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.
First of all, let's talk about goals. I can think of four.
- Produce thriving, intelligent, rational, happy, good-hearted children who become thriving, intelligent, rational, happy, good-hearted adults.
- Have your children enjoy their childhoods
- Enjoy raising your children.
- 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 RejectThere 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?
In the book Brain Rules John Medina writes:... (read more)
I want to be that mom. (Except for the devoutly religious part.)
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.
"Negative reinforcement" refers to reinforcement by removing an undesired stimulus. The opposite of "reinforcement" is "punishment".
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:
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... (read more)
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.
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.
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.
Don't forget the classic "praise effort, not talent".
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 ... (read more)
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.
Julia Galef recently posted a video in which she describes how her parents helped give her an interest in rationality.
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?
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.
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 lo... (read more)
Bookmarks of mine that may be relevant:
You may wish to look into "un-schooling": http://www.amazon.com/Teenage-Liberation-Handbook-School-Education/dp/0962959103 I was massively more interested in this particular topic as a teenager, f... (read more)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The cynical and practical guide to have at least one good kid:
Step 1: Choose a good sperm/egg donor. This is by far the most important bit. If you can't get that consider increasing volume, more kids will help you catch that bell curve tail, take some wisdom from the third world, a single successful brainy kid can lift a nentire family from poverty! IQ correlates with everything good except fertility, but hey we ... (read more)
The cynical and practical guide to have at least one good kid (tm):
Step 1: Choose a good sperm/egg donor. This is by far the most important bit. If you can't get that consider increasing volume, more kids will help you catch that bell curve tail, take some wisdom from the third world, a single successful brainy kid can lift a entire family from poverty!
Step 2: Regular middle class upbringing. And don't stress o... (read more)
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.
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.