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On the Care and Feeding of Young Rationalists -- Revisited[Draft] [Request for Feedback]

18 Post author: MBlume 05 July 2012 07:12PM

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.

 

Goals

First of all, let's talk about goals. I can think of four.

  1. Produce thriving, intelligent, rational, happy, good-hearted children who become thriving, intelligent, rational, happy, good-hearted adults.
  2. Have your children enjoy their childhoods
  3. Enjoy raising your children.
  4. 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 Reject

There 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?

 

Comments (87)

Comment author: aelephant 06 July 2012 01:53:10AM 41 points [-]

Encourage curiosity

In the book Brain Rules John Medina writes:

from dinosaurs to atheism

I remember, when I was 3 years old, obtaining a sudden interest in dinosaurs. I had no idea that my mother had been waiting for it. That very day, the house began its transformation into all things Jurassic. And Triassic. And Cretaceous. Pictures of dinosaurs would go up on the wall. I would begin to find books about dinosaurs strewn on the floor and sofas. Mom would even couch dinner as "dinosaur food," and we would spend hours laughing our heads off trying to make dinosaur sounds. And then, suddenly, I would lose interest in dinosaurs, because some friend at school acquired an interest in spaceships and rockets and galaxies. Extraordinarily, my mother was waiting. Just as quickly as my whim changed, the house would begin its transformation from big dinosaurs to Big Bang. The reptilian posters came down, and in their places, planets would begin to hang from the walls. I would find little pictures of satellites in the bathroom. Mom even got "space coins" from bags of potato chips, and I eventually gathered all of them into a collector's book.

This happened over and over again in my childhood. I got an interest in Greek mythology, and she transformed the house into Mount Olympus. My interests careened into geometry, and the house became Euclidean, then cubist. Rocks, airplanes. By the time I was 8 or 9, I was creating my own house transformations.

One day, around age 14, I declared to my mother that I was an atheist. She was a devoutly religious person, and I thought this announcement would crush her. Instead, she said something like, "That's nice, dear," as if I had just declared I no longer liked nachos. The next day, she sat me down by the kitchen table, a wrapped package in her lap. She said calmly, "So, I hear you are now an atheist. Is that true?" I nodded yes, and she smiled. She placed the package in my hands. "The man's name is Friedrich Nietzsche, and the book is called Twilight of the Idols," she said. "If you are going to be an atheist, be the best one out there! Bon appetit!"

I was stunned. But I understood a powerful message: Curiosity itself was the most important thing. And what I was interested in mattered. I have never been able to turn off this fire hose of curiosity.

Comment author: Alicorn 06 July 2012 03:39:22AM 12 points [-]

I want to be that mom. (Except for the devoutly religious part.)

Comment author: Dustin 08 July 2012 07:10:23PM *  5 points [-]

This actually brought tears to my eyes.

As I've mentioned in other comments here at LW, I'm a "closet atheist" in a fundamentalist (Jehovah's Witnesses) family that will shun me if they knew. I also have a 2 year old daughter. I spend large parts of my waking hours considering questions like:

"If I just come out and tell my wife and family that I'm an atheist and that I think they're wasting my life, will I increase my chances or decrease my chances of preventing my daughter from being indoctrinated?"

It causes me so much anguish when I hear my daughter say something about god, or when I hear her grandparents explain to her something in nature as "god did it".

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 July 2012 08:18:17AM 4 points [-]

Oh. :( You are in a bad situation. Three years ago it would be so easier to fix it.

I guess your chances depend on personality of your wife, and the relationship between you two. Though your wife will be under pressure from others. The worst case: she decides to leave you, and you pretty much never see her or your daughter again. (Actually, the really worst case is the same thing happening later, with two or more children.)

Are there other options besides submission and open confrontation? For example passive resistance: you remain a JW, but a very lazy one. But maybe you are already doing it.

I would recommend to teach your daughter about nature. Or just teach her to think; doing maths is better than thinking about angels. Show her there is an interesting world out there. Don't oppose the religion openly, but don't support it either. Support her in being a lazy JW; to do what must be done to keep others happy, but not take it seriously.

If possible, it could be strategic to somehow increase the geographical distance between you and the most influential JWs. For example if there is a good job opportunity.

Also, show many interesting (not openly atheist) things to your wife. Whatever; even if you both learn programming, then you have another topic to talk about which does not include religion, and which she shares with you but not with the rest of the cult. (Generally, instead of opposing religion, just focus on the rest of the world.)

Comment author: Dustin 09 July 2012 10:35:07PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, prior to having a kid, I was content to just live my life as a lazy JW, but my attitude changed more than I predicted it would after having a child.

I've been on the lazy JW route for years, and most days it's what I think is the least bad choice before me. The issue arises on days where I hear others talking to my daughter about god and whatnot and hearing her parrot back those types of things. It's very difficult to hear.

