Letting Kids “Talk Back”

Libby Anne was raised by Quiverfull parents who believed in using lots of corporal punishment in order to quite literally break all the defiance and willfulness of their children. She relates a fantastic story of how she responded to her three year old daughter tripping over her infant son with reason rather than yelling as her visiting brother watched on. Afterwards she relays the important conversation she had with him:

We talked about how we felt when we were spanked. We talked about the feelings of helplessness and anger. But mostly we talked about back talk. You know, where you try to explain what happened and then, rather than listening to you, the response you get is “that’ll be three more spanks, and for every additional word you say, I’ll add another spank.” That feeling like you’re being smothered. The rage rising inside, threatening to overwhelm you until you begin to feel nauseous. The moment when you realize that what hurts is not so much that they don’t understand as that they don’t want to understand. That you matter that little.

Read and spread the whole post. It’s great. And vital.

Libby Anne’s view of reasoning with children was most memorably summed up for me in a post where she expressed her desire “to remember that even when I’m annoyed, or tired, or when she is simply not doing what I want her to do and I’m at the end of my rope, my daughter still desperately wants my love and wants me to be pleased with her. She’s just a little person trying to figure things out, not a monster out to get me.”

A page on her blog overviews her philosophy of parenting and links to posts on key topics. There she writes:

Positive parenting focuses on raising children to be capable, independent, compassionate adults rather than on instilling obedience and compliance. Positive parenting sees children as individuals with needs of their own and focuses on cooperation and mutual respect between the parent and child. Positive parenting rejects corporal punishment and tends to minimize punishment in general, seeking instead to encourage good behavior and foster the child’s self-determination and understanding of natural consequences.

I adopted positive parenting when my first child, a daughter, was about a year old, and it completely transformed my relationship with her. No longer a contest of wills, parenting has become a cooperative enterprise filled with mutual respect and surprises along the way.

I should note that my experiences with and thoughts on positive parenting fall against the backdrop of having been raised on the strict authoritarian discipline methods of Michael and Debi Pearl, as enshrined in their child rearing manual, To Train Up A Child. To read more about my thoughts on the Pearls and their methods, click here.

Feel free to peruse my Key Posts on positive parenting, and to look at the positive parenting Resources I have gathered. For everything I have written on positive parenting, click here. Or, feel free to also read more of what I’ve written on childrenand family.

My own thoughts on parenting and reasoning with children can be found in the posts below:

A Video Conversation on Atheist Parenting 

Faith as Corruption of Children’s Intellectual Judgment

Christopher Hitchens and Freethinking Parenting at its Best

How to Argue with Teens

Your Thoughts?

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • smrnda

    There seems to be a horror among some proponents of punitive parenting that you’re only inviting chaos by using positive methods and refraining for immediate discipline with no excuses. Part of this is, at least in my opinion, that people who use punitive methods are just insecure and are taking out their ego issues on their kids. In order for these people to get their needed ego boost, they have to live in a world where they are always right and where underlings stay in their place. Looking at these from the outside you feel like you’re looking at warped and twisted people who feel that a crying baby is putting up a battle that this big huge adult desperately needs to win – the adult looks dangerous and pathetic.

    People use scare tactics to convince you that unless you beat your kids, everything will go wrong. The reason is that these people are frightened and insecure themselves, and if you happen to raise kid successfully without beating them it makes the people who beat their kids look like lunatics.

    I worked with kids for years. They could talk back all they wanted, if they sent out of line I said so, but why shouldn’t they talk back sometimes? Did I ever earn their unconditional respect? Am I automatically right? Are some conflicts not about ‘the right way’ but just that the adult wants to have their own way at all costs?

    there are whole nations that have done away with corporal punishment, and so far they haven’t collapsed. also, being able to talk back to authority is one of the biggest reasons why things are better post-Enlightenment than they were before.

  • Laurent Weppe

    There seems to be a horror among some proponents of punitive parenting that you’re only inviting chaos by [...] refraining for immediate discipline [... because] people who use punitive methods are just insecure and are taking out their ego issues on their kids

    I don’t agree.
    People are much more rational that we often give them credit for, and I’d say that this “fear of chaos” comes from the fact that they know that the only thing punitive methods really teach is belief that authority belongs to the strongest, meanest bastard in the room: and since children grow up while parents grow old there always come a time when one of the kids become the strongest, meanest bastard in the room.
    If your way of parenting is to beat your kids into submission, you are putting yourself in a situation where you’re living on borrowed time: if you don’t imprint submissive behavior so deep in your kids’ psych that they’ll fear you even once they’ve become stronger… well: 10% of parents in North America end up beaten by their own children. And I remember seeing similar numbers in western european countries.
    So, I don’t see punitive parents as having a problem of psychological insecurity: rather the violent approach is the ruthless, cynical, despicable, but perfectly rational way to mitigate the probable consequences of choosing a form of parenting based upon rigid hierarchical interplay.

    ***

    Also the comment section needs a preview button

  • smrnda

    I can see that – I think it might be a factor is *some* but I am probably wrong to generalize to all.

    You’ve also got a good point that if you start with punitive methods, then you have to keep at it since you’ve taught your kids to stay in line because of threats of violence, and if you later take away the threats, you’ve taken away the thing you conditioned the kids by, and you will have chaos.

    Something else I wonder about is if it’s whether people view morality as a sort of ‘we treat everyone with respect and kindness’ of if morality is ‘obey the person in charge.’

  • Baal

    With my son (11) I’ve never been in the situation where I thought hitting him would do any good. Also, I can’t quite imagine actually using physical punishment – the idea is revolting. I was spanked as a child and all I remember from those instances was the look of anger on my mother’s face. I don’t want my son to have that memory of me.
    I also make it a point to clearly articulate in full sentences what exactly I’m not happy with and why. It’s to the point where I say, “I’d like to talk to you about ___.” My son will usually interrupt me to fill in the blank and then give me the problem, rule and reasoning.
    I will refuse to listen to him, though, if he gets repetitive on a complaint of his (and I’ve responded).
    His teachers have always commented that he is one of the best behaved students. I have to think that’s because he knows how to regulate himself and doesn’t do it out of fear of punishment. Fear of punishment has also never been much of a motivating factor for me.

  • http://peppylady.blogspot.com peppylady (Dora)

    It end of the month and I go out and visit some other blogs that I usual don’t read. This time I decided to step out on branch and visit some religious ones.
    As for spanking I have to say I have mix feeling on it. I was a child that my parents had no trouble in spanking even if mean using a belt.
    As for my children I may use my hand to give a smack on the rear end.
    I found more resourcefulness ways of handling conflict with my son then my parents with me. I’m sure I made mistakes along the way.
    Now for back talking…I’m not really sure what back talking is…at time with my parents mostly my father if he didn’t like the answer to a question..he would simple point his finger at you and make some remark that you were back-talking or fibbing.
    What I fine interesting. Among certain members of my family their surprise I could raise some decent sons since they believe my mom was not bringing me up right and my father was doing a fine job. It sad they don’t know the entire story what went on.

    If you have time stop on over at my blog and the coffee is on.
    http://www.peppylady.blogspot.com


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