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The Big Answer


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Happy Children

a book by Rudolf Dreikurs

(our site's book review)

Rudolf Dreikurs, like Thomas Gordon, Louise Hart, Dorothy C. Briggs, Donald Dinkmeyer, Gary D. McKay, and dozens of others, is a follower of Adlerian ideas—in general (each has taken these basics and molded them into his or her own concept of what the ideal type of parenting should be like, adding their own ideas and those of others such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow). We can all thank our lucky stars that Alfred Adler split off from Freud in the early 1900s and went in a direction that would help parents effectively nurture kids. Some of Freud’s ideas helped too, but Adlerian parenting guidelines are more precise, pragmatic and helpful. Much of the best parenting advice that exists in the 21st century exists because of the seeds sewn by Adler, Rogers, and Maslow.

Freud
Freud

In 1964 when this book was written, we didn’t yet have Gordon’s books on P.E.T. and discipline, Diana Baumrind’s research on authoritative parenting, and many other vital parenting tomes. Had Dreikurs written this book in the 70s, he surely wouldn’t have used the word authoritative to mean autocratic and authoritarian, since by then Baumrind’s important research had established to all attentive students of parenting that authoritative is not authoritarian. (Since Baumrind’s work, many people have either dumped the word or redefined it to mean the method of democratic parenting, which is neither authoritarian nor permissive and includes the use of logical and natural consequences, but not punishment, negative power, punitive manipulation of kids or demands on kids. Unfortunately, Baumrind did include a certain amount of these latter parenting errors in her definition of authoritative. See our comments on her books and articles.)

Dreikurs is weaker than Gordon in many areas, such as utilizing verbal communication that works, I-statements, communication barriers, praise, feelings expression, owning the problem, specific problem-solving techniques, and so on. Gordon says that Dreikurs’ use of logical consequences that go so far as to totally deny all food to a hungry person late for a meal is too harsh, and it’s disguised punishment. He’s correct, but when Gordon says that no logical consequences should be used at all because all forms of it are punitive, he’s not quite right.

Most parenting experts (Hart, Dinkmeyer, McKay, Dreikurs, etc.) and most authoritative parenting methods (Positive Parenting, Systematic Training for Effective Parenting, Active Parenting, Winning Family Lifeskills, and Dreikurs’ democratic parenting) use logical consequences because there’s simply no good way to avoid this method, occasionally. Many, like Dreikurs and Hart, try to use natural consequences whenever possible, and resort to nonpunitive logical consequences only when natural consequences don’t occur, but they never resort to reward and punishment. With this in mind, who is right?

Gordon is right that use of natural consequences without the use of logical consequences is the ideal parenting method, because it uses the least parent power and is the most democratic. Some experts admit that by the time kids hit their teens, natural consequences may need to be used exclusively since kids aren’t going to be open to the forced choices inherent in some logical consequences. Others say that if parents do good P.E.T. or authoritative parenting during kids’ childhoods, natural consequences will be all that parents need when the kids are in their teens, since such kids have learned good self-discipline by then and such choices have been internalized. However, the kids that suddenly encounter P.E.T. or authoritative parenting after years of authoritarian or permissive (or mixed) discipline may indeed need some logical consequences as part of a bridge between the erroneous parenting style and the new style.

Dreikurs’ Happy Children book cites many examples of nonpunitive logical consequences scenarios that the reader would be hard-pressed to translate into natural consequences scenarios that work. So, especially when young, kids of the 21st century have such challenging, chaotic, and confusing environments that they seem to need the structure of logical consequences at times. Of course, it’s important that as soon as a child develops self-discipline, parents recognize this and lay off unnecessary logical consequences applications.

A happy child
A happy child

(And in MCs? It may well be that in second- or third-generation MCs, kids will need no other type of discipline training but natural consequences training—à la P.E.T. But first-generation MCs and perhaps second-generation MCs will be likely to need logical consequences at first, which would taper off as kids took full responsibility for themselves. In a totally P.E.T. world, perhaps Gordon’s P.E.T.-based, natural-consequences-only ideals would prevail in the end, especially if it was also an MC world in which unprecedented security leads to unprecedented self-discipline and self-responsibility. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

But in today’s real world, as Hart says, modern lifestyles often isolate kids from consequences in life and in their entertainment, so the supplementation of natural consequences with logical consequences is important and necessary, especially when kids are young, as long as they are nonpunitive—not punishments or rewards, which she admits do not work, since they create dependence and indirect self-acceptance desires (see Toward a Psychology of Being by Maslow) rather than good behavior based on self-control.

