A Happy Childhood

I answered "How do I give my kids a happy childhood without spoiling them?" on a general forum, trying to translate radical ideas for the mainstream. ;-)

Is there anything you'd add to give kids a happy childhood?

1) Listen to them - Many parents fall into the trap of listening not to understand who their child is but listening for wrong ideas that "need" corrected. Listen as you would to a nephew or neighbor's child or other child you don't feel responsible for getting the "right thoughts" into. As long as kids ideas aren't hurting anyone, let them share their ideas about the world with you. Wrong ideas will change soon enough as kids find they don't work. Hear what they're telling you. It's feedback on how you're doing as a parent. If they say you're mean, take it as critique. It means despite your intent, your actions are communicating a different message. Find a way for your actions to match your intent.

2) Be the safest person they know - If they have a problem, they need to know they can come to you. They need to trust you won't freak out, won't get angry, won't punish them. Being afraid of punishment doesn't mean they'll never do wrong. It just means they'll go elsewhere for help. Or they'll hide what they did out of fear you'll punish them. They need to trust you have a cooler head than they did. If they're coming to you they know their choice didn't work. Trust they want to be good people. Help them as you would have wanted your parents to help you.

3) Be someone they can trust and depend on to help them - If you won't help them don't fool yourself into believing their desire evaporates. Everything they want must come through you. If you get a sudden craving for a Coke, you can stop by the store and get one. A child must convince someone their need is worthy then wait for someone to feel it worth their time to tend to it. (In terms of power to meet your own needs, being a child is a lot like being bedridden.) They need to know their parents are there to lend their power. Help them find safe, respectful, practical ways to get what they want in life. Let them see how you take the bigger picture into account so they can do it too when they developmentally can. (If not you, then who less trustworthy might they turn to?) Don't make them fight for everything they want. Otherwise when the answer really must be a no they'll fight that too and seem unreasonable.

4) Spend time with them - Get to know them as people. Getting stuff is cool, but don't substitute stuff for time with them. Kids—people really!—want above all to be valued for who they are, not who the parent imagines they could be. Let them share their interests with you, even if it's Barbie or horror movies. Their interests are a big part of their identity. They want you to know and appreciate who they are right now :-)

5) Treat them the way you want them to treat others - It's easy to be nice when the kids are nice. The kids need to see how people (you) can be patient and kind when life isn't going smoothly. They need to see how to work with someone whose view is different. They will get to see that by how you treat them when their view is different from yours. If you treat their needs and feelings as less important, they'll learn to treat other's needs and feelings as less important. And then when you're old and bedridden, they'll say, "No, you don't need more tea, no, you don't need to finish that TV program. I have other things to do than tending to your needs. Can't you see how busy I am?"

6) Don't make them do chores. - Do things around the house because you love having a house for your family. Invite children along to keep you company. Ask if they would help with something as you would a friend. Let them say, "No, thanks." Treat them as busy people who have important lives to live. Not only will they experience living respectfully with someone who has different views, it will be a treat when they help willingly. And it will be much better help than grouchy, half-assed coerced help. I saw a big mental shift in how my daughter viewed messes around puberty. By 14 she would see tasks that needed done and do them, help me put away groceries, reply to a request to help with, "Sure!" or "Sure after I finish this." If she was busy she'd let me know. If I really needed her help, I let her know that too. Because I always treated her as I wanted to be treated, by the time she was able, she did. The chores thing is a little radical but there are answers to common questions at Joyful Living and Unschooling (chores topics are listed down the right side) and Living Better without Requiring Chores.

7) School - Don't send them to school. Okay, that's not doable for everyone. But one of the most soul sucking aspects of US society is spending most of your childhood being made to learn things without choice. And to make it worse, to have your parents be the school's advocate against you rather than yours against the school. If you must send them, find a school that's a good fit. If you must choose public school, don't buy into the idea that it's a magic carpet ride to a secure future if the kids just do the work to stay on the carpet. See it as a hoop you're making them jump through. Get a copy of Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School by Grace Llewellyn, Amy Silver. But it you're able to choose to homeschool. Even better to unschool which allows full freedom to adapt the learning to the child rather than the child to the learning. One way to fight the ubiquitous message that school performance is vital to their futures is to keep in mind that unschooled kids spend their school years playing, following interests without doing anything that looks like schoolwork and they still get into college (even Harvard) and do just fine. Here's two things to ponder about the idea of spoiling children:

“Learn to Say No Or You’ll Spoil Your Child” and Spoiled Rotten? Spoiled Ripe!

(originally on Quora, February 25, 2015)

Joyce asked "Is there anything you'd add to give kids a happy childhood?"

Money. Give them money, if you can. People think it will spoil children; this was not our experience.

I wrote about that in "Magical Thinking and Spoiled Children."


Unschooling and Happiness Peace Parenting Issues for Unschoolers