EdNextGen: Follow-up Q&A

by Scott Noelle

First, in case you missed my interview for the Education: Next Generation online conference, here it is:

And here’s a digest of a follow-up Q&A I did on Facebook after the interview was posted. For privacy, the questions (in blue) are not attributed...

How do we encourage/teach/demand persistence and self-discipline while preserving the child’s right to say “no”?

How do we encourage/teach/demand persistence and self-discipline while preserving the child’s right to say “no”?

Maybe it was a facebook glitch that caused your question about persistence to be posted twice, but I had to laugh because it made you look rather persistent yourself! :) And I guess therein lies the answer to your question: MODELING is usually the best way to teach something. When you demonstrate persistence, and a child sees that you get the results you want because you persisted, the child will file away that observation under “Things To Do When I Want Results.”

If you make demands of a child and she complies, she isn’t learning how to be persistent, she’s learning how to control others by being INsistent. Demanding models insistence, not persistence; coercion, not self-discipline.

It’s impossible to practice persistence and self-discipline if “no” is not a genuine option. Without a real “no” there can be no authentic “yes.” Making kids do stuff actually deprives them of the opportunity to develop their capacity for persistence, self-discipline, and will — to say “yes” willingly.

Parents and teachers could save themselves a lot of grief if they stopped worrying when children don’t persist at something — if they instead saw it as the children “practicing their NO” which creates space for the emergence of a more powerful YES. (Also known as a “Hell, Yes!”)

Great question! Thanks for asking.

Thank you!

Scott, while I appreciate where you are coming from I do see a glitch in this thinking and that would be “the teenager” who often says “no” and is persistent in doing so but lacks self-discipline. As a parent of a teen I try to allow her to construct her own knowledge wherever possible but struggle with not insisting she be a contributer to the household (i.e. chores) which she seems to have complete disregard for. What would your take on this be?

Everything I wrote to [the first questioner] applies to teenagers as much as anyone else — probably more. Your comment gave me the impression that you think your daughter isn’t self-disciplined because she doesn’t do chores. Through the lens of partnership, this kind of situation looks very different...

Partnership always looks for the win-win. If you hate doing chores but do them begrudgingly, that’s not winning, it’s losing. (Some people call it “self-discipline,” but “self-coercion” is more accurate.) Forcing your daughter to also do chores begrudgingly would create a lose-lose outcome. However, if you enjoy doing chores (because you like the feeling of accomplishment, take pride in your beautiful home, etc.) then you win regardless of what your daughter does.

All people want to feel powerful — especially teens — so they notice not only what their parents do, but also how their parents seem to FEEL while doing it. Happiness, joy, enthusiasm, love, appreciation, gratitude, equanimity, Presence, etc., are indicators of authentic power. Fear (and the use of fear to control others), resentment, resignation, etc., are indicators of disempowerment, or at best, “pseudo-power.”

Trust me: Your daughter doesn’t “have complete disregard” for chores, per se. Her disregard is for anything she associates with disempowerment. Insisting that your daughter do chores would not only feel disempowering to her, it would also diminish her perception of your authentic power. And it would weaken the partnership.

There are two main ways you can infuse this situation with partnership and mutual empowerment. One is to focus on the positive aspects of chores so you can do them joyfully with or without her help, and trust that she will internalize your empowering model over time. (It can take a long time — even years — but the long-term payoff is sweet.) This is the approach my family used, and my teenage daughters eventually embraced the joy of having clean rooms, and we all have a lot of willingness to help each other out around the house. We have never assigned chores; instead we have evolved patterns of workability, i.e., ways of doing things that more-or-less work for everyone.

The other approach is to sit down with your daughter, get real, and get creative. You might say, “Look, we both hate doing [chore x] so let’s work together to figure out a way we can get the benefits of [chore x] without suffering through it.” For example, if you both hate yard work, but you love singing Gilbert & Sullivan show tunes together, you could do that to turn the yardwork into a tolerable background activity; or you could pay someone to do the yard work for you and come up with a plan to save or earn the money doing something you love. Maybe the two of you would become a successful Gilbert & Sullivan street busking duo! :)

That was a long answer (for Facebook) but it only touches the surface of what is possible when you make a deep commitment to living a partnership-oriented life. In my experience, shallow applications of these principles don’t work for long. You get a brief honeymoon and then the entrenched control agendas come back to the fore. That’s the point at which many parents/teachers go back to “the dark side” and give up on partnership, but if instead they persist (there’s that word again!) there’s a world of beautiful connection and harmony to be discovered.

