Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Self Control, The Kids are Worth it, and Alfie Kohn

I had mentioned before that I am really curious about the nature and evolution of self-control in kids. I had read that obedience was a precursor to self-control, but that the transition wasn't automatic. Basically, a young child could be obedient (related: Seductive promise of perfectly happy, obedient children feeds abuse) and then grow up and never internalize those lessons and instead would just transfer their obedience to someone else (like a bad-influence friend or a cult leader, you know. whatever.) I mean, obedient kids are convenient and all, but I don't want my kids to just blindly follow anyone who bosses them around (bullies and abusers, to name a few; related: Do You Want to Raise an Obedient Child?).

Basically, I'm torn. I want my kids to be safe and stop when I (or another responsible adult who is concerned for their safety) say "stop!" -- especially if they are about to run into traffic or something scary (related: an article about parenting and obedience among literal landmines). But I don't want my kids to stop when a bully or child molester says, "stop!" And I really don't want my kids to stop just because some bad-influence school friend says, "stop!"

I asked a friend/behavior therapist for children with autism about this fear. She assured me that getting kids to listen to her didn't necessarily even translate into getting the kids to listen to their parents, especially if the parents weren't consistent. This sort of made me feel better (about the bullies and such), but sort of made me feel worse (about the teachers or caregivers who would be looking out for her safety/best interest).

Bottom line: How do I raise a child who can think for herself and make good decisions, balancing both long and short term goals?

Right off the top of my head, I feel like the answer is supporting her autonomy while taking the time to teach/explain your rules. Exactly like the advice of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk and If I Have to Tell You One More Time. Basically, don't ask kids to do meaningless stuff just to assert your power over them and prove you're the boss. Explain why we do things, instead of just demanding they do things. {um, that awkward moment when you realize all of the "best of" parenting advice you just mentioned is basically the exact opposite of how God acts in the Old Testament; eg, Abraham/Issac, the entire book of Leviticus, etc. Must. Resist. Generalizing. About fundamentalists and abusive parenting.} And help them learn to make good decisions for themselves. 

But I was curious to see what parenting books said on the topic. So I started reading Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline. I agree with everything I've read so far and think it is a great book if you need to be convinced that the way your parents raised you (ahem, with Dr. Dobson's stupid parenting advice. Which I totally was and which the author explicitly called out as totally awful.) is not necessarily the best way for you to raise your kids. It is all about the golden rule, which is apt because your kids will likely be taking care of you when you're older. And let's hope they don't resort to hitting you or screaming at you in your old age, like you did to them as kids. The thing is, I already agree with her, and the book sort of seemed like a non-academic version of Alfie Kohn. And I like academics too much. So I decided to skip straight to Alfie.

And oh em gee, you guys. I haven't even read his parenting book. I just read an article he wrote on this topic of self control. And mind=blown. I have to start by saying, I have such mixed feelings about Alfie. I think he is really smart and uses great research, but I also think he is sometimes a little extreme and unreasonable (I have no idea how in the heck you'd get some of his parenting philosophies to work on kids with severe language or executive functioning delays). {he also is big in the field of education and talks about how grades are awful and kids need to be intrinsically motivated. And I agree, but again, HOW?! Especially as a math teacher. How do I teach all of the state standards, all of them, without grades (when everything in our nation is built around grades/exams) or rote memorization/work and with only meaningful assignments when I don't have any resources to help me and I never even get a planning period because I'm always in ARD meetings or something.}

Basically, his premise is that self control is a loaded term that might not be or mean what you think it is or means.
[describing the spectrum of self control] Those who are undercontrolled are impulsive and distractible; those who are overcontrolled are compulsive and joyless.  The fact that educators are more irritated by the former, and thus more likely to define it as a problem, doesn't mean the latter is any less troubling...a tendency toward overcontrol puts young women at risk for the development of depression. A preoccupation with self-control is also a key feature of anorexia.
So yeah. There is lots more where that came from. But because this post is already longer than the average attention span, I'm going to spend more time on Alfie tomorrow. As a homework assignment (jokes! Alfie hates homework! But if you are intrinsically motivated to do so...) you can read the full article here.

read Self Control, Part 2 here
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