An Essay on the Common Sense of
Child Rearing

I started writing this after having caught the nonsense of yet another selfproclaimed expert on child rearing on some now forgotten pompously "informative" television program. I am amazed and astounded that modern so called civilization has caused parents to forget how to parent, how to use very simple reason and common sense and then rely on the dicta of selfserving "experts" to raise their children. Are they faking ignorance? Do they want someone to blame when thing turn out wrong? Do they want an easy out, an abdication of the very responsibility that they themselves elected? I don't know. It is a damgerous thing to assert some one elses motives. Since I thought child rearing to be more common sense than theoretics, I wanted to see if I could actually say the obvious and state the common sense in a document considerably shorter than a book.

No, I am not a parent; I know what I'm talking about anyhow. I was, however, a child, and I paid a great deal of attention, even then. Where the knowledge comes from does not negate its validity. This is, after all, just common sense.

As animals, human beings have no visible advantage for survival. The cheetah is faster, the elephant or gorilla bigger and stronger. As defense weapons, our teeth, our nails and limbs are pitiful in the animal kingdom. We don't have a nice fur coat to protect us from the icy winds of Winter. Our only advantage is our brain: a vastly complicated ganglion that provides for us the use of language, rational thought, a wealth of variety in creative activity, in addition to all the faculties of the brains of other species. To have such variety and seemingly endless possibility contained within our crania, it is necessary that the genotype provide for looser and more plastic neural connections than are found in most other species. This has the effect of allowing and enforcing a prodigious variety in human mental configurations. This variety is the strength that has ensured the survival of our genotype, so far. We supress this variety at our peril.

Children who are not loved and touched, it is said, wither and die. Is this a surprise? Our complicated brains don't finish maturing physiologically until about age 20. During this entire period of time the brain is altering its plastic structure in responses to its personal environment. The changes don't stop even after this, though their nature is changed. One of the aspects of personal environment is other people. We are a social animal, by subtle needs rather than by genetically determined hardwiring, and a delicate animal by virtue of our complexity of mind, and brain which supports mind. We think that somehow there is this mind/body separation because it has been taught to be so. Are the monosynaptic reflexes that take place in the spinal cord when a great violinist plays the Mendessohn concerto just body, or are they aspects of mind? Where one draws boundaries in such considerations is fairly arbitrary and depends on the state ones knowledge. The idea of separate systems: neurological, hematological, immunological, endocrine, is a sometimes useful theoretical fiction, as point particles and frictionless surfaces are to a physicist. Mind is thought to reside in the brain; but, the brain is continuously connected to the spinal cord together forming the central nervous system (CNS) which unlike the peripheral nervous system (PNS) that extends thoughout the rest of the body is bathed in and protected by the cerebrospinal fluid.

One could argue that mind is confined to the CNS, by requiring that it be confined to that part of the nervous system where processing more complicated than simple signaling takes place, so that the simple signaling of the PNS is excluded. In this case, one has to look at just is meant by the more complicated processing. It turns out that the signaling of the CNS is same kind of signaling taking place in the PNS, and that the increased complexity of processing is very much a function of ganglionic complexity and the neuosynaptic geometry of the brain. Moreover, the brain matures and changes in response to sensory perceptions which are mediated by the PNS. In this sense the PNS drives the development of the mind/CNS complex, which in turn can modify PNS structure and behavior. Though there are physiological differences between CNS and PNS, it is difficult to separate them in order to say that mind is contained within the CNS.

I could push the point tediously further by examining the existing connections between all of the theoretically separated body systems, and so to say at the end that there are no separate systems. This too is actually just common sense; the molecular how of it can be safely left to scientists. Enjoy your children and let them enjoy you. Tell them that you love them; let them see that you love them. Hug them, especially hug them; this is truer than any words could express. You will have children who are happier and healthier, spiritually, mentally and physically.

You will be happier and healthier too. It appears that healthily coupled people live longer and are generally healthier than single people. What do all couples have in common that single people don't have? Regular physical contact perhaps? How often have you known an elderly couple where one dies, and the other, for no especially good reason, dies within a year after? Adults have a need for stimulation and physical contact too. It seems that in children and in the elderly it is critical.

Children come with genetically determined personalities, not with manuals written by alleged experts on rearing them. They can learn to use or temper certain aspects of their personalities. Human beings are not termites, and have considerable variation in their makeup and behavior. This exquisite variation is also arranged for in the genotype, most probably as survival mechanism. To interfere with what nature has provided for our species, is to court annihilation. Nobody has ever been able to say just what "Human Nature" is, yet there are people and groups of people who are very ready to declare by fiat what it isn't. This is simply the product of sick child rearing. Be respectful of your child's differences. He or she is not your alter ego, but a unique human being.

Pay attention. Use common sense, not the inflexible rules of idiot experts, that somehow always seem to require a large and useless book. Human beings have been being born and raised for over 100,000 years. It is only when experts with codified methods came along that the entire process became a problem.

During the ninetenth century Germany spawned a host of child rearing methods all nicely codified in textbook fashion. The contents of these books would make the hair of a thoughtful parent today stand on end, so I suppose there can be some progress. See any of the earlier books by Alice Miller that followed "Drama of the Gifted Child" for a description. The basic idea was essentially how to break a horse - the mean way. The books' contents were primarily how to punish and be a vicious as possible without violating the decorum of the day. These books are where we get those wonderful slogans: "Spare the rod and spoil the child.", "Children should seen and not heard", etc. We can joke about them now, but those people were deadly serious. The Germanic methods did make their way into the US and their remnants results are still quite visible in our criminal system.

