This article was previously published on The Digital Firehouse. It has been republished here with permission.
I'm a dad. I have a delightful 18-month old daughter named Emily and I learn something new every day with her. I cherish every moment with her.
I'm a late bloomer and I have been applying what I've learned over the years from my reading, support groups and even therapy to my life with Emily. I come from a family with alcoholism going back several generations and with me, my intention is to stop that pattern of behavior. Today I'd like to share with you what I've learned about parenting so far.
I can recall the days with my dad when I would ask him a question and instead of answering the question, he'd say, "Go look it up." Despite his alcoholism, he still had the presence of mind to teach me to think for myself. He presented me with many challenges in critical thinking, sometimes without knowing it.
But he had a temper and he was really scary at times. He was demanding and I had to act without thinking. I had to have an answer when he asked a question. He was not always rational or predictable, so it was hard for me to adapt, but I found a way to adapt. Unfortunately, how I adapted then doesn't work too well as an adult.
So I've adopted some simple rules of thumb for how I comport myself with Emily, and pretty much anyone, including kids, but for today, this is about kids. They are the next generation and I want to make this world a better place to be. So when you see the word "Emily" that could be any kid, not just Emily. Emily is my daughter so I say these words with love.
First and foremost: I accept my daughter exactly the way she is right now. She doesn't have to change for me. Change is automatic as she grows up and learns to adapt to the world.
What will she adapt to? Will she need to adapt to someone who barks orders at her, asks her questions in a sharp tone of voice that she cannot answer, someone who gives bellicose glares when she does something wrong? Or will she need to adapt to someone who talks with her and works with her when she makes a mistake or breaks a rule that she didn't know about or didn't understand? Either way, children will learn their behavior from the adults around them.
When Emily cries, I accept her crying because that is the best she can do right now. I hold her until she stops crying. I comfort her until she stops crying. I stay in the room with her to let her know that crying is acceptable. We can only cry for so long and then we have to do something else.
When Emily does something "wrong" I pull her away from danger, from breaking expensive things and say "no." I keep doing that until she understands because she doesn't have a vocabulary and we can't have a conversation about her behavior - yet.
Children can't learn when they're in fear. If you want to raise someone who responds to your demands without thinking, get them into fear. Fear drives the mind to instinct to look for an answer. The success of man is that man does not rely upon instinct for every response to the environment. Instinct is coded by genes and genes respond slowly to the environment compared to what the nervous system can do now. Humans have a brain big enough to critically assess the situation and think of a solution. So does Emily.
Emily is not a threat. I'm bigger, faster, stronger and have much more experience than she does. There is nothing that this 1-year-old could do to threaten me, and she doesn't know the concept of threatening someone. I assume ignorance before malice because she is completely dependent upon me for her safety when I'm with her. Therefore, I don't respond to her as if she were a threat by responding with sharp tones, heavy glares and questions she cannot answer. I'm her father.
My job as a father is to have a good time with Emily, show her how to live a happy life as well as I can guide her away from danger. Discipline comes with choices, not harsh words, sharp questions or heavy glares. That's what you could do to someone who is a threat, not someone you love. I know that Emily will encounter plenty of pain and disappointment at her own hands. My job is also to show her the skills needed to learn from those experiences.
When I look back on this article, I find that these ideas apply to everyone, not just children. If you want a society that doesn't think, that responds to commands, get them into fear. You know, like the Visigoths. If you want a society that is open and flourishes with ideas, culture, inventions, families and friends, err on the side of peace. Every time.