There’s a curious irony to my practice in that, if a couple is sitting in front of me concerned about their child, I will almost invariably meet a solid young person who might be struggling with understanding the world, but they’re working from a strong and sturdy foundation provided by good parents. They can reason and they have a good understanding of value. These are children whose parents have always reacted proactively to concerns.
Being responsible in that way, those sorts of parents have generally raised their children using principles rather than rules. Because assumptions and opinion and learning are not the same as discovery, reason and understanding, the parents raising wise kids aren’t worried about what other people will think of them for bringing to them to someone like me—they have the kid’s interests first. So if there’s a way to achieve better reasoning and understanding, they promote that.
Now it’s important to point out that these aren’t groups of good parents and bad parents. These are equal people who approach parenting from two different perspectives and one perspective quite logically and naturally leads to calm, self-reliant, patient, tolerant and strong people, and the other approach is far more likely to lead to drama, neediness, impatience, intolerance and weakness. The current addiction to ego that the Western world is suffering under is amplifying the number of people in the latter group. No one wants to discipline their kid because they don’t want to admit their kid isn’t already perfect. Because life today is no longer about being real and growing. It’s about pretending to already be perfect. If you’ve ever untagged yourself from an unflattering facebook photo then you know what I mean.
I was shovelling snow once with my Dad and I was thinking about a guy at school who had gotten his girlfriend pregnant. It made me realize that the physical world was ready for me to be a dad, but my mind hadn’t even imagined that possibility until my buddy’s situation. So I asked my Dad how a parent is supposed to know what to do to raise their kid? And my Dad’s answer was, “You just teach them what they need to know to live without you.” It was simple and elegant and humble and just like my Dad. From there, the only question is how far you take the qualifier: “need to know.” Because some parents think their kids need to know sports stats, or how fix computers, or that they have to have a college degree. But others are focused on principles.
What’s a principle versus what’s a belief that you’re essentially taught to believe? Here’s some examples that might pertain to kids of different ages:
A kid can be taught the belief that some genre of music is stupid or bad or brilliant or good, versus teaching them the components of music, exposing them to a lot of different forms, and then let them find out what appeals to them as individuals.
That a kid should vote in this or that way because it’s smarter, when that doesn’t even make sense in a democracy. The idea isn’t that one group is right and the other group is wrong. It’s that everyone has strengths and useful perspectives and we’ll make wiser decisions if we take them all into account, and so the principled kids should vote for whoever is taking the most people into account, not for some specific person or party.
Some kids are taught they have a right to scream, irritate, damage or even destroy the value in someone else’s time or space, wheres other kids understand that society is made up of how everyone treats everyone else, and that if we want a healthy society then we all have to do our part by modelling cooperative behaviour even when it might not be convenient for us personally. It’s like the rules of the road. They’re not there to be tyrannical. They’re not there because we’re stupid. They’re a set of principles that allow us all to function well together as a group.
That you should never have to wait for anything versus the idea that that world will absolutely leave you waiting all over the place. If you don’t develop the brain wiring for waiting, then you grow into one of those insane 50 year olds who beats the crap out of the inside of their car during traffic jams. Waiting is part of life and it’s a skill parents need to both exhibit and demand to ensure that the child learns the necessary skills to exist in the world as it is.
You have two routes: you can teach your children to make the same decisions you make, or you can teach your children how the world works and then they can make up their own mind about how to function successfully within it. It’s like memorizing math tables versus actually understanding what the concept of multiplication means. In one the child is simply repeating what they were told and in the other they actually understand. One group cannot adapt or change or accommodate other views, whereas the latter group is open, humble and flexible.
In the taught group there are right and wrong answers and a kid can be disciplined for getting the wrong answer. In the discovery group a kid can only misunderstand and so nothing more than further explanation/discovery is required. It’s not that the kid was wrong, it was only that their understanding had been limited by experience. To increase experience is to increase understanding. So we don’t raise successful kids by telling them how the world works and by telling them what decisions to make. We raise successful kids by showing them how the world works and then let them make their own choices based on wisdom and common sense.
Your kids are amazing. They are capable. They are naturally cooperative and generous and compassionate. Don’t teach them to hate others, don’t teach them to expect or demand or want. This life isn’t about achievement, it’s about experience. Teach them to be fully alive in this world and you will have introduced them to a way of being that will lead to the best kind of life possible.
I recently read a couple of blogs that discussed other important aspects of parenting and so I’m including links to them below. But just remember, healthy kids aren’t built they’re raised. They’re not taught they’re exposed to knowledge. They don’t know the rules, they understand how things work. So don’t teach kids what you know. Instead discover the world together with them. It’ll be good for both of you.
Have a great day with your kids.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.