Tag Archives: parenting

The Myth of the Spoiled Child


I really thought I would be too busy gardening this summer to read.  I am so excited that I have, in fact, read 2 books in the past 2 weeks.  Yay!

A friend of mine told me, “I loathe the word ‘spoiled’ when it applies to anything other than rotten food.”  After reading The Myth of the Spoiled Child by Alfie Kohn, I fully agree with her.

I should state that I was introduced to this book via FAIR.org.  I should also state that the link I just provided isn’t the one that I read.  What I read was a chapter excerpt which prompted me to get the book from the library.

In the interest of social change, Kohn argues that there are many misconceptions about how children are being raised today.  He argues convincingly that they are not, in fact, more spoiled, entitled, rude, etc. than the children raised years ago.  He also uses the book as a platform to argue for unconditional parenting–a topic explored in depth in one of his previous books called… Unconditional Parenting.

Since I am also interested in and committed to positive change, here are some parts of the book that I found intriguing:

– Every generation for thousands of years has complained about the generation that will succeed it–even the ancient Greeks!  A well-worn tune, apparently.

– Most of the complaints about children’s behavior is anecdotal and not research-based.

– Many children are still not being heard, cooperated with or listened to about things that matter to them either at home or at school.


– Listen to children.

– Promote skepticism, media literacy and help children learn how to question authority.

– Encourage solutions for positive change by engaging in projects that reject a status quo that is not helping children reach their potential.

– Parent by “working with” your children, instead of “doing to.”

One section, in particular, stood out for me as both a teacher and a parent.  It was about “deep modeling” as opposed to simply modeling behavior.  Kohn asserts that modeling a certain behavior, while useful, can be made even more effective by taking it a step further by “deep modeling.” He uses the example of an instructor who tries to solve a problem, makes mistakes, corrects them, and works toward a solution.  He suggests that students will learn in the process to feel less anxious about making mistakes themselves and will also be more aware of the process behind problem solving, that it takes work, errors, revisions and so on.  I found this compelling because I have always questioned myself when I don’t have a ready explanation for Philip for why we aren’t going to do something that he wants or when I make a mistake while writing on the dry erase board in the classroom.  In the former, I chide myself for being a confusing parent.  In the latter, I feel as if my students have concluded that I’m an idiot with no grasp of the subject matter.  Reading this section, however, was quite reassuring for me.  It also gave me some ideas for more collaborative work in the classroom.

This weekend, we celebrated part of Philip’s birthday in Chicago.  One of his gifts was a trip to the Adler Planetarium.  While we were in the Planet Explorers exhibit, Philip was busy building a robot jetpack with PVC pipes and I was enjoying the show.  Nearby, there is a magnetic cogs station.  At this site, you take wooden magnetic cogs of different colors and sizes and try to get them to interact and spin on a magnetic board.  I watched casually as a young boy worked diligently to align and interlock nearly all the cogs in the station.  While he was designing his master work, his father visited.  He told the boy that the design wouldn’t work because there was too much weight.  The father tried to twirl one side with his fingers to illustrate his point and then he started relocating some of the cogs.  The boy protested.  The father persisted.  The boy protested again.  The father persisted.  Eventually, the father walked away and I could tell he was thinking, “Geesh, I was just trying to help.  I was just trying to have a little fun.  My kid is so…(insert your descriptor here).”  The boy continued his work.  A few minutes later, his father returned.  It was almost like watching an instant replay.  The same remarks were made.  The same attempts were made by the man to change the boy’s work and correct it.  The same verbal objections were voiced by the boy.

I don’t know how this all ended up.  My memory tells me that the boy eventually abandoned the project, but that may not have been the case.  More likely, Philip began to show me something about his project and I forgot all about the boy at the station.  But, it did get me to thinking about this book and the importance of having children become thinking, questioning and passionate adults.  Further, I saw that, as parents, we have to resist our urges and see things from our child’s perspective and not just our own.  It isn’t easy.  It takes time.  But, I believe it is worth the effort.

In one of my favorite movies, Contact, with Jodie Foster, there’s an exchange between her character and Dr. Drumlin (her adversary and former boss).  He tells her something to the effect, “It’s a cruel world out there” (suggesting that he knows how to navigate it and his lying to get on the ship was justified) and she says, “I’m sorry.  I thought the world is what we make of it.”  I love that line and I fully agree with her sentiment.

I think the world is what we make of it and it is also one that our children make.  Thankfully, there are a lot of people trying to make the world a better place.  I am grateful that Alfie Kohn, despite all of the challenges he has seen in education and parenting, is still trying to do just that.  I hope more people are inspired, as I am, to keep trying.


Accentuating the Positive


Poor Philip.  Being 4 can be rough sometimes.  Lots of rules.  Lots of expectations.  Lots of emotions.