But anyway, yes, you give some good advice. Sometimes it's just nice to commiserate.

Comment author: CronoDAS 06 July 2012 07:35:21AM 4 points [-]

Wow.

Comment author: dbaupp 06 July 2012 08:15:27AM 2 points [-]

This is really really awesome!

But it could easily become "helicopter parenting" if pushed too far.

Comment author: Dolores1984 06 July 2012 04:40:12PM 9 points [-]

I think the difference is that she provided resources to allow him to explore his curiosity. A helicopter parent would have chosen the interests, and then chosen the way in which those interests were explored.

Comment author: Fhyve 09 July 2012 07:22:31PM 1 point [-]

And put the child in all sorts of extracurricular activities perhaps related to those interests.

Comment author: dbaupp 07 July 2012 02:58:28PM 1 point [-]

Yep, that's the "too far": with things one is enthusiastic about (like one's children), it's not too hard to get a little carried away, and, for example, emphasise this interest a little much, or attempt to guide the child into that interest which the parent sees as "better".

Comment author: tgb 09 July 2012 12:58:47AM 1 point [-]

Is the rest of this book as good as that selection?

Comment author: aelephant 09 July 2012 10:55:38AM 2 points [-]

I thought so. Reviews on Amazon.com are great. I noticed Derek Sivers gave it a 6/10 so I emailed him. He said he loved it and isn't sure why he gave it a 6 instead of an 8 or a 9. I would give it a 9. It has been absolutely formative to the way I think about thinking and learning.

Comment author: tgb 10 July 2012 01:26:47AM 0 points [-]

Great to know - thanks!

Comment author: Yvain 07 July 2012 04:04:49AM *  18 points [-]

As Luke helpfully taught us, negative reinforcement doesn't seem to work as well as positive. Spanking, in particular, is right out.

I've seen this claim all over the comments to Luke's post, and I don't see Luke as asserting it (or being able to). In fact, there are only two things in Luke's post that even slightly resemble this claim:

First is a warning against punishing people in a way such that the punishment could negatively incentivize the effort instead of the failure. This is a good point, but doesn't apply in a lot of cases - for example, punishing a child for hitting a sibling.

Second is the following quote:

When trying to maintain order in a class, ignore unruly behavior and praise good behavior (Madsen et al. 1968; McNamara 1987).

So I looked up McNamara 1987. It's a book chapter that reports a few studies on students getting better when praised, then says they're very weak, no one's been able to replicate them, and then goes into how a better study McNamara clearly finds more credible shows that students do worse with the sort of hokey planned praise used in the previous studies.

Then I looked up Madsen et all 1968. It's a study on three problem children, Cliff, Frank and Stan. The relevant conditions were Rules, where the teachers wrote some rules on the blackboard and made the children repeat them a bunch of times, and Praise, in which the teachers praised the students for following the rules. There was no punishment condition. Writing the rules on the blackboard didn't help much, but Cliff and Frank seemed to get better after being praised a lot (Stan was equivocal).

Poor Cliff and Frank are not a sufficient basis on which to assert incredibly broad psychological theories about how you should always reward and never punish all humans in all cases.

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.

This is a kind-of-sounds-good argument, but one could make equally kind-of-sounds-good arguments on the other side. For example, rewards decrease intrisic motivation by replacing them with extrinsic motivation. Or anything Alfie Kohn ever said (I'm not necessarily endorsing him, just holding him up as an example of arguments that rewards too have their problems).

Finally, I am very suspicious of the studies in this area. Not only is developmental psych generally a minefield, but "rewards work better than punishments" is so in tune with modern sensibilities that I would be really surprised if the average researcher doesn't go out gunning for that result and quietly file anything that shows punishments are better than rewards into a file drawer never to see the light of day.

(one counterexample is a recent study that shows spanking children generally gives them better life outcomes. I've seen a zillion studies that say the opposite, and I consider the entire project of observational studies of spanking totally useless because of the confounding effects of parental choice - ie parents who decide to spank or not spank their children are probably different in many other correlated ways which are much more important - but the study exists and I don't consider the spanking field nearly as settled as you do)

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.

I've never read Caplan, but I'm working my way through The Nurture Assumption which is probably what Caplan's working off of. Nurture Assumption claims pretty much everything is flat for pretty much all kinds of parenting and we need to drop the assumption (hence the name) that parenting matters much beyond just not starving or abusing your kid. The books presents lots of complicated evidence but the strongest is adoption studies, where children raised together aren't much more similar than children raised apart (with degree of genetic relatedness held constant). Right now I believe her about 60%.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 July 2012 01:43:15PM 5 points [-]

When trying to maintain order in a class, ignore unruly behavior and praise good behavior

Problem with this advice is that even if you ignore the unruly behavior, if other classmates don't ignore it, it is rewarded anyway. When you have only one unruly child in the classroom, you can use this rule. When you have two or three of them, and they encourage each other, you are out of luck.

