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The Question of How

The following post is inspired by Harry Thompson – PDA Extraordinaire, and a Facebook post he authored on 2/11/2022.

Harry wrote the following:

When people ask me, "How do I get my child to" questions, I hear two things:

1. That they're not interested in their child or their experiences.

And 2. That they want to win, control, or prevail over their child.

Harry is writing about Pathologic Demand Avoidance, which is a diagnosis recognized in the UK but not known much in the US as of today. But I think it speaks to a commonly held parenting belief.

Parents almost uniformly believe that it is their job to find ways to get their kids to do things they don’t want to do.

That is not our job.

Our job is to understand the barriers that stand between our children as they are today and the people they want to become, and to help them overcome those barriers.

Understanding the Barriers

“How do I get my child to…” is the beginning of a lot of questions asked in my office. What’s interesting to me is that there’s no context offered. In fact, most parents haven’t considered that their child’s unwillingness to do the task is due to anything other than childish contrariness. The concept of barriers preventing task completion is an entirely foreign concept. Yet, parents are very quick to tell me why they are unable to do the things that I recommend for their child’s health.

Our Children As They Are Today

Our children are children. They are not tiny adults who are capable of the same rationalization as their parents. They are also marvelously unbound to convention. “Because it’s always been done that way” has no value or meaning to children. It’s unreasonable to expect them to take interest in how things have always been done. “How do I get my child to…” questions are almost always about things we do by convention. Sitting at the table until the family is done eating is a fabulous example. It’s not age-appropriate and serves no useful purpose except to exert control over a child. But it’s what we’ve always done, so parents continue to try to force it.

The People They Want To Become

Our children aren’t us. They aren’t manifestations of our dreams. They aren’t the fantasy children we dreamed of when we conceived them. They are only themselves and they will become who they wish to become. “How do I get my child to…” questions are also about shaping our children into their future selves, but only into the people we want them to be.

Overcoming Barriers

Instead of asking “How do I get my child to…”, we should be asking “Why won’t my child…”, which is most often “Why can’t my child…”

Looking at the problem from the perspective of removing barriers is the first step. And it will unstick most stuck kids. But taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture is essential to raising our kids to become healthy, independently-thinking adults. If a child is failing to comply, it may be because they view the world in an unconventional way. And isn’t that what the world needs right now?

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