What is a child’s “currency?”

When I was homeschooling my daughters (in a previous life), I was constantly encouraged to write a book on my parenting philosophy because my children were , in addition to being extraordinarily gifted, the happiest, kindest, most fun and yet self controlled children they had ever known, equally capable of playing with  friends for hours or carrying conversations with adults on a wide range of topics from history, art and science to literature and one of their favorite topics:  why they loved being homeschooled.

I don’t know that a book is coming, but as I continue to heal from the emotional abuse of the last several years of my marriage, I’ve started writing a few impromptu essays on parenting, inspired by the challenges experienced by some of my friends who are parents. This is the first of these essays…

You will never outshout a child. You will never outlast a child. You’re only hope is to outsmart and outmaneuver them, and the key to doing that is in understanding what matters to them.

Children who have been hollered at by ignorant and/or abusive parents will shut out any sound with a louder one of their own. This is how they survived. Even the quiet ones are drowning you out – they’re just doing it inside their own heads.

All children will respond to that which they have least experienced. It’s in their DNA. Kids are born to learn, so once they’ve learned something it bores them and they’re ready to move on. A child who has learned to outshout and outsmart their caretaker will respond to shouts and commands with disinterest at best and obstinance at worst – this is why it won’t work, no matter how loud or long you shout.   You must find another way to get through.

A little girl who bows her head, bats her eye lashes, gazes and up and whines when she doesn’t get what she wants has learned that this will either achieve the original goal, or at the very least get a reaction that is rewarding in some other way. sometimes it is only a game of determining how different adults react to the same cues. If this is the case, a disinterested or genuinely amused reaction (with no undertone of derision or irony) will achieve the best results. When kids play this card with me I act like they just told a great joke, give a good hearty laugh, and then call them out on the fact that I know  they know exactly what is expected of them! If they attend school, all you have to say is, “what would they tell you to say/do at school?” And you’ll get exactly the response you want – because they know what they are supposed to do, it’s just a shitload more fun manipulating grown ups! Remember, their smarter than you because that’s how our species survives. So you’re gonna have to do some work to get even half a step ahead of their brilliant little minds.

I read a lot about this parenting style/philosophy when I was raising my own daughters, and because I started devouring parenting books long before my first pregnancy, I had a toolbox full of effective skills at hand and was able to effectively address  a lot of bad behaviors early on, enabling  my daughters to spend more time and energy exploring and learning about the world and mastering basic life skills.

It has been enlightening to live in an affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles and come into contact with kids who are obviously quite brilliant, but have been the victims of misguided (or totally absent, even abusive) parenting. And when I’ve had the opportunity to interact with these kids as if they were my own, they respond like well trained circus monkeys – which is NOT the ultimate goal! But  once you have their attention, you can find out what matters to each of them individually, what is their personal currency (attention, intellectual challenge, emotional support, a passionate interest or hobby, existential empathy, art, etc) you have found the key to their heart and their mind. Use it wisely…

To Be Continued….

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