Backwards Parenting

There are a lot of hard and fast rules on parenting that I disagree with. There are a few reasons for this. Obviously ever child, parent, and family dynamic is different. But there are two key principles to backwards parenting.

  1. Start with the end
  2. Question the rewards and penalties

Start With the End

I’m not saying this is *easy* but my goal is to raise kids that I’m going to enjoy hanging out with when they’re in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s (and beyond). That means they need to be fun, and smart, and responsible. They can’t be victims or helpless waifs, drifting through life. That doesn’t mean they need to be laser-focused, but they need to know that their lives are in their control. I hope they enjoy music. If they create it all the better. I hope they will enjoy thought puzzles and games (which is one reason why I like large families, its’ easier to find a few players for a board game if you have 6+ people living in your house). I hope they’ll be “nice people”. They don’t have to be Mother Theresa, but nice people.

People who have built a life for themselves that they’re proud of.

People who are enabled.

So working backwards from this it means I have to expose them to a lot of things. In the past few months we’ve taken the kids to:

We’ve also read books to them and had them read drafts of books we’re writing. We’ve share countless craft projects and videos. They’ve cooked, cleaned and built things.

Because let’s face it, Max is 10 and as much as I don’t want to think about it, he’s more than half-way to moving out on his own. Does he have half of those skills he needs? We do our best to expose him to all sorts of situations and to inspire them to create. Everyone over the age of 6 in my house knows know to do laundry, sort laundry and set up systems and schedules. They know how to read maps and pay for things. The older kids have ATM cards in their names and don’t have to ask me or Christine for money, and when they owe us money they don’t go to a bank. They email it to us, like normal people do.

Again it’s backwards thinking. When one of our kids ask us if they can have a sleepover, I think about what I want them to be able to handle when they’re 21. Do I want a 21-year-old that asks permission to change their major or to drop out of school and start a business? Do I want a 16-year-old who asks if they should get drunk or someone who thinks for themselves?

The answer in all cases is I want someone who thinks for themselves. I might not always agree with them, but I want THEM to decide. So I try to limit rules which has a second benefit, which ties into my second backwards rule of parenting.

Question the rewards and penalties

We have a trampoline. We had it before we had kids, we’ll probably have it after they all grow up. It’s fun to bounce and giggle and it’s actually a good workout. But when we have (literally) 6-10 kids on the trampoline at the same time there have to be rules. Especially if one (or more) of the kids who are visiting are … well let’s say “high energy” or “high sugar” kids. So our rules are simple.

  • If someone is hurt. Stop bouncing.
  • If an adult tells you something, obey first, question later.
  • No physical contact.

If you break ANY of these rules (accidentally or intentionally) I come down hard and fast. Sometimes parents try to apologize for their kids (“he didn’t know”) but I ride right over them “It’s a safety thing, if you have so much energy that you can’t listen to directions or remember the safety rules you can’t be on the trampoline.”

I know this doesn’t sound backwards yet, but here’s where I flip things around. Typical parenting is to tell kids to get off the trampoline for a set period of time or indefinitely, but that’s backwards. If the problem is the kid has too much energy and can’t focus, having them sit down or stare at the trampoline longingly isn’t going to focus them. Instead I make them run laps around the house. For 2-year-olds I’ll let them run around the inside, but anyone else has to run around the outside once for each year old they are. So older kids (who know better) have to burn off MORE energy than younger kids before getting on the trampoline.

Not only do they learn there’s a consequence but they burn energy while thinking.

Other examples of backwards parenting:

  • You know, you’re right, I’m wrong. I’m happy to change what I said. – Pushback is a skill kids need to learn. I know some parents that think once they say something if they back down they lose face, but think about it. Would you want to work for a boss like that? Hopefully you’d quit in a second.
  • We have multiple school choice options here in the valley and we make sure to talk to the kids often about those options. This year Charlie (age 8) chose to be at Hilltown Charter School and Max chose to be at the public elementary school. We didn’t pressure either of them.
  • On numerous occasions when kids have been crazy, instead of a penalty I have told the kids to go and do half an hour of screen time on the computer. Or I’ve called them into the kitchen and shared a bowl of ice cream. Or basically done things do when I need to decompress.
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