Tuesday, 8 February 2011

2.1 Choices --Thinking About Parenting Styles

It is with glee that I notice, once again, that I'm way over the edge over here on the coast... I wouldn't do (or recommend) doing any of the three choices given by beagreatparent.ca, as quoted in an article from St. Catharine's The Standard... click on that link if you want to read the full article, but this is the segment I'm commenting on today:
Your toddler and her friend are fighting over a doll.
When the friend pulls it away from her, your daughter punches the girl and grabs it back.
Do you:
Take the doll away and explain to the girls that they can have it back when they can share and play nicely together?
Do nothing. After all, it is your daughter's doll. Her friend can find something else to play with; kids need to sort out their own problems.
Take the doll away and tell your daughter that you're selling it in a garage sale. She can start saving her allowance if she wants it back.*
The first is 'strict' parenting, the second is 'permissive' and the third is labeled (mis-labeled, in my opinion) 'balanced.' What the third option really is, though, is just as controlling and authoritarian as the first. Different, but the same end of the spectrum. 2.1 options, not three.
When a child is struggling for ownership over her object --with anyone-- it just can't be a parent's job to take possession of the object. Unless what the parent really means is 'none of your stuff is actually yours.' It doesn't matter if the object is removed forever or if it can be purchased back from the thief: 

It is either the child's possession or it is not.
Think about this in the context of the society we actually live in: you and your neighbour have a dispute over half of a driveway that is owned by one party. Does the court step in, take it away and rent out the space to just anyone until the actual owner buys it back, with a threat to sell it if they don't pony up fast enough? 

Why are we teaching children that anyone who considers themselves an authority gets to 'own' their objects until they're satisfied that atonement has been made sufficient to the infraction?

Three things:
  1. Children do not learn to share in an environment where they own or control nothing. All the energy they might have to share something with genuine generosity is spent in fighting for, confirming and protecting their ownership.
  2. We do not live in a 'sharing' culture --it's a fun idea, but no one is allowed to come to your house and use whatever they want for however they want whenever they are there. Here is an example: I'm sending a friend over later to get your car... you can have it back when she's done with it, in whatever condition she happens to leave it. This is, of course, fine because you were taught to share, right? Is it different because it's a 5 year old, or is it only because their stuff is not valuable to anyone but them?
  3. There is a sliding scale of extremely strict to a more balanced style of authoritarian parenting. The key is whether or not someone other than the child is seeking to control what the child does, what the child thinks or what is important to the child... the question to ask is 'what if the child still doesn't do what the parent wants?' The answer to that clears up any doubt that this is about command and control, carrot and stick parenting, whether it uses the rapport-building manipulative communication styles or straight-up ordering kids around.
There is no real 'third option' in this article... just one point on the permissive end and two points on the strict/authoritarian end and one at the other end.

Which is unfortunate, because there is a third option.
*Toddler, seriously? We're going to make a toddler 'save their allowance and buy it back'? A toddler?!
Photo used with permission (Creative Commons license, attributed) Sharing by PlatinumBlondeLIfe


  1. OMG. This kind of parenting advice is SO crazy!!!

    How about

    -get off your butt & intervene before it gets too that hysterical MINE! point. Toddlers need supervision.

    -again get off your butt, and engage with them in a game; toddlers are too young to play at any length alone. They need adults to gently guide the games.

    -get another doll out & offer to the visiting child (who does not have another doll in the house?)

    -deflect, move along, add some humor and find a way for both to enjoy the toy

    -you could try to introduce some basic negotiating, maybe with a timer (you hold it 3 min and then Billy holds it for 3 min.)

    -distract (& and then we can play with the big tea set! & I'll bring out real cookies! Set the table please!)

    Why is it that parents keep looking for the simple answer? Is there no room in their lives for a bit of creativity when dealing with a child? /rhetorical Q/

    head+table on the toddler earning it back. Sigh.

  2. Great post Linda. I personally think enforced sharing is ridiculous. Another example I've seen is with books. What if someone said "You have to share that book with your friend after 5 minutes, regardless of whether you're done with it or not?"

    When friends are coming over, we ask Meredith if there are any toys she wants to put away because she doesn't want to share them. She used to often pick a few, now she rarely does. If she changes her mind partway through playing, generally she is okay waiting for the other child to finish with it and then will bring it to me and ask me to put it away.

    We rarely have conflicts get to the point they are above, but a lot of the previous commenter's points are things we would do too. We never enforce times (and not saying hornblower was suggesting that, I don't think he/she was), but they do work sometimes if both kids are in agreement.

    I like being creative in problem solving. I think it helps my kids look for creative solutions to problems too. At three and a half, Meredith will often come up with solutions to problems that I would never have thought of. They're not always practical, but it's cool to listen to what she comes up with. I don't think she'd do that if our solution was always: "Do what I say because I'm bigger than you and I said so."

  3. Excellent points as usual Linda. A .

  4. We should be a sharing country. Isn't that what generosity is all about? I give you my stuff because you don't have any?? It is important to teach your child that sharing is caring. Otherwise you might end up with a possessive child who is worried about "my stuff" all the time. I would rather have an adult who feels comfortable with giving their stuff to people who need it. If a child comes to our house I encourage my children to share their toys. I have taught them that they are their toys but we share because we love others and would like them to share with us if we went to their house. It's the treat others the way you want to be treated adage. Just my humble opinion.

  5. Encouraging is a lot different than 'making.'

    When kids are allowed to control their stuff, they are capable of being generous with it. When they're out of control of their stuff (because it's someone else's decision who is allowed to use it), they get very possessive.

    Generosity is not a result of 'learning to share' --it's a result of feeling safe and confident about the future or your safety.

    You can't teach children that sharing is caring by moulding their behaviour, you can only demonstrate it with your own behaviour.

    I agree, we should have a sharing country. I believe that the reason we don't is because of two or three generations of children who have been made to share when they had good reasons not to.

  6. so what is the answer? what do i do in this situation?

    1. I'm not sure what you're asking...

      Do you mean 'what is the alternative in the scenario from the article?'