Comment author: lukeprog 09 July 2012 08:24:06AM 2 points [-]

I also don't recall claiming that positive reinforcement works better than negative reinforcement.

Also, it looks to me like what MBlume means to say is that positive reinforcement works better than punishment (a different concept than negative reinforcement), which is also something I don't recall claiming.

In any case, thanks again Yvain for your analysis of some of the relevant studies.

Comment author: tgb 10 July 2012 01:28:50AM 1 point [-]

For the record, I, too, thought that was a claim of your post. Maybe it's worth adding a note to it to clarify since this mistakes seems wide spread.

Comment author: JGWeissman 05 July 2012 07:39:25PM 12 points [-]

One thing I noticed worked well with my cousin's daughter was teaching her sign language before she could speak. It was really cool that she could communicate what she wanted instead of crying. I'm not sure if there are any long term effects. One minor side effect is that when she started talking, she had to be encouraged to vocalize instead of signing.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 July 2012 07:49:38PM 5 points [-]

One thing I noticed worked well with my cousin's daughter was teaching her sign language before she could speak. It was really cool that she could communicate what she wanted instead of crying. I'm not sure if there are any long term effects. One minor side effect is that when she started talking, she had to be encouraged to vocalize instead of signing.

Kids can learn to sign before they can learn to speak? Fascinating.

Comment author: erratio 05 July 2012 08:59:05PM 5 points [-]

Vocal articulation is hard, requiring the simultaneous coordination of glottis, velum, tongue, and mouth, not to mention airflow. Hands are bigger, the movements don't need to be as precise, and some of the signs partially resemble the thing/action they represent.

Comment author: David_Gerard 05 July 2012 08:32:24PM 4 points [-]

Yes indeed. Doesn't seem to affect their later speech, AFAIK, and reduces frustration.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 July 2012 08:35:53PM 2 points [-]

Yes indeed. Doesn't seem to affect their later speech, AFAIK, and reduces frustration.

Sweet. As soon as they invent babies that don't have any bodily functions I'm going to parent one and it'll be sign language from the start.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 05 July 2012 08:46:01PM -1 points [-]

Language is a bodily function.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 July 2012 08:49:34PM *  8 points [-]

Language is a bodily function.

Saying "shit, eat, drool, wee, vomit, burp, ooze snot, etc" sounds crude and there is a reasonable chance that I would forget something. There are so many gross fluid related things that humans do, especially when they have minimal control of themselves. I think the euphemism is fairly common.

Comment author: TimS 05 July 2012 08:40:47PM 0 points [-]

Babies don't seem to be able to learn to sign all that sooner than they learn to talk.

Comment author: juliawise 08 July 2012 11:58:02PM 0 points [-]

They're like chimps for a while - the hands work better than the mouths. I babysat a kid who could sign "more", "drink", "cereal", and "banana" before she could say anything useful. Also, the signs are designed to be easy, while the most useful English words were not (otherwise "ba" and "um" would mean something useful, because those are usually the first sounds we manage.)

Comment author: Kawoomba 05 July 2012 10:08:41PM 1 point [-]

Based mostly on anecdotal evidence and personal experience, it does delay verbal speech somewhat. Probably because it reduces the frustration associated with not communicating one's needs, and thus the incentive of learning speech.

Interestingly, the kids probably switch to speech once they cannot express their wishes and desires using gestures and signing anymore - not because they are incapable of adapting more complex rules for signing, but because their parents typically wouldn't understand them anymore. Those complex wishes that necessitate complex signing rules - or speech - develop at a later time, thus delaying speech if signing is available.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 July 2012 08:13:45AM *  5 points [-]

I think that bilingualism also delays speech somewhat. (But I am not sure about this information.) If that is correct, then spoken + sign languages are simply another instance of bilingualism.

Comment author: AlexSadzawka 10 July 2012 08:52:39PM 1 point [-]

A coworker of mine had some problems to get her son admitted to a top school here in Chile. The kid lives in a bilingual home and speaks both English and Spanish at a level below the level of a monolingual kid.

This looks like a positive data point for your hypothesis.

Comment author: Kawoomba 08 July 2012 06:39:02PM 1 point [-]

Not quite. The difference is that bilingualism (which also has a host of other cognitive advantages and has been associated with e.g. being a protective factor against dementia) will lead to both languages being delayed, while sign language will develop even earlier than spoken language, and then delay the appropriation of spoken language.