Gordon admits that a young kid can be put into a crib if he’s not behaving well in the family room
Gordon admits that a young kid can be put into a crib if he’s not behaving well in the family room

In the interest of avoiding unnecessary disagreements between the authoritative advocates that support logical consequences and the harmonious advocates that don’t (P.E.T.), we can point to the fact that Gordon admits that a young kid can be put into a crib if he’s not behaving well in the family room, a kid can be taken off the couch if he’s jumping on it, and if a kid is pokey, he can be guided along to hurry. These are not natural consequences, but logical ones by Dreikurs’ definition, since a parent has to intercede and provide the consequence. Dreikurs would use the same logical consequences in these scenarios. The difference between the two methods in this instance is that Gordon dislikes the word logical (so he calls these actions “limiting the child’s life space” or “nonverbal messages”) but Dreikurs does not. It’s a terminology dispute.

An interesting dilemma surfaces when we look at the different perspectives on feelings expression expounded by Gordon and Dreikurs. Gordon wants us to express how a child’s misbehavior makes us feel, using I-statements, so the child can empathize and cease, because that child wants the parent to empathize with him when something the parent does upsets the child. So the democratic reciprocity of “I’ll care about how you feel if you’ll care about how I feel” (an extension of the Golden Rule) carries the day, in all its simplistic glory. Ironically, Dreikurs says that if the child sees something upsets you, he’ll do it even more, as he experiences a wondrous sense of power over his parent, so instead of words, a parent should resort to action when a kid misbehaves—but not show he or she is upset. (At strategically appropriate times, words in the form of logical consequences choices, from which the child is to select, come first: “You may cease making all that racket or go make it elsewhere,” or “You may leave the room or be led out.”)

Dreikurs’ temper tantrum response is leading the kid away or leaving the room, but Solter has much better responses
Dreikurs’ temper tantrum response is leading the kid away or leaving the room, but Solter has much better responses

Examples of Dreikurs’ action strategy are: leading a kid to his room when he’s too loud, or walking away and letting a kid holler alone when he’s involved in a temper tantrum (a better response to tantrums is in Tears and and Tantrums), or removing a delicate and valued object from a small child’s careless grip (all without anger or upset or concern). With Dreikurs, the object is to hide anger or stress, because if the kid knows he’s getting to you, he’s won the battle and his errant ways will persist. If misbehavior has no reward (parent getting rattled), it will cease, says Dreikurs.

Gordon looks at kids on a higher plane, expecting that kids want their feelings respected, so when they misbehave and bother a parent, they’ll reciprocate by respecting and responding to the parent’s upset feelings once the parent communicates these with an I-statement. Obviously, to the degree we can induce such reciprocity motives and ethical cooperation in kids, we’re doing great parenting. This type of influence on kids is character building. What could be better than a kid motivated by consideration? But many child experts would say that concern for others’ feelings isn’t realistic with very small kids—they develop that only later. Hence the “nonverbal messages” and “limiting the child’s life space” of Gordon or the logical consequences of most other parenting experts, all of which supplement both natural consequences and I-statements, when needed.

The dilemma mentioned in the first line of the above paragraph is, of course, that everyone who has had much experience with kids—especially in their terrible twos, testing limits in every way possible, and delighting in their newfound powers when they find yet another way to drive their parents nuts—are bound to be a bit skeptical about the “considerate” toddler idea.

Punishment and rewards have been shown by Gordon and other experts to stink at teaching such kids to behave and acquire good ethics. But will the hope of reciprocal parental “consideration” be an effective motive for a toddler to behave? Is that an age-appropriate expectation for a parent to hold for their one- or two-year-old? Gordon says that when an I-statement from a parent to a child about a problem a kid is causing for the parent fails to work, try a stronger one, and if that fails, go to problem-solving (which Dreikurs refers to as the Family Council). A kid that wouldn’t respond to another’s upset feelings will respond to problem solving because it doesn’t require consideration but instead the kid’s participation in exploring possible alternate ways of acting that would work for everyone. (Besides, “group pressure is effective, while adult pressure only stimulates rebellion,” says Dreikurs.)

