parenting rules

post by Dave Orr (dave-orr) · 2020-12-21T19:48:42.365Z · LW · GW · 7 comments

(crossposted from my nascent substack)

Way back in 2012 I wrote up on livejournal (I told you this was a long time ago) a few parenting rules we lived by. This is the one livejournal post I regularly reshare, so here it is on a more modern platform. Our kids are older now (11 and 13) but with one exception I think these really hold up.

That one exception is praise, where the research on praise seemed clear in 2012 and has since largely failed to replicate and certainly doesn’t have the effect size that everyone thought, so that one I no longer stand by.

Here they are:

It's amazing to me how often we get strange looks or pushback from other parents about these. People thought we were ax murderers for not teaching our kids that Santa is real.

If I had to sum all these up, it would be this: raise kids for the long term. The reasoning behind all these choices is that we want to produce competent capable adults, and solving short term in-the-moment issues, while important, isn’t the goal.


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comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-12-23T18:56:47.150Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another parenting rule:

Many small steps. An example: Assume that you want that your kid is able to sleepover at a relative. Maybe because you think that is a valuable skill or for other reasons. A good way to do this is by starting small. First, just visit your relatives with the kid. Then let the kid play while you talk in the kitchen. Then let your relatives go outside while you stay there or the other way around. Then stay overnight with the kid. Last the kid stays there for one night.

This way, your kid is always in the Zone of proximal development where learning is most effective and natural.

One important aspect is to back off and retry if one step doesn't work out. The good thing is that you will notice early and there will be only a small difference to overcome. This can be as simple as retrying or figuring out what the problem is (there may be one). Generally, even for voluntary tasks or skills, we require that our kids try out an uncomfortable situation at least once (this is like Comfort Zone Expansion (CoZE, see here [LW · GW], I can't find any better link than that)). 

This has the best chance of working if you start doing these without any imminent need. This is an application of your "play a long game" approach.

We have used this for sleep training up to sleeping over, for the way to the kindergarten (we were the only ones where the kid was going alone there; we were living very close by though). The way to and back from school. For staying alone at home. Doing household chores. Really, there is a pretty long list that we reuse for the younger kids.

I think this has by now become the common method for swimming lessons: First, get used to the water, then dip your head in, then practice the motion on land, then in shallow water... I guess that is because the fear of water can be pretty existential and for parents, the fear of their kid drowning puts a lot of pressure on both and this is a reliable way out. Also, there are many small-step sleep training regimes.

Downside: If you avoid all kinds of difficult situations, your kids may have difficulty dealing with situations outside their comfort zone. For example, I learned very late to recognize when I come close to the border of my comfort zone. 

EDIT: Uh, fixed "with any imminent need" to "without any imminent need".

Replies from: dave-orr
comment by Dave Orr (dave-orr) · 2020-12-23T19:50:57.982Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a fantastic one! I totally agree, and we do this as well.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2020-12-23T17:53:24.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Almost never bluff

You give the example of leaving the house. Some thoughts:

  • I think your own advice applies: Don't bluff if you are not willing to follow thru. 
  • There is a special risk with the leaving house example: This can trigger existential fears pretty quickly. Being left alone at home might not have been in the range of options the kid did even consider possible (esp. if you make up the bluff on the spot). You might accidentally lose your kid's basic trust. If you do this you have to be very careful to provide a line of retreat and make sure that you are calling a bluff and/or that you see that the kid is getting autonomous enough to stay home alone. 
  • If you want to teach that people bluff - a skill kids should learn earlier or later - you can do that in games or other low-stake situations. Kids will learn this from other kids anyway but you might want to have a chance to talk about information asymmetry, trust, and other things.
comment by ryan_b · 2020-12-26T22:44:33.279Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Newish parent of a 2.5 year old. We are deploying the repeated game, don't bluff, praise the process, and answer the question strategies. I never really bought the growth mindset arguments, but I reason that praising the process will make it more transferable because we break down the steps.

To this we have added parent by example. This is not so much a rule as a natural law: children are constantly observing, and much of what they are observing is you, who they will mimic; the options are to be strategic about this or blindsided by it.

It is trivially the most powerful goad to good behavior I have encountered in my life.

comment by Felix Karg (felix-karg) · 2020-12-22T14:33:48.354Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for writing that down. I would go so far as to argue that these are good rules for interacting with other people, not just children. How well someone does as a parent has a big influence on the children, but even everyday interactions tend to have an influence on other people (and yourself, for that matter).

comment by Jonathan_Graehl · 2020-12-21T21:09:58.639Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you now think Praise Research is fake science?

Replies from: dave-orr
comment by Dave Orr (dave-orr) · 2020-12-21T23:01:49.748Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't go that far. Instead I would say that it could be right but the evidence is much weaker than I thought it was 8 years ago.

A few things that convinced me:

A slatestarcodex series on mindset:

A large preregistered study on growth mindset maybe showed a small effect but nothing like what proponents claimed.

And generally my trust in the kinds of small n social science experiments that were the backbone of growth mindset research and similar things like priming is just much lower -- my prior is now that those things are mostly noise, and so the evidence needs to be stronger to overcome that, where that wasn't true 8 years ago.