Also, not any sort of a communication should be categorized as "language" as far as our brains are concerned, we have specialized areas associated e.g. with coordinating spoken speech and mapping concepts to speech, as opposed to hand motions (i.e. Broca's area).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 July 2012 09:21:56PM 0 points [-]

I know approximately half a dozen kids who were raised this way, and they seem to have pretty normal range of speech abilities, not that I'm any kind of expert.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 05 July 2012 08:44:48PM 1 point [-]

Yes — one of the limiting factors on learning to speak is the development of the neural wiring to control the muscles involved.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_sign_language

Comment author: Emile 05 July 2012 09:30:11PM 3 points [-]

A few colleagues told me how they taught their kids to sign and how it reduced frustration, so I looked it up, my notes are here. A lot of the papers claiming benefits from sign language seem to be from the same few people, and when I looked for the opinions of others, I got:

Claims that signing with infants benefits language development are examined. Fourteen infants aged 19 to 23 months were tested on their comprehension and production of novel labels in a word learning task. Infants participated in two conditions. In the Sign + Word condition, infants learned both a signed and vocal label for a novel toy, whereas in the Word Only condition, infants were taught only a vocal label for the novel toy. Results showed that when children participated first in the Sign + Word condition, their comprehension and production abilities were lower than when trained first in the Word Only condition. Previous exposure to sign language was not related to infants’ performance on the word learning task, although there was a marginal effect of previous language ability on performance. Contrary to previous findings (e.g., Goodwyn, Acredolo, & Brown, 2000), the sign and word combination did not facilitate children’s learning of spoken labels.

... so it may have some small benefit, but nothing huge.

We tried teaching ours a few simple signs, the only ones that stuck were those for eating and drinking. Now he's speaking a bit, so there's not much point any more.

Comment author: Brigid 06 July 2012 09:30:15PM 3 points [-]

The study you quoted only seems to address if signing helped the child learn spoken word labels about certain toys.

The (possible) benefit of signing is that the child can communicate with you about whether they are hungry, thirsty, cold, hot, have a wet diaper, etc.--not about whether the child can name different toys. The study doesn't address whether or not sign language reduces frusteration in children or whether children can learn signs for how they feel faster or slower than they can learn the same spoken words.

Comment author: MartinB 07 July 2012 05:19:25PM 1 point [-]

== removing some frustration from the early childhood experience

Comment author: MBlume 05 July 2012 11:15:53PM 1 point [-]

to use my goal taxonomy, I don't think signing is being presented as a solution to goal 1, but as one for goals 2 and 3 -- you and the infant will be happier if the infant can communicate to you specifically that ey want food, rather than generally that ey are in distress and the world sucks and WAUGGGGHHHH

Comment author: shminux 07 July 2012 04:42:40AM 8 points [-]

Don't forget the classic "praise effort, not talent".

Comment author: JGWeissman 05 July 2012 07:31:18PM 20 points [-]

"Negative reinforcement" refers to reinforcement by removing an undesired stimulus. The opposite of "reinforcement" is "punishment".

Comment author: tgb 09 July 2012 02:29:38AM 7 points [-]

Here's my anecdote of what awesome things my parents did for me as a kid to inspire any parents out there:

My sister and I had adventures for birthday parties. These were not your typical go-to-ChuckECHeese's parties and never involved going anywhere other than our own house and yard - but that house had been transformed by my parents into a wild and glorious place. Starting weeks in advance, my parents would prepare a storyline and set of challenges for us and the party guests to face. Rooms would be locked up or door knobs removed, and windows concealed as they went about decorating. And on the morning of the party, mysterious objects would appear throughout the house and more places were closed off. When the guests arrived, the presents would be intercepted from them and spirited away somewhere and the children would gather in the starting room, gazing at the streamers and decorations that revealed this years theme; an adventure in space, a medieval castle, dense jungles. When all had arrived, the event began.

Always something happens to the presents - stolen by pirates, taken away by wild animals, hidden by the traitor who murdered the king. Our goal was to solve the mystery and recover the presents. Now, the party took form - a message left behind or a trail leading us into another room. There we might encounter a familiar party game but always, always in the theme of the party. Often some small reward for all the guests who made it to through the trial (which was always everyone) - a small animal or cheap toy, but immediately cherished for the work that went into getting it. And everywhere, there were mysteries. Coded messages revealed by dropping some liquid into a sequence of beakers and watching what colors they turned. Mysterious recordings left for us to listen to and figure out where next to go. A chess board that we were slowly given moves to make until finally we found the piece that had killed the king. Cards scattered across the house revealing a message.

And special effects worthy, in the mind of a child, of any film. Moody colored lighting (fun to play with after the party was over), dry ice for fog, and the cakes! The cakes were always a thing of wonder; hidden compartments revealing the next clue only after we had eaten; frothing volcanoes; dragons with flaming nostrils.

Until finally we would reach the last room, the room that had been locked up for days now. Not a surface in there was undecorated. Dripping jungles and fantastical landscapes made incarnate in that final room so much more so even than in the rest of the party. And if that was not reward enough - the presents at long last recovered and the mysteries solved! But not just for the birthday boy or girl, for there would always be individual miniature pinatas, one for each guest. (To me, this is what pinatas are. Those big things where only one person gets to swing and the slowest kid always feels left out of the candy grad - those are not pinatas.) These gifts had been earned.

