Planned top-level post -- any feedback very much welcome.
Obviously a followup to: On the Care and Feeding of Young Rationalists
My very first top-level post on LW was a solicitation for advice/feedback/discussion on the topic of rationalist parenting. I'd like to revisit the topic now.
First of all, let's talk about goals. I can think of four.
- Produce thriving, intelligent, rational, happy, good-hearted children who become thriving, intelligent, rational, happy, good-hearted adults.
- Have your children enjoy their childhoods
- Enjoy raising your children.
- Closely tied to 2 and 3 -- actually have a good relationship with your children. Like them and have them like you.
What We Know
To speak to goal 1 first, Bryan Caplan claims flat outcomes for goal #1 under commonly tried parenting interventions, which seems counter-intuitive. More explanation of what exactly the studies in question proved would be welcome.
As Luke helpfully taught us, negative reinforcement doesn't seem to work as well as positive. Spanking, in particular, is right out. This is in large part because reinforcement reinforces everything about what the subject's doing at the time it occurs. This means, in particular, that you're reinforcing both the target behavior and being caught at it. In the case of positive behavior/reinforcement, there's nothing particularly problematic about this, but for the negative case, you're also punishing being caught/noticed/seen, which can be problematic.
Nutrition in early childhood does seem to influence life outcomes, mostly on the low end: serious malnutrition depresses IQ -- try to avoid it.
Praise seems to be important, first of all because it is often a powerful positive reinforcer in children. Research has shown that the target of the praise is important. Praising a child for having worked hard to understand a concept seems to lead to more future efforts of the same kind than praising their intelligence.
Simply talking to children, well before they've developed language skills, seems to be important for goals 1 and 4. I plan to use mine as rubber ducks=).
Defaults to Notice and Perhaps RejectThere are some idiosyncrasies of the default in modern American childrearing that don't seem to do anyone any favors.
Segregation by age:Outside of their siblings, American six-year-olds are socialized almost entirely with other six-year-olds. Historically, it has been possible for six-year-olds to be friends with 15-year olds -- to, I suspect, the benefit of both. The older children provide near(er)-term models for the younger children of their future growth, and the older children are thus encouraged to be role-models.
Extending this a bit further, there seems to be a taboo against children having adult friends who aren't their close relatives, or close friends of their parents. This taboo seems to be self-reinforcing -- any adult who indicates an interest in befriending a child knowing that the taboo exists signals that they may have suspicious intentions. I suspect that this is yet another way of infantilizing children. The solution is probably just to have lots of local close friends who can be friends to your children.
General Over-protectiveness:We've all heard of the rise of "helicopter parenting". This article sums things up nicely.
What I think I know:
In reference to Goals 2 and 3, most of the struggles I see seem to be about autonomy. Alicorn and I have both spontaneously remarked on how much we love being adults, and this is mostly a function of the extent to which we get to choose our activities from moment to moment, choose where we want to live, choose what/when we want to eat, go where we want to go, stay as long as we want to stay, etc. etc. Similarly, from watching childhood friends with their children, they seem to get in trouble -- the interaction seems to become massively Less Fun -- when they decide that, e.g. the child really must eat food X at time Y, when, as a spectator, I really can't understand why the child can't be left alone to find some food when ey want some.
This suggests increasing autonomy as an important subgoal. In particular, it points to criteria for "optimizing the build" of your child -- what skills do ey need before ey can stay home a few hours without you? Before ey can walk around the corner/bike across town to run an errand/meet a friend/etc.? Before you can safely encourage em to get a driver's license/car? Grind those skill points!
That's all I've got -- what else do we, as a community, know?