Dreikurs' scenario of the kid/monsters out to drive parents crazy can be eliminated by parents’ skill at using P.E.T.
Dreikurs' scenario of the kid/monsters out to drive parents crazy can be eliminated by parents’ skill at using P.E.T.

Active listening is likely in such meetings. A kid who is led to think about what would work for him and settle upon something is experiencing cooperation that will help teach consideration eventually—but not at first. At first all consideration is for himself, not others. But P.E.T. living will teach him consideration for others faster than any other method known. It’s a natural consequence of others being considerate towards him. But it’s not immediate. So the Dreikurs scenario of the young monster out to drive parents crazy and feeling successful when he upsets them—this is no fantasy. It’s reality at first. Parents must start from there and end up with considerate P.E.T kids, by using P.E.T. patiently and consistently. How soon consideration—and therefore good responses to I-statements—develops will depend upon each kid’s individual personality, his genes, his caregivers, and many other factors, but more than anything else: his parents’ skill at using P.E.T.

A 'time-out' is merely the modern version of the dunce chair, which isolates a 'naughty' child
A 'time-out' is merely the modern version of the dunce chair, which isolates a 'naughty' child

Perhaps the kids Dreikurs had encountered in his profession had universally explored—and delighted in—their power at upsetting parents because: (a) So many of these parents used logical consequences too often when natural consequences would have worked, and this was perceived as punitive by the kids and it made them mad and they sought vengeance (b) So many parents’ hostile feelings towards their kids were detected by the kids unbeknownst to the parents who believed they hadn’t let them show, and (c) The kids were angry at what they perceived as excess parental power when parents led them out of the room or to a time-out room when they misbehaved, even though Dreikurs believes that if this is done in a calm and nonpunitive manner, it shouldn’t be perceived as “parent power.” But it was—and is.

Perhaps the three examples just given illustrate the liabilities of putting so little faith in feelings and honest human communication. Consideration evolves via good communication of honest feelings and thoughts, which Dreikurs’ methods are relatively lacking in. So consideration may be slow in coming for kids disciplined the Dreikurs’ way. Brazelton is even further off the mark than Dreikurs at empowering consideration—but in the opposite direction, as he supports parents’ angry outbursts as important and constructive because they’re honest. Gordon’s I-statements aren’t expressed in angry outbursts, but in controlled verbalizations about honest feelings—definitely a better method, since it won’t be at the kid’s expense like outbursts are.

Brazelton believes in control of kids while teaching them self-control (sort of oxymoronic), while Gordon and Dreikurs believe in letting consequences control kids. Gordon and Brazelton and Dreikurs believe in being responsive rather than reactive, but Brazelton shows his reactiveness beliefs time and again in his books. He also misses the wonders of active listening and conflict resolution. He believes in parent power and authority rather than democracy and authoritative parenting, although he doesn’t necessarily use those words. All these outbursts and power trips are bound to create anger in kids, so he firmly expects (his books demonstrate this clearly) kids to be at each other’s throats most of the time as a way of manifesting their normalcy!

Brazelton’s parenting programs have gotten lots of air time on TV. Observing the way the issues of parent power and authority have such prominence in the media’s Culture War debates, it’s easy to see how Brazelton’s ideas dominate while authoritative and harmonious ideas are normally absent. (Shows don't wish to make parents squirm with guilt and change channels, so they present so-called "experts" with the same erroneous beliefs the parents already hold.) Current parental attitude statistics show that most parents use spankings and believe in parents forcing kids to behave, and even those that try permissive parenting end up resorting to violence once horrid misbehavior drives them nuts. Abuse of kids is quite common.

Sadly, current parental attitude statistics show that most parents use spankings and believe in parents forcing kids to behave
Sadly, current parental attitude statistics show that most parents use spankings and believe in parents forcing kids to behave

Many have commented on the fact that those who use authoritarian methods are always complaining about and unhappy with the terrible behavior of their young, which makes them use even more authority, which makes their kids rebel even more. It’s a hopeless vicious cycle in the eyes of those nonauthoritarians whose minds are clear enough so that they can think. To those whose minds are so clogged with authoritarian beliefs that they cannot comprehend their parenting experiences, they simply keep doing it wrong and simultaneously keep getting assured by so-called “authorities” that they’re doing it right.

Verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements, but Dreikurs favor avoiding praise and using encouragement instead
Verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements, but Dreikurs favor avoiding praise and using encouragement instead

Dreikurs favors encouragement over praise, as praise is too easy to confuse with a reward, and rewards tend to induce kids to be dependent and other-directed. He abhors criticism. He favors having the situation dictate logical and natural consequences. In the latter, it’s automatic; in the former, parental action or structuring is required, but parents need to “judiciously withdraw” from logical consequences situations so as to allow the logical sequence of events to take place. Parents who impose their will and call it logical consequences are fooling themselves and disguising punishment. Logical consequences are to help a kid logically understand situations and their consequences, and to help a kid learn how to transform a situation from disordered to ordered. “Children need to experience order as a part of freedom. Where there is disorder, there is loss of freedom for all.”

If a mother (or father if the mother is working) does nothing about housework or cooking, the disorder will be upsetting to all and limiting to all. On the other hand, if a mother won’t cook until the kids who left the kitchen a mess clean it up, she’s responding to the situational demand for order and the logical consequences inherently suggested by the situation. If she makes a fuss, her noncooking is punishment. But if she says not a word unless asked, her noncooking is simply respecting the order the situation requires. Logical consequences are not about power struggles or win-lose or parents making demands on kids. They need the context of the mutual respect of a democracy, not the coerced pseudo-respect of an autocracy, says Dreikurs. Louise Hart, author of The Winning Family, is better at using logical consequences than most other experts, including Dreikurs and Brazelton.

Kids need to be able to make decisions about their own rooms in order to learn self-control
Kids need to be able to make decisions about their own rooms in order to learn self-control

He respects kids’ alone spaces and wants kids to be able to make decisions about their own rooms. The consequences of these decisions—both good and bad—are essential if kids are to ever learn self-control.

Dreikurs is aware of the foolishness of labeling kids, especially with “good” and “bad.” But his books are careless about the use of those words in describing behavior.

In Family Councils, he says that if someone doesn’t attend then he or she loses his vote on the issues decided upon—a natural consequence.

He advocates parents letting kids run their own relationships with other relatives—siblings and grandparents—without interference, unless serious abuse is detected.

Dreikurs says to turn off the TV until everyone can agree on what to watch
Dreikurs says to turn off the TV until everyone can agree on what to watch

Since most kids’ fights are for the purpose of getting parental attention, refuse to play their game, he says. His book has some Second Wave solutions to what have become Third Wave problems: He says to turn off the TV until everyone can agree on what to watch. But majority rule here is very win-lose, and it makes sense to record programs so there needn’t be losers. In a world full of diversity, people all agreeing on what they like is very unlikely, and his method will create more problems than it solves. It may have been appropriate in the mass-man context of the 40s and 50s, but the book came out in 1964, and the idea of penalizing people for not being average and not liking the most popular programs (and thereby being statistically less likely to end up getting the program they desire) is like the “leveling” effect of bad schools, that grind down diversity in favor of mindless conformity. In the 21st century, kids have access to their own TVs or computers or smart phones to watch things on so "turn off the TV until everyone can agree on what to watch" has essentially been rendered moot if not nul and void.

Dreikurs' books capably teach problem solving, but they rely too much on conformity. 2017 is about diversity, and reliance on mindless conformity is misguided
Dreikurs' books capably teach problem solving, but they rely too much on conformity. 2017 is about diversity, and reliance on mindless conformity is misguided

Gordon finds that Dreikurs’ books “contain a wealth of sound principles,” but he’s disappointed (as are we) with the amount of external control mechanisms the man advocates. Not only do they promote indirect self-acceptance, dependence and other-directedness, they also lead one away from the path to autonomy. P.E.T. seems to be a serious correction to the flaws and omissions of Dreikurs-think. (We will leave it to the flow of history to decide just how much logical consequences parenting strategies are needed in the 21st century, in general, or in MCs, in particular. We feel the worst types of logical consequences have no place anywhere, but the best types will likely be needed to at least build a bridge from where people are now to where they will be in an MC society. Once people have crossed that bridge, there will either be a small amount of logical consequences or there will be none—as Gordon would advocate. It’s of little importance to try to figure such things out ahead of time. Let’s wait and see.)