As best as I can recall, none of this is an exaggeration. The amount of effort they went through must have been enormous, but oh how we loved it - all of us. I looked forward to my sister's birthdays almost as much as I looked forward to my own. And our friends loved them too. Years later, in college I had a friend come up to me and ask me about my birthday parties, not because I had known him at the time of the parties, but because our mutual friend who had been going to those parties for years had told them about them. They stopped after our tenth birthdays, but we still continued this on many holidays on a much smaller scale - there were inevitably puzzles to solve to get at least one present on Christmas morning.

I doubt this had any bearing on rationality, but in terms of happiness? Unbeatable. Challenge yourselfs; make holidays at least as much fun as a giant Blue Screen of Death blocking off half the house until the intrepid guests tear it down and reveal the adventure beyond.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 05 July 2012 09:17:50PM *  6 points [-]

Julia Galef recently posted a video in which she describes how her parents helped give her an interest in rationality.

Comment author: jswan 07 July 2012 02:54:29PM 5 points [-]

We have a nine y/o boy (an only child, by choice), and the one thing that seems to have made a difference specifically with rationality (for some value of "rationality"; children are not the first examples of the attribute that come to mind) has been constantly trying to phrase things in terms of simple scientific method: what do you think? why do you think that? what evidence do you have for that? how would you test that?

Comment author: handoflixue 18 July 2012 10:55:05PM 1 point [-]

I'm assuming you actually have an interesting answer here: Why do you think that helps? What evidence do you have that it helps? How have you tested it?

Comment author: jswan 18 August 2012 07:46:35PM 1 point [-]

Just logged in for the first time in a month... the reason I think it helps is that he now uses the terminology himself: he talks about believing or not believing things based on evidence fairly frequently, and occasionally talks about testing things. Small steps.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 July 2012 03:51:03AM 5 points [-]
Comment author: TimS 05 July 2012 07:36:34PM *  11 points [-]

Some random thoughts to consider:

1) The hardest part about reinforcement and punishment is determining what stimuli is reinforcing. Sometimes, attention is reinforcing - and that's really hard to keep in mind. I've let my son tantrum in public because I didn't want to reinforce his behavior, and that's very uncomfortable - especially if you haven't decided ahead of time to do that.

2) I personally don't believe in spanking, but you discuss the issue quite flippantly, and many people have strong opinions about the topic and could be offended by your flippancy. In general, you might want to discuss some more about how to decide what boundaries to set, by age. Further, physical discipline is not the only (or even the majority) of punishment of children. I shout at my son (2.25 yrs old) to stop whenever he walks into the road or away from me in a parking lot - that's punishing the behavior.

3) Talk more about children modeling your own behavior. It is a substantial drain on oneself to regulate constantly.

4) Even though negative stimuli (punishment) is sometimes the most appropriate response, negative instruction ("Don't throw your toys") is miles less effective than positive instruction ("We only throw balls.")

5) Consistency between parents - children will arbitrage discrepancies in rules between the parents, so try talk with you partner to minimize differences.

Comment author: moridinamael 05 July 2012 07:54:14PM 2 points [-]

3) Talk more about children modeling your own behavior. It is a substantial drain on oneself to regulate constantly.

I worry about this one. It becomes worse if you consider that even if you're constantly regulating yourself, you're being somewhat artificial. I believe that children can easily detect this rigidity. I always knew when my father was trying to be a Father versus when he was just doing what made sense and behaving naturally, and I weighed his words and actions accordingly.

Comment author: TimS 06 July 2012 03:01:23AM 1 point [-]

Keeping the issue of modelling in mind without artificiality can be hard. The easier part (hah!) is refraining from bad habits. I try not to worry about modelling good habits beyond basics like buckling my seat belt every time.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 06 July 2012 10:09:49AM 3 points [-]

Before you criticize helicopter parenting: Remember, there is a strong correlation between parental involvement in a child's life and positive outcomes. Of course, the helicopter parenting and positive outcomes could have a shared cause -- intelligence, higher socioeconomic status, or the like -- and anything can be taken too far, including parental involvement.

But in all, kids of parents like Amy Chua are far more likely to end up successful along most metrics than children of parents who ignore their kids.

Comment author: MartinB 07 July 2012 01:39:36PM 4 points [-]

I am fairly sure that helicopter parenting is not the same as being involved. I correlate helicoptering with making decisions for the kid or running errands for them, while being involved often is more on the level of asking about things, and giving support when asked.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 09 July 2012 08:29:33AM *  2 points [-]

Support: Your child wants to play guitar. You buy them a guitar and a textbook for beginners.

