Friday, September 24, 2010

Obedience vs collaboration

An educator once remarked to me that it is important to give children good habits and teach them to be obedient and follow instructions. By solving problems in a collaborative way , supporting their autonomy and encouraging them to put their concerns on the table I was in fact encouraging non-compliance , and not teaching them to accept parental authority.

We live in a world where our ability to control others and inculcate obedience is very limited. In any case do we want to raise children who demonstrate ' blind obedience. Most methods of getting kids to do what you want or be obedient rely on the use of reward , punishment , and the use of fear . Parenting that focuses on giving children good habits rely on rewards and punishments to get ' behavior ' This approach ignores the motives , feelings or intentions of the child.

Instead of teaching behaviors and habits , we should focus on motivation ,the motives , feelings and intentions behind behavior .We should be relating to the whole child. The same behavior can be rather different when we take the motives and intentions into account. A child can do an act of kindness for very different reasons. He may give a cookie to a classmate in order to impress his teacher who is standing close buy , he wants some of the candy which the boy is eating and you need to give in order to get or he may be simply ultraistic merely wanting to do the right thing and make another child feel good.

When we help kids to become self determined and self directed , the source of the actions is not some extrinsic , but being connected to their inner core values . They respond to parents not out of obedience , but because of the feeling it is the right way to behave and it expresses who they are and the type of person they want to be. Our motives , feelings and reasons define our actions .

For sure there will be times when parents have to say - I need you to do it my way and use Plan A . Children who have parents who make issues discussable , give reasons and are perceived as meeting their needs , these kids are more likely to ' trust' their parents and accept their decisions in a trusting way even if they are not so happy about it. Often children who are forced to be obedient , act out when their parents are not around.

Ross Greene says that problem solving skills are more important than learning to be obedient. An authoritarian boss or teacher is a problem to be solved . Being compliant and obedient is unlikely to solve your problem. What is needed is good problem solving and life skills . We can help our kids acquire these skills using a 'working with ' , collaborative problem solving approach.

In a nutshell a parallel learning , collaborative problem solving approach not only supports a kid's autonomy and meets their emotional needs , but helps them learn to trust adults and accept their decisions even when they might not be so happy about it. But most important they begin to ' hear' what we are saying. As one parent recently said ' Now that I am using CPS , I feel I am being heard . 'Traditional methods helping children to accept authority and be obedient are usually based on fear , teaching blind obedience and prizing the ' docility' of children. The children in fact become very alienated from their parents and also from themselves. They begin to live the lives of their parents and they feel accepted and have self worth only when they are being obedient ignoring their wishes and concerns. How sad !

In a sentence - Parenting is about cooperation , not about obedience



  1. Good post and very informative for parents like me. We must be aware about how to handle our kids and motivate them them in to achieve good etiquette. My son is just 1.5 years old and recently he has developed a behavior of throwing things. I get upset at times. This is the time for my baby to get admitted to preschools and I am in dilemma for my son and am in the process of exploring the options. I heard sme preschools helps to attain good habits. Someone recently informed me about a grand exhibition of top Indian schools (including pre-schools), which takes place in many cities across India every year. I looked it up on the web and found the details at There's a list of cities and dates mentioned for the fair to take place. I am posting you this as I felt it might help you in getting contact with several big schools under one roof.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Children do well if they can is a basic principle of cps - collaborative problem solving and because of different devlopmental rates kids may have very different capacities. Also some kids are born easy-wired , some are much more challenging and as parents we need to be responsive to their temperaments. This helps us keep cool and non-reactive but creative and responsive. If young children are not with their mothers they should at least be an environment which promotes attachment , each child having the opportunity to bond with the care giver. Generally preschool education seems to get it more right than school. Kids learn more through discovery and play , teachers using kids natural curiosity to learn more about the world around them to generate interest. When kids are acting not appropriately we should focus on redirection , removing triggers and having a kid in a user-friendly environment that allows maximum autonomy. My preference is for a more attachment and constructivist orientated environment for younger kids , also somethhing like montesorri or ' Highscope' .
    Good luck with finding the right place for your child. I always say a good school is one which is a good fit for the child.