Taking Children Seriously

Taking Children Seriously

I recently got introduced to Sarah Fitz-Claridge's philosophy of Taking Children Seriously.

The main idea is that it's entirely possible to raise children without forcing them to do anything. So, as parents, we don’t have to force them to do things like brushing their teeth, eating or sleeping.

Parents are well-intentioned. We care for our children and often have a good reason for coercion: “You will get cavities, be hungry or wake up tired for school tomorrow.”

We do what we believe is best for them.

However, every time we coerce them into something, we teach them 3 things:

  1. There's only 1 solution to the problem at hand. Ours.
  2. They can’t solve the problem themselves
  3. It's okay to use power over someone to violate their consent and autonomy

When we force children, we’re treating their brains as buckets, pouring info as if the mind passively learns. Almost like this kid:

Boy scooping information from a book in a classroom on his head

But that’s not how humans learn. We learn through conjectures and refutation:

  1. We encounter a problem,
  2. We make guesses as to what the cause might be,
  3. We put our theories to the test,
  4. And, based on the outcome, we create new knowledge

If we force our children, they can’t really engage with the problem at hand, and, therefore, can’t learn or create new knowledge. We’re treating their brains as buckets.

Instead, if we want them to learn, we need to let go of our paternalistic view of children and the fact that we are right. We might be wrong. Even about the cavities.

“But this is a recipe for rebellion. If I give in, the kids win.” Only if it’s a zero-sum game. But it’s not. The alternative is to genuinely solve the problem together.

Here's a recent example:

Our oldest only gets 1 bottle of tea when he goes to bed. If he asks for another 1, we say no. As you can imagine, it normally doesn’t go down too well.

Instead, to take Arlo seriously, we’ve decided to try something new: When he asks for bottle #2, we say yes and ask if he’d like to make it himself. He’s now learning to make his own tea and that he’s capable of getting out of his bed.

However, with the extra tea, he now struggles to keep it in. But that's okay. Solving problems leads to better problems. We now engage him with this new problem and help him learn to wash his own linen.

Sometimes we struggle to find creativity in the right moment. Bathing and sleeping, in particular, are quite a challenge at times. But we're fallible. We learn together and that changes the relationship entirely.

• • •