Helicopter parenting: Your child wants to play guitar. You read magazines and speak with important people, and upon their advice you decide that piano is better. You buy a piano and pay for piano lessons three times a week. You always drive your child to the piano lessons, wait outside, drive them back, and make them play on piano at home for the next two hours; three hours in days they don't have piano lessons. You make your child attend every piano competition; you speak about each competion weeks before it and after it. (You also make your child play tennis and learn Mandarin Chinese.)

Comment author: MartinB 07 July 2012 05:12:23PM 1 point [-]

To be a bit more specific. In one job I had parents come in with their kids to make sure they fill out their forms correctly and basically doing the interview for them. Helicopter: takes many things from the kid, that it would do uncorrect, incomplete or wrong, thereby sheltering the kid from real life experience. Helicopter parents storm into the university office, when a problem arises - or when not. Phone the professors and basically prevent the kid from going out on its own.

Being involved sounds like asking lots of questions offering support when asked, or maybe stating opinions without being asked. Its about taking an interest in the kids life, not running it for them.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 06 July 2012 11:47:08AM 3 points [-]

But in all, kids of parents like Amy Chua are far more likely to end up successful along most metrics than children of parents who ignore their kids.

This is a very obvious false dilemma.

There's a big difference between parents who are involved in their children's lives and parents who shelter their children from the world.

Comment author: JoshuaFox 06 July 2012 12:16:53PM 0 points [-]

Yes, you're certainly right that one should seek the Golden Mean.

Comment author: Emile 06 July 2012 01:10:49PM 2 points [-]

Eh, I wouldn't be so certain, it's quite possible that extreme helicopter parenting gets the best result along the dimensions the parents care about.

I'm skeptical of the "seek the Golden Mean" approach in general, I suspect it's an easy justification for not seriously researching the pros and cons of the alternatives, and it tends to squash attributes onto a single axis.

I'm not particularly disagreeing with you in general, except maybe on levels of certainty. I don't think everything that could be categorized as "helicopter parenting" is good, I just think the term "Golden Mean" fails to capture the important difference between "do 50% fo Amy Chua on all dimensions" and "Go 100% Amu Chua on some dimensions, and 0% on others".

Comment author: JoshuaFox 06 July 2012 01:25:57PM *  2 points [-]

Yes.

Also, I should have been clearer in distinguishing two concepts: protecting your kids too much; and pushing them too excel too much; though there is often an overlap. The same people do both and both are correlated with success for the child along almost every metric you care about (taking into account, again, that there may be a shared cause for the parental behavior and the child's success.)

Comment author: TimS 06 July 2012 01:57:49PM 2 points [-]

That distinction is very important. Overprotection is clearly stifling of future growth (eg this). But the best way to encourage future excellence is a much, much harder problem.

Comment author: juliawise 09 July 2012 12:05:39AM *  1 point [-]

Remember, there is a strong correlation between parental involvement in a child's life and positive outcomes.

Source?

Comment author: brilee 05 July 2012 11:24:39PM 5 points [-]

It would seem to me that parenting is one of those fields of knowledge where you don't know what you don't know until you've actually had kids yourself. If you find this hard to believe, then imagine how seriously you'd take your younger self if ey were to talk about how to be in a good relationship, before having had a significant other.

So, while I generally dislike discouraging people who are enthusiastic about getting something done, I would like to suggest that perhaps you are not the right person to write this post (or not yet). This is based on my reading of the rubber-ducking sentence as meaning that you have not yet had kids.

Comment author: MBlume 06 July 2012 12:01:08AM 3 points [-]

Yeah, that was one of my concerns in writing this. Mostly I want to get a discussion started and aggregate as much good info as possible.

Comment author: handoflixue 18 July 2012 10:57:40PM 1 point [-]

If you find this hard to believe, then imagine how seriously you'd take your younger self if ey were to talk about how to be in a good relationship, before having had a significant other.

Most of my dating life has been the process of figuring out how to take my younger self's wisdom and actually implement it. I'd actually trust my younger self more than my current self - she didn't care about dating, and thus didn't have this annoying set of emotions getting in the way.

I seem to be rather unusual in my dating life, but a quick look at the species seems to reveal that hormones and emotions are INCREDIBLE at clouding judgment when it comes to relationships.... In this, at least, I seem to actually manage to have a normal problem.

Comment author: beoShaffer 05 July 2012 09:06:34PM 2 points [-]

I'm having trouble tracking down the exact subpage but according to http://www.feynman.com/ Feynman's dad played what was effectively Zendo with him and Feynman considered it to have been a major influence on his life.

Comment author: shminux 05 July 2012 10:10:38PM *  5 points [-]

In my experience, when dealing with an average child, most of the day-to-day problems can be prevented or resolved by being proactive. This means modeling your child's thought process and behavior before it happens and addressing issues before they arise. You will still be blindsided on occasion, but much less so than if you simply react. This advice is fully general when dealing with other people "rationally", but it is much easier to follow with your own child, whom you presumably know better than anyone else.

