 3/4 of disruptive behaviour are reactions against the handling of a previous behaviour, usually a controlling form of discipline
– Instead of teaching compliance, a guidance approach seems to teach children to act thoughtfully, to consider the effect their behaviour has on others
– To achieve the above, children need the following 4 qualities: they need to develop a sense of right and wrong so that they act considerately because it is the right thing to do rather than for avoiding punishment, learn to regulate their emotions, learn to cooperate with others, need to develop a sense of potency; a sense that they can make a difference to the world and more importantly to themselves
– It is crucial for children to learn that they can control their actions and feelings by staying in command of their thinking
– Rewards and punishments cannot teach consideration of others because they focus children’s minds on what will happen to them if they behave in a particular way; will I get caught, will I get into trouble, will I be told that I’m a good girl, will I get extra pocket money and so on. This focus on how the behaviour affects oneself distracts children from considering how their actions affect others

Children are people too 1

– A moralistic attitude to behavioral mistakes almost inexorably results in controlling disciplinary measures
– Talk and listen to children about their versions of problems

Children are people too 2

Reasons not to punish or reward

– After reward or punishment, children’s behaviour improves but that doesn’t mean that it was caused by a lack of consequence. This is the same error in logic as concluding that because paracetamol helped your headache, the headache must have been caused by a lack of paracetamol
– Immediate end to disruption is not the ultimate goal, learning a lifelong lesson and not harming the child parent relationship are
– Punishment teaches children how to avoid being caught next time. Even if it did work, it can only teach them what not to do . It will not teach them what to do
– Saying that a painting they made is beautiful is dangerous because how do they know how to do another ‘beautiful’ painting? They will repeat something similar to avoid failure and also avoid other difficult or unknown tasks. Praise their efforts and dedication

The three R’s

– The basic guideline is that children are to act considerately. Considerate behaviour is any action that helps individuals meet their own needs without interfering with other people’s ability to meet theirs
– Require the children to consider your needs and those of everyone else in the family
– Let them be themselves. They are not our fashion accessories, not here to satisfy our own frustrated career ambitions, nor are they ‘performing seals’ who must show by their antics how clever they are (and by association how clever we are). They must be free to choose their own path in life. We gave them a life. We have to let them live it
– Often when we talk about children acting responsibly we actually mean doing what we tell them. This involves no thinking on their part
– They need to be allowed to make meaningful choices, weighing up the costs and benefits of their options

Meeting children’s needs

– Calling children like selfish. These disparaging comments can become self-fulfilling which, like seeds in their minds, grown into a a negative self-concept
– From earliest days of life, children learn about themselves from our reaction to them. They build our feedback into a picture of the type of people they are. Later they take in reactions of other important people in their lives. Together, all this information forms their self-concept
– At the same time, they gain impressions about the type of people we and society at large expects them to be. This information is compiled into a picture of their ideal-self; an image of how they should be
– By comparing their concepts of themselves to their ideals, they acquire an overall feeling of satisfaction and disappointment in themselves. This is called self-esteem

– 3 ways to develop low self-esteem: individuals feel badly about their skills because these are inadequate, they have many skills and qualities that they believe are ideal but do not realise it (impoverished self-concept), their ideals are inflated and impossible to achieve
– 1st source is educational issue: if children want to become competent at something, we need to teach them
– Sources 2 and 3 can be dealt with by a single intervention
– There are 2 types of feedback: praise and acknowledgement
– Praise is evaluative and judgemental. It tells children that they are approved of as long as they display ideal behaviour. Evaluative feedback feeds their ideal-self, raising their standards, perhaps to a point where they believe that they can seldom attain what you expect of them: the circles above will separate further apart
– Acknowledgement gives children information about their attainments and celebrates their achievements without judging them

– Comments: I’m impressed that you tried so hard to figure that out (thus focusing on persistence), I respect that you took a chance and tried something new (creativity and risk taking), I admire that you planned that so carefully. Commenting in this way on the skills involved in achieving an outcome rather than on the actual products themselves means that all children – whatever their abilities – can receive constructive guidance about their efforts, even when the outcomes they differ considerably in quality. This will minimise competitiveness between children too
– For many children, self esteem is closely tied to their need for autonomy: to them, it feels that we are threatening their wellbeing or even their survival when we want to control them
– Both self esteem and autonomy are promoted when children can exercise increasing independence, develop competence and feel a sense of potency
– If children learn that being successful makes them ‘good’, they will assume that making a mistake renders them ‘bad’ and soon they will restrict themselves to the safest of activities. In contrast, acknowledgement gives them courage to be adventurous and risk getting things wrong which will promote their learning
– We correct their mistakes, thinking that this will help them learn when instead it discourages them. Discouraged children refuse to persist
– Strive for excellence not perfection
– On worthwhile tasks, strive to do your best, not to be the best
– Have the courage to be imperfect
– Don’t let failure go to your head
– You need to accept that both academic and behavioural mistakes are inevitable and an invitation to teach children to be more skilful, rather than being a trigger for punishment
– Potency refers to our conviction that we can make a difference to our own actions by staying in command of of our thinking and emotions (internal locus of control). Our own actions affect outcomes, rather than outside forces out of our control
– Children will develop a sense of potency through repeated opportunities to exercise choices, use initiative and be self-determining
– 3 levels of control: optional activities whether they want to participate, compulsory how they want it (like eggs or cereal), no choice? how they feel about it ( whether good or bad, it’s their choice)

Conflict resolution

– Agree to talk it over and write everything
– Listen to what other person needs and tell him assertively, but not aggressively, what you need. This will expose where your differences lie
– Together come up with ideas about what you could do to meet the needs of both of you. Just brainstorm all possibilities whether practical or not
– Next, decide which of the options you will do. Do not choose a compromise that doesn’t meet anyone’s needs
– Decide when and how to carry out your chosen solution
– Once in place, check whether the solution is working

Responses to behavioural disruptions

– Name the action you want, not the one you don’t. For example, take small steps on wet tiles rather than don’t run on wet tiles
– Take photos of the tasks they need to do each morning, breakfast, toothbrush, hairbrush, made bed
– Help them to start

Teaching children emotional self-control

– Explain them about growing up from outside as well as from inside
– If we want to feel better, we have to change what we think and do
– I understand that you are upset/sad/angry, so I’ll stay with you until you feel better

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