In my effort to keep up with mommy blogs and the constant flow of parenting information, I keep coming across a disturbing word: “tricks”. Sometimes tricks are grouped in with trendy “hacks” or packaged as advice from psychologists. But all tricks strive to do one thing: to get your child to do something. The Practice Life Method does not endorse any type of parenting “trick.” There isn’t a gimmick for developing constructive members of society.
When I talk about the Life element of P.L.M., I use it to emphasize that we want our children to live in the real world as opposed to in some parallel “kid dimension.” A clear example of this is children’s food. Why do parents serve their children chicken nuggets while they themselves are eating a well-balanced meal? And when those parents get their courage up and dare to offer the kids vegetables, they disguise them by mixing them in with other foods or smothering them in sauce or covering them with cheese. These are examples of “tricks,” the unwittingly manufactured walls of that alternative “kid dimension.” Just give them their veggies!
Kids need to learn to face the challenges of reality head on. Once the child has experience in dealing with situations like vegetable consumption or acceptable social behavior—inconceivable expectations to many modern parents—then they can progress to dealing with actual problems. Why not master the rudimentary as soon as possible?
In addition to distorting reality, the other reason I don’t like tricks is that they rely upon your child being gullible. I want my kids to be smart. Parents who use tricks want their kids to be smart, just not smart enough to figure out when they’re being tricked. These parents hope for and play into certain intellectual discrepancies. Relying on the child’s inferior intelligence is blatantly disrespectful. Moreover, it’s unsustainable: kids will learn what’s what as they mature
I don’t try to get a child to do anything. When I talk about “shaping behavior”—which is the closest phrase in my vocabulary for what you might think of as trying to get them to do something—I’m talking about establishing a structure, ignoring destructive attention-seeking behavior, applying consequences when necessary, and then praising them when they exhibit constructive behavior. I’m waiting for the child to choose good behavior, not forcing it to happen. I don’t just do this because it’s the clearest way to shape behavior, but because it lets them find the motivation within themselves to make that same, good decision every time. When the child chooses the acceptable behavior on his own, he’s actually matured and will repeat the behavior.
So the next time you want your child to do something, consider if you are putting a cartoon character band-aid on a problem or actually solving it. Yes, it requires patience and resolve, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the immediacy of sticking your finger in the dam. And you can trust me: I wouldn’t try to trick you.