Just one example: you can see unruly and crying children in a supermarket all the time. The child's mother (usually mother, not father), either ignores the cries and pleas for some item or some entertainment, or occasionally yells at (or even spanks) the child, or occasionally entertains for an instant or two, then goes back to the task of shopping. This behavior is quite predictable (at least after the first trip), so it is possible to prevent it from recurring by, say, having the child occupied by some solitary activity, or fed before the trip, or giving him/her the item they want for the duration of the shopping, or bringing another sibling along, or having a spare dummy or a milk bottle or... As long as you get yourself into the child's shoes, think what they think and feel what they feel, and know what they are likely to do, you are in a position to avert a disaster.

Unfortunately, an average parent often reminds me of this strip.

Comment author: dugancm 07 July 2012 06:03:31PM 3 points [-]

An example of "having the child occupied by some solitary activity" from my past: Almost as soon I could walk my parents started sending me on quests to find and retrieve various items throughout grocery stores, then put them back and find another if they weren't quite what was asked for. Wasted almost none of their time while keeping me entertained and feeling (while learning to be) useful to them in that context.

Comment author: army1987 06 July 2012 11:12:55PM *  3 points [-]

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.

In some societies, it's not uncommon for older children to bully younger children, and I suspect the present-day US is one of the societies where this would happen a lot, if children of different ages were socialized together more. I seem to recall people discussing disadvantages of socializing six-year-olds together with six-year-eleven-month-olds, even.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 July 2012 01:59:32PM 2 points [-]

Sometimes children are bullied by children of the same age, so separating children by exact age does not help with this. It may reduce the frequency, but I can imagine other ways of solving this problem; for example having adult people near, or using cameras in schools, in case of problem looking at the evidence and actually punishing the bullies.

I only have anecdotal evidence, but it seems to me that the biggest problem with bullying is that the bullies are never seriously punished, simply because the bullies are children too, and there is always someone there to protect the child from any harm, even if that child is actively trying to ham another child. And every time the bully gets the "second chance", the victim gets a lesson in helplessness.

Comment author: MartinB 07 July 2012 05:13:47PM 0 points [-]

Sometimes children are bullied by children of the same age, so separating children by exact age does not help with this

I wonder which way the causation goes here. It might be that bullying occurs because they do not interact with each other that much, or because being seen with a different-aged person is considered uncool.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 07 July 2012 08:52:10AM *  -1 points [-]

I seem to recall people discussing disadvantages of socializing six-year-olds together with six-year-eleven-month-olds, even.

I've heard of this being an issue in sports teams — that particularly competitive sports are dominated by kids at the upper end of the age range for their grades — but not as regards bullying. Any source?

Comment author: MBlume 06 July 2012 11:18:15PM *  -1 points [-]

Good point, I'm probably being a bit idealistic there. It still seems likely that there's a way to do a mixed-age community correctly, but it probably needs additional work.

Comment author: juliawise 09 July 2012 12:04:52AM 1 point [-]

Montessori classrooms do this - kids are usually in groupings of three-year spans. I haven't read about bullying there specifically, but I never heard of it being a problem in the 6-9 year old class where my mother taught.

Comment author: handoflixue 18 July 2012 11:05:56PM 0 points [-]

Anecdotal experience: My elementary school was divided in to 2-3 year spans (it varied from year to year, as it was a rather experimental school), with about an hour per day on average where we'd have the whole 6 year span together.

I have VERY clear memories that I got bullied from 1st-3rd year by older students (4th-6th year), but from 4th year on the problem went away. I don't recall anyone else having issues with bullies in 4th grade or later, so I'd assume the younger spans tended to be targeted by anyone with such proclivities.

When I was in middle (7th - 8th year) and high school (9th - 12th year), bullying seemed largely age-irrelevant, although the oldest students in high school (12th year) seemed to enjoy occasionally "hazing" the newest students near the start of the year and would then get bored and focus on kids closer to their age.

Comment author: Athrelon 06 July 2012 12:20:39PM 1 point [-]

If punishment has the problem of punishing being noticed as well as bad behavior, reward also reinforces being noticed rather than good behavior. I don't think this is an airtight argument against either, but you seem asymmetrically down on punishment.

Comment author: Dolores1984 06 July 2012 04:41:15PM 4 points [-]

I think the idea is that making it clear that you've done good deeds is less destructive than hiding that you've done bad ones.

Comment author: Athrelon 06 July 2012 05:41:42PM *  1 point [-]

Looking at people I know, some people need to be more attention-seeking; others need to be more humble. "On the margin" is the watchword here, and it's not obvious to me from this observation that the optimal amount of corporal punishment is zero, or that we should be biased against punishment in general.

