Thursday, May 21, 2009

Trying to explain TCS in public...

I would prefer a certain course of action. Someone else in my family would prefer another one. What do we do?

Child-rules parenting (ick) goes with the child's preference until parents totally burn out and the monster they have created has to go and learn to navigate around others' needs, but starting aged 21 rather than aged 2. Nice one, laissez faire parents.

Totally authoritarian parenting always goes with the parent's preference, keeping child locked in cupbard under the stairs in between times until child leaves home aged 16 and doesn't invite the parents to their wedding. Nice one, parents.

Most of us live much more in a way that sometimes the children get what they prefer and sometimes we get what we prefer and everyone is pretty easy going, so family life bumbles along pretty much smoothly, with occasional child melt downs when we, for whatever reason, feel we have to put our foot down. Even UP keeps the authoritarian trump card that sometimes, says Mum, it's just got to be how it's got to be.

TCS is none of the above. The crux of TCS is that parents are fallible. Not just parents - all of us. TCS is an application of critical rationalism (of which Karl Popper is the most famous exponent) to family life. It's not a method, it's not a how-to guide, it is a philosophy.

So in just about everything where I want my child to do something they don't want to do, I have to stop and say "but I could be wrong". Every parent could make a list of absolute non-negotiables where sometimes, says Mum, it's just got to be how it's got to be. But that list completely varies from parent to parent. Jill might have tooth cleaning, sitting at the table for meals and bed times as non-negotiable, while Mary is unbothered by those but insists on baths every night and always wearing shoes outside. So, if Jill says toothcleaning twice a day is vital but Mary is happy to trust to good diet, plenty of water and breastmilk rather than juice or fizzy drinks, and regular hard-cheese snacks, and providing info and equipment to encourage tooth cleaning rather than forcing it... how do you know that your personal take on it is right? Sure enough to hold your child down kicking and screaming to inflict twice-daily brushing on them? Sure enough that you refuse to buy your child a desired toothbrush because all that is a waste of time? TCS is about being aware of one's fallibility within the parent-child relationship.

Because we are writing on t'internet, it all looks very wordy, but really it isn't about endless discussion - a lot of it is non-verbal.

Time is a big factor. The idea that something must happen NOW is a big trigger for conflict in many families, where if one was able to give up the agenda, one might well find that what one was hoping for (walk the dog?) happened anyway, in a completely happy way just because one let go of the idea and went with the flow. Or sometimes, one might find that something else is happening (playing in the garden with dog jumping around?) which is fine for everyone too. I think a lot of TCS families find life best if they build quite a lot of unscheduled time into their lives, but I may be projecting from what happens to work best for me and mine.

Something else within critical rationalism is the idea that, in an area where we have previously been coerced, it is harder for us to respond creatively another time. If someone forces me into an unwanted coat then, next time we go out, my rage and humiliation at that previous experience might well lead to me resisting the coat again. Or my learning to comply with wearing the coat might interfere with my ability to recognise my own cues of warmth or chilliness. Forcing someone to do something constrains their learning in that area (this is something unschoolers know well. You can lead a horse to the educational water all you want, but it's only when they are thirsty that they'll drink it and, when they are thirsty, they'll walk to the water themselves without needing any top-down leading whatsoever). So forcing our children to do things against their will, however sugar-coated, is counter productive to their learning. If we can't persuade them (verbally or non-verbally) we are better to suggest something else or listen to their suggestions rather than forcing them.

Another crucial thing is that one doesn't practise TCS because it produces a better product. One practises it because one has been persuaded that it is the morally right thing to do. My impression of TCS families is that their children do tend to be just wonderfully good company and free-range children in the very best sense. But there are some children who, by nature of their personalities or SN, almost demand to be Taken Seriously or parented Unconditionally. They don't respond to rewards and punishment because they just don't get those social cues, and so their parents have either become massively coercive in order to attempt to contain the energy of their wild children, or else they have turned to some form of TCS or UP as the only way they can live relatively peacefully with the SN whirlwind of their child. And that child probably won't be doing brilliantly well at sleepovers, but that doesn't mean the parents have misjudged things by following the UP method or by assimilating the TCS philosophy.

5 comments:

sunnymama said...

This is an interesting post. I discovered TCS my son was a year old and I try to parent him non-coercively because I believe it's the morally right thing to do. I believe being aware of my fallibility is essential for me to grow as a person and improve in my parenting role. I enjoyed what you said about going with the flow, that's certainly something I'm learning to do more.

emma said...

thank you Sunnymama :) Off to check out your blog...

Leo said...

I'm so glad I discovered Ayn Rand. TCS is finally a burden off my life.

emma said...

can you do me a summary of what Ayn Rand says that's helpful for family life? Or tell me where to look? Always interested in new ideas, me.

Leo said...

Follow my blog.