Thank you for your words of encouragement and wisdom. I like how you explained the process of partnership. :)

One thing I’d like to add, where I wrote, “Forcing your daughter to also do chores begrudgingly would create a lose-lose outcome...” Often we don’t realize this is a lose-lose outcome because we’ve been conditioned by society to glorify self-sacrifice in service of doing the “right” thing. So the coercion and self-sacrifice give you a brief shot of pseudo-power — an ego-level “win” — for your righteousness, but ultimately it’s a loss because the whole experience reinforces the belief that our hearts’ desires don’t really matter. “Congratulations! You just gave up a chunk of your Authentic Self in exchange for a fleeting moment of societal approval.” :/

Hi Scott! I really enjoyed the interview with you. I have one specific question about a situation that has been bothering me for quite some time now. My daughter, who will be three years old in August, is a very spirited/high-need girl. Last summer, she stopped wanting to leave the house. I can barely get her enthusiastic to go to the playground or playgroup or even to visit family and friends she loves. When we do go, she loves it at times, but there are also times when she’s clearly unhappy being there.

My problem is that I need to go outside and see people. I have suffered from depression in the past and the isolation doesn’t work for me. I also worry about her health. I wish she would spend more time running around outside. So, what’s the best thing to do in this case? I would love to honor her ‘no’, but I also want to meet my own needs.

I have tried to tell her that we can go and if she doesn’t like it there, we’ll go back home, but she’s very persistent. I have on occasion forced her to go outside, which I don’t like. I have tried to figure out why she doesn’t like leaving the house, but I haven’t succeeded yet.

Thank you in advance!

This isn’t a great format for me to help you figure out what’s going on with your 3yo. (Feel free to call me.) What I can say is that partnership means everyone’s needs matter, but it doesn’t mean that only you can address your child’s needs. (“It takes a village.”) So I would encourage you to help her form partnerships with several other caregivers so you have more options to address your own need when doing so with her doesn’t work for her.

I remember somewhere near the beginning of your talk you mentioned young ones (under 4) not having the capacity, developmentally, to process a lot of what is being discussed in your session and others, too. We have been applying NVC and alternative parenting styles to our 3 year old daughter since she was born and although sometimes she amazes me by telling me what’s going on for her, I wonder if a lot of what we are practicing is too high level for her. (She attends a Waldorf class with me one day a week and I’ve been told she seems to be too “in the mind” rather than rooted in her body.) Do you have any suggestions for books, videos, talks about applying this knowledge to 0-3yr olds? I think what I’m asking is, What should I expect from a child this young? (Having no experience with kiddos this young, I think I assume they are further along developmentally, than they actually are. Maybe my expectations of how communicating and modeling should work, is a bit off. Or maybe I’m just looking for results now, and if I’m patient, I’ll see them in the near future?)

Great talk, I really enjoyed listening and am excited for your Daily Groove emails!

I think you’re wise to recognize the potential for over-thinking in your situation — it’s good to practice letting go, trusting the process, staying curious and open to new insights, and letting your heart be your primary guide. Maybe your 3yo has inherited your “thinkiness,” but I would be wary of external voices that want to pathologize that trait. Waldorf philosophy is quite beautiful in many ways, but many Waldorf proponents tend to express it through the filter of the omnipresent culture of control, which can lead to a more rigid interpretation of the way children “should” develop. Every child has a unique developmental path, which is why attempts to standardize education have such disastrous results — especially for kids who don’t fit in the middle of the statistical bell curves.

Please DO NOT dumb down your communication practices for fear of them being “too high level for her.” Children naturally filter out most of what they’re not ready to wrap their brains around, or they file it away for later when more of the puzzle pieces are in place.

My elder brother told me this story when he was in his 20s and dating a single mother... He and his girlfriend’s 3yo son were at the grocery store in the ice cream section, and my brother asked the 3yo, “Would you rather we get the Dutch Chocolate Swirl or the Pistachio Almond Fudge ice cream?” Meanwhile, he overheard a nearby mother ask a much older child, “Do you want the brown or the white?” Each child responded at the level they were expected to.

My brother thought it was hilarious, but it was also tragic for the older child because children have a hard time rising above the low expectations of their elders. If your expectations are too high, your child will let you know by either tuning out the part that’s too high or becoming agitated in some way. I think it’s better to err on the side of having expectations that are too high while being quick to adjust them or let them go when the child exhibits signs that your expectations feel more like demands.

That said, I often see parents over-relying on verbal communication once their kids can talk, and they inadvertently diminish the non-verbal communications in the partnership. This is one of the common pitfalls I see with the practice of NVC, because it’s a practice that initially focuses on verbal communication. Here’s a Daily Groove post I wrote about non-verbal communication: The Power of Silence.

Thank you for such a thoughtful response. I just wanted to quickly mention (since you shared your interest in music) that I recently heard One by India Arie for the first time last week and after watching your session and learning about partnership, I can’t help but hear and interpret that song as a song about partnership. (I have many interpretations, it’s just so profound.) Thank you Scott.

Thanks for introducing me to such a beautiful, powerful song! Indeed, partnership embodies the paradox and mystery of human Being — we are many AND we are ONE — we are partners AND we are the Partnership.

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