Ignorance in parenting

by Gunnar_Zarncke 1 min read3rd Sep 201346 comments


Followup to: Strategic ignorance and plausible deniability

My in-law always says: "For children it is easier be forgiven then to get permission." 

EDIT: This post is superseeded by my Book Review: Kazdin's The Everyday Parenting Toolkit I recommend reading only that. The remaining insight of this post is: Children expend more brain power on their parents than the parents on them. 

Kaj_Sotala wrote

Parents may also pretend that they don't notice their kids engaging in some minor misbehavior, if they don't want to lose their authority but don't feel like interfering either.

I can say from experience: That is risky.

Children (esp. small ones) expend significantly more brain power on their parents than the parents on their children (your mileage may vary). I can assure you that they will notice these cases - at least some - and take that into account one way or the other.

If the children notice this they may assume that you either condone, accept, bear or ignore it. None of these has positive effects.

Possible alternative strategies:

  • Invest the energy on the necessary consequences (these will be well invested because you save on lots of further occassions) 
  • Signal the child that you did notice, tolerate but do not accept it. This indicates to the child that the border to really unacceptable behavior is near. If the child still continues you do not get around to act. I do this with a smile and treat it as a gamed played by the child. This breaks a possible tension but may have disadvantages for discipline.  
  • Establish clear limits to acceptable behavior that avoid repeated testing of where the border actually is. 
  • Less restrictions that may be broken to begin with.

I am influenced by The Adlerian School. Of relevance here is Striving for significance.

The testing of limits and the resulting interaction with the parent give the child a feeling of significance if the parent acknoledges the act of the child even if he doesn't agree with it. On the other hand ignoring the act of the child is negative feedback about significance.

EDIT: The asymmetry between parents and children with respect to the effectiveness of deniability can be generalized to any situation where one actor has significantly less overall information about the situation than another actor and thus might not be able to reliably estimate whether deniability is possible.

ADDED: tadamsmar  pointed out that ignoring is scientifically known to be effective and the advice or rather personal expierence I have related in this post may be contraproductive (at least if applied in isolation).