In the long run, children learn by example, not by edict. Children need limits, but will test them. Lack of consistency or unreasonable limits will simply cause them to test interminably. It is a basic need to know and also to test limits, in children as well as adults. Adults, more often than not, test different limits of what it is that they can do. There are, of course, exceptions. Though children should be approached and treated with reason and honesty, there are limits to the reason that a child can understand. You cannot have all your wants met; neither should a child get used to the idea of always having every want met. A child will not be scared by the word "no". It is usually the the very first word that a child learns in an attempt to control his environment.

Having a child will not fix an unhealthy relationship. Your job as a parent is to nurture a child, so that he or she will mature into an emotionally healthy adult with a just sense of self; for this to work, they must be loved for their own sake. You exist for your own sake; so does a child. Have respect for them as human beings.

Children have no jobs. More specifically, they are not there to fulfill your ego fantasies or your emotional needs. They are not capable of this. To impose this impossible demand on them is a form of torture and abuse, for which you will not be rewarded. Their existence is your choice, not theirs; remember that always. A child bears no responsibility for being.

As complicated as human beings are, their just an proper treatment requires only a few simple, admittedly tough, general and reasonable principles.

                          Principles of Child Rearing

   1) Children are not adults; inculcate growth,
      but don't expect adult behavior.
   2) Don't be arbitrary; do be consistent.
   3) Children are people; Parents are people; Neither should be abused.
   4) People should not be reduced to a single action.
      Though you may not love an action of a person, this does not mean
      that the person is unworthy of love.  Make this clear to your child.
   5) Actions have consequences; no one can call all the shots.
      Facts to be born in mind by parents and taught to children.
   6) Mean what you say; don't say anything you don't mean.
   7) If you want to be listened to, listen to your child.
   8) Children are not born with knowledge; Parents don't have all
      the answers.

   These are not intended to be mindless slogans, but rather principles
   tp be applied and lived with thought, attention and mindfulness.

   Be consistent in these and you will have an emotionally healthy child
   whom you can love; you can also be justly proud of a job well done.
   If it was a job well done, your adult child will know it and love you
   for that, despite the fact that you made some mistakes.
   There is no other reward, except that and a very good probability that
   your child will now be at least as good a parent as you were.

   If this doesn't work, you have deranged animal, not a human child;
   call the ASPCA.

In the matter of discipline, the loosly spoken concept of "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" should not be forgotten. Yes, children do need discipline along with love. Although, genetically human beings, socially and culturally a "baby" is fundamentally an animal who is supposed to turn out as an adult human being. They need guidance getting there. While they need to be given a sense of ownership, with that goes its complement of nonownership. While they need to be given a sense of self, with that goes its complement of the self of others. Sometimes a child's natural curiosity can cause serious harm. Certain rules must be imposed: don't hurt, don't steal, don't do things that are harmful to self or others.

True babies have no such abstractions and can't be taught rules, and so have to be restrained or guarded zealously - hey, who said this was easy?

Older children can have the abstractions and can be taught them, and more impor5tantly that you are consisten and serious about them. All children will test limits and your patience. Inconsistency and giving in because you are tired is the beginning of the end. You will have lost a game, possibly your sanity and all control over you own life.

Any child who discovers that by throwing a tantrum, whining, crying or just being insistent, will get his own way will use the technique to wear you down. Nipping this sort of manipulative behavior in the bud is essential.

Somebody, whose name I have forgotten, otherwise I would give credit, invented a simple set of rules, even has a video out called 1-2-3. I suspect the name comes from an old joke about newlyweds riding along on a horse. The horse stumbles, and the bride hears her husband say "That's one". They travel a little longer and the horse rears up. The wife hears her husband say "That's two". A little later the horse stops and shakes nearly throwing off both riders. The husband dismounts, lifts his wife from the horse and shoots it dead. The stunned wife proptly demands of her husband "Why did you shoot that horse?", to which the husband simply replies "That's one".

The moral of the tale is that children should get chances to stop the abberent behavior, and the two is sufficient. Explanations to a 3, 4 or 5 year old is a waste of time. One is simply notice, (no explanation: they already know) Two is their last chance to stop, and Three is the inevitable punishment.

Let the punishment fit the crime: five minutes alone in their room alone with no fun time activities, say for whining, insistence and other minor pains in the prat. If they are older and have an allowance, an allowance deduction. Hitting and beating is not only inhuman and ultimately abusive, but remember there may come a time when you are old and frail, they have the physical strength then, not you. Nobody has ever been beaten "for their own good". All discipline must be reasonable, appropriate and consistently meted out. Discipline does not, and should not be handed out with anger. The swift application should even prevent things getting to the point where you are angry. By using such a simple, easy to apply method of discipline, children will learn by your example: reasonableness, appropriateness, selfdiscipline, consistency and love. I will try to find reference for the video and any related books; they are once again just common sense, somehow a rare commodity these days. Just watch the nightly tv newsbytes.

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Created: July 13, 1998
Last Updated: May 28, 2000