Are we raising our kids in the ways that foster the better side of human nature? While this is a question that many parents have probably asked themselves, it is also the very question that inspired Ross W. Greene’s new book, Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership With Your Child. Not only does Greene ask us to think more deeply about how we are raising our children, but in many ways, he tells us that we need to reevaluate how we are living our own lives. More than once, I found myself wondering if I was cultivating the values I wish to live up to.
Greene, the bestselling author of Lost At School, draws on his clinical knowledge and timeless wisdom to show that when parents move past tired power struggles, authoritarian approaches, and unrealistic expectations, they actually have more influence with their child, and they also realize the most crucial task of parenting: to help their child figure out who he is, become comfortable with it, and then pursue a life that is congruent with it.
Children, Greene tells us, have always been a “historically subjugated group” which, for many parents, leads to role confusion. Where most parents find themselves is vacillating between overly permissive and overly authoritarian. Where they belong — and where they will have the most influence — Greene asserts, is in a collaborative partnership with their child. Greene writes, “It turns out that what you’re mostly looking for, as a parent, is influence. Not control. And there is more than one way to get that influence. One path involves power and control, but there’s another path, one that enhances communication, improves relationships, and better prepares kids for a lot of what actually lies ahead in The Real World.”
Part of the process of raising children involves the expectations that parents and the world place upon them, and quite often, there is z discrepancy between these expectations and the child’s actual capability. This incompatibility often leads to behaviors that are reflective of larger problems. The role of the parent then becomes that of a helper who sees past surface behaviors to the deeper underlying causes. “Behavior is what is going on downstream,” Greene writes. “You want to focus upstream, on resolving the incompatibilities that are causing the behavior.”
And yet, although struggle is what precedes growth, when parents engage in power struggles with their children, essentially trying to force their expectations upon them, the whole scenario, Greene tells us, becomes “rather pointless.” A better way is through overcoming automatic assumptions about children and embracing the idea that kids will do well if they can, and often prefer to.
How parents arrive at collaborative partnerships with their children involves three critical steps: expressing empathy, defining their adult concerns, and inviting children to engage in finding solutions. Some strategies Greene offers are using reflective listening, asking who, when, and where questions, asking about the situational nature of the unsolved problem, asking a child what he is thinking in the midst of the unsolved problem, breaking the unsolved problem down into smaller parts, making a discrepant observation, asking for more concerns, and summarizing.
Along with this, Greene offers numerous narratives that help parents understand just what to say for each of their child’s responses, such as, saying nothing, “I don’t know,” “I don’t have a problem with that,” or “I don’t want to talk about it right now.” Through first listening and allowing their children to feel heard, expressing investment in their child’s concerns, and laying the groundwork for future discussions, parents can begin the process of working with their children toward mutually beneficial outcomes.
What often inhibits collaboration between parents and children is what Greene calls “parental angst.” When parents don’t address their own anxiety, they often revert to familiar — and ineffective — patterns, such as preempting empathy with assumptions about their children, reacting instead of responding, and using too much control. Greene writes, “In the same way that your child’s behavior communicates that there is a problem that needs to be solved, your anxiety and frustration signal the exact same thing.”
Yet through learning to see their children differently — as human beings who want to do well — parents can embrace the skills of detachment and perspective, and also avoid counterproductive communication patterns. More importantly, when parents aren’t preoccupied with daily struggles over laundry, chores, homework, and rules, they can begin to see the bigger picture — asking themselves just which are the most important positive human qualities they want to model and inspire their children to acquire.
The point Greene makes is that raising human beings depends on asking ourselves, are the ways are we disciplining, teaching, and interacting with our kids fostering desirable human qualities? If we truly want to raise children who have the estimable characteristics of empathy, perspective taking, compassion, honesty, and conflict resolution skills, then we must start with a different model — one that hinges upon collaboration.
Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership With Your Child
Scribner, August 2016
Hardcover, 304 Pages