Sometimes, his emotions erupt like a volcano.  I understand.  I feel that way sometimes and I am still a work in progress on “turning the wheel” and keeping my emotions under control.  Today, in fact, I felt a rumbling of anger when he had drenched himself with the rainwater (irresistible!) while I walked the dog.  I had this big plan.  It was a cloudy day so we were going to relocate some of the 4′ x 4′ garden beds from the back garden and put them in the front garden.  But, a soaked child in cool, persistent wind is no good and I was not in the mood to dress him in fresh clothes, stick his feet in plastic bags to allow him to wear his sodden boots and layer him in a fleece and a windbreaker since his winter coat was dripping.  It was so disappointing.  We were going to be EXCAVATORS!  We were going to unearth these beds and haul them.  He was going to get wonderfully worn out and I was going to tackle a chore.  But, it drained me.  I lacked the reserve to be resilient about it.  We went in.  I removed all of the wet items, made sure he was warm and dry and relocated myself to make a bed while he listened to Poetry Speaks to Children in the kitchen and read along with the book.

As I made the bed, I argued with myself about whether or not this was a major big deal (not really) or just a learning opportunity (probably) and what I could do about it (get calm, move forward).

When I got downstairs, he was still listening to poetry, and I was still feeling pretty negative.  So, I grabbed a notebook and a pen and just started writing.  I sat on the chair near the window (trying not to think about all of the seeds that I have not yet planted) and I got my mood back in order after about 2 paragraphs (I wasn’t given much time for more).  He came up with some games to play, we had book-and-a-snack on the chair a bit later, then enjoyed reading the graphic novel version of The Little Prince over dinner.  Afterwards, he had a fabulous splash fest in the bath followed by a bedtime book, then lights out.

As I gave Philip his bedtime hugs and kisses, I told him how much he helped me get chores done (he helped me vacuum and he helped me clean dishes), how hard he worked on controlling his emotions (He and I worked on a list together.  For example, “When I get angry, I will stop and think quietly.”), how gentle he was with the dog (lots of pets and a reminder to brush the dog’s teeth) and so on.

He was grinning ear to ear.  He even said he was blushing.

As Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, lecturing, preaching and harping about mistakes are ineffective motivators for positive change.  When the situation has passed, when the milk has been spilled, when the brains (both the parents’ and the child’s) are back in normal mode, it’s time to talk about ways to do things differently.  It can be really hard.  Parenting is a selfless act, but not all parents are selfless (nor, I think, should they be).  But, having faith and trust, leaning on patience and collective plans really can help ease the burden on all in the family.

No, Boundaries, Okay


I continue to read Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling and I have found it helpful.  Tonight, I am sharing takeaways from the chapter, “Living With Children.”  Whether you are a parent, thinking about becoming a parent, interact with children or interact with people who seem to act like children, the following tips might be useful for you, too:

– Become aware of your use of the word “no” and in what ways you use it.  From the book:

“‘No’ does not have to be just a signal, an explosion of angry noise.  It can be a word, conveying an idea.”

“Except in rare times of great stress or danger, there is no reason why we cannot say ‘No’ to children in just as kind and gentle a tone as we say ‘Yes.’ Both are words.  Both convey ideas which even tiny children are smart enough to grasp. […] Except when overcome by fatigue, or curiosity, or excitement, or passion, they want to do right, do as we do, fit in, take part.”

– A handy interaction model related to children testing boundaries that could be useful in certain situations.  From the book:

“Are you testing me, just doing that to see what I will do? If the child said ‘Yes’ I would say, ‘Well, I don’t like that, it’s not nice and I don’t want you to do it.  I don’t do bad things to you just to see what you will do.  Then it’s not fair for you to do that to me.”

– Become aware of the use of the word “okay” when an adult is giving an instruction (e.g., “Let’s put our coats on, okay?”).  From the book:

“The trouble with this ‘Okay?’ is that it suggests to the children that we are giving them a choice when we really are not.  […] If we too often seem to be offering choices when we really aren’t, children may soon feel that they never have any.  They will resent this, and resent even more our not saying clearly what we mean.”

“It is perfectly possible to be firm and courteous while making clear to someone that you are not offering a choice, but telling them what you want to happen or is going to happen.”

As a teacher at a community college, the phrases “continuous improvement” and “lifelong learning” are part of our ethos.  As an individual, I embrace a similar perspective.  As a parent, I have discovered many areas for improvement in myself.  Sometimes, it seems daunting.  But, I can readily say that I am no stranger to hard work.  Each day, as I pursue my quest to be a good parent, I face new challenges.  Some of them I meet; some, I find I have room to improve.  Tomorrow, I will start integrating these new approaches into my repertoire.  While I do not expect to reach perfection, I know that I will find the experiences highly educational and, no doubt transforming.  Each little improvement doesn’t just improve my parenting skills; it helps me grow as an individual.  It helps me become a better partner, a better relative, a better friend, and a better colleague.   And maybe, just maybe, that will help to build a better world.