(I note, however, that this anti-punishment claim is frequently made by middle- and high-class parents, which suggests to me that we need to be extra rigorous about making evidence based assessments of this claim. Not only are we biased against punishment for status reasons, epidemiological studies here are likely even worse than epidemiological studies of ie. diet.)

Comment author: Dolores1984 06 July 2012 05:55:24PM -1 points [-]

Certainly, but, on the whole, issues of humility are easier dealt with than children learning that your will is only important when you are there to enforce it. It seems intuitively obvious to me that behaviors learned at the threat of force will be absorbed at a more shallow level, and more temporarily, than behaviors encouraged by rewards and explanation. Though, obviously, the latter is harder to instill, it's more likely to hang around and provide a useful cognitive tool in adulthood.

Anecdotally, of the children I knew who were routinely struck by their parents in punishment, they were far more likely to be extremely polite in their parent's presence ('sir' and 'mam'), and all significantly more likely to go try to set something on fire when they weren't. The kids who weren't beaten, if not as well behaved in general, were at least more consistent in their behavior.

Comment author: Multiheaded 31 October 2012 12:51:26PM *  -1 points [-]

If punishment has the problem of punishing being noticed as well as bad behavior, reward also reinforces being noticed rather than good behavior.

That's nowhere near isomorphic IMO. Activities usually viewed as laudable are hardly ever conducted in a cladenstine way, and if the judging authorities are rational and strive for objectivity, I suppose they'll usually notice those activities on their own, without signaling from the subject.

If you really do care about your child's well-being and development and simply keep your eyes open, you'll easily find out if they prove to be diligent, honest or compassionate - but to discover undesirable behavior you'll have to actively outsmart them.

Comment author: drethelin 07 July 2012 12:02:02AM -2 points [-]
Comment author: Athrelon 07 July 2012 01:15:02AM 2 points [-]

I'm confident there really is a correlation between corporal punishment and bad outcomes in life. But this epidemiology must contend with the fact that spanking is currently low status and is mostly practiced by the unfashionable people, who tend to have bad outcomes because they're low status not because their methods are all bad. (See: paleo diet vs. mainstream health advice)

Comment author: MileyCyrus 06 July 2012 10:56:57AM -3 points [-]

If the singularity is near, doesn't that defeat the purpose of having children somewhat? You do all that work raising them to be adults and then the singularity comes and it's all irrelevant.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 06 July 2012 02:30:39PM 7 points [-]

If.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 08 July 2012 12:05:51PM 3 points [-]

If the singularity is near, doesn't that defeat the purpose of having children somewhat? You do all that work raising them to be adults and then the singularity comes and it's all irrelevant.

How near (decades or centuries)? Which singularity (good or bad)? Irrelevant to whom (us or the potential child)?

Comment author: MileyCyrus 08 July 2012 12:29:43PM *  4 points [-]

How near (decades or centuries)?

I thought EY and folk were estimating within decades. It's going to take at least 25 years for me to find a mate, produce a baby, and raise that baby to adulthood.

Which singularity (good or bad)?

Either. A negative singularity kills all of us, including the children. A positive singularity would give us that all of the previous accomplishments will be trivial by comparison . If you told me that in 20 years I'd either be shot dead or given a billion dollars, I wouldn't save for retirement.

Irrelevant to whom (us or the potential child)?

Us.

Comment author: dbaupp 07 July 2012 03:01:11PM 2 points [-]

As far as I understand it (not a parent myself), being a parent is one of the best, most enjoyable and rewarding things many people say they have done. So the "purpose of having children" isn't necessarily prolonging the human race.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 07 July 2012 03:45:36PM 1 point [-]

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids seemed to suggest that parenting was most difficult when children are young, and most rewarding when they are grown up.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 19 July 2012 10:24:53AM 0 points [-]

Has anyone ever tried the "What Did You See?" activity fictionally described here? (Start near the foot of that page.) Never having had children, or the care of anyone else's, I've never been able to try it out myself.

Comment author: sdenheyer 09 July 2012 07:00:07PM 0 points [-]

Give your kid the Marshmallow test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshmallow_test - you can do it at around 4 1/2 yrs old), and video-record it.

It's a good diagnostic indicator of how good she is at delaying gratification, and more importantly, you can watch her display coping strategies. You may already think you have a sense of how they'll do, but it can be surprising.

It's also fun, in a torment-your-child kind of way.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 July 2012 01:26:46AM 0 points [-]

Firstly, I love that this topic is being revisited. I remember coming to this site and scouring for related information, and being disappointed that I came up mostly empty-handed. I think it's an important, relevant topic, and it's great that you brought it up.

What you have here, though, reminds me of that old adage: "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy." You don't have kids, right? I would like to gently suggest that writing a really useful article of this type would pretty much depend on getting a lot of feedback from parents. Preferably, you should have a parent write it.