Growing Independence

by jefftkjefftk9 min read7th Jun 202027 comments

141

ParentingPractical
Curated

Note: this is based on my experience with my two kids, currently four and six. It may not generalize as much as I think it does.

People start out dependent on their parents for food, changing, contact, motion, and even sleep timing. Typically they end up as adults, no longer dependent on their parents at all. Part of my approach to parenting has been that I want to let my kids be as independent as possible, as early as possible. Not only does it make their lives better, because they can meet their own needs how they want, but it makes my life easier, because they can handle more on their own. Sometimes this involves a bit more effort up front, but I think it's substantially less effort in total.

Examples:

  • If Lily (6y) comes to me and says "Anna (4y) pushed me," my first response will probably be "have you talked to Anna?" I'll still help some, often by listening to them negotiate and clarifying rules ("you can't push people, even when they happen to be between you and your desired toy") but over time they've gotten much better at this. There's a whole post worth of thoughts that could go here on what's worked and what hasn't, but at this point they can get up an hour before we do and (nearly always) resolve their own conflicts without waking us.

  • The kids will often ask for help while I'm cooking. If I'm in the middle of something, which I usually am, I'll say something like "I can help you as soon as I finish mixing this". During that time they're often able to solve their own problem. If they do still need help when I'm ready, they get my full attention. This is acting as a cost, paying with their time, which filters their requests so I only get the ones where it's worth it to them. And then while they're bored waiting for me they'll often try a bit harder at doing up the snaps on their shirt or whatever, and often that extra focused effort is what they need to do it on their own.

    Similarly, when Anna was learning to ride her trike and she got to a sidewalk bump that was hard to pedal over, she would call for help. I found that if I walked far enough behind her she would keep trying while she waited for me to catch up, and then often didn't need me by the time I was there.

  • If I hear crying, I don't automatically do something about it. As I was writing this post I heard Anna get up. Then I heard some crying. Not "I've been badly hurt crying" but some sort of frustration. It didn't last very long, and I didn't move, just listening. A few minutes later Anna came down and said good morning. She had a lot she wanted to tell me about the clothes she had picked out. When she was done I asked what they crying had been, and whether she was ok, and she said that Lily hadn't been willing to come out and play with her even though her bedroom light was on. I clarified (again... this one keeps coming up) that Lily isn't required to play with her, and that even if someone's light is on that doesn't necessarily mean they want to come out of their room and get up. Then we cuddled up and read a book together.

  • When the kids started being able to climb things, I would spot them. Often they wanted me to lift them or support them in their climbing, and I wouldn't. They would also want to be lifted down at the end, but the rule would be "if you can climb up, you can climb down." I was willing to give them advice or guide their foot when they couldn't see where to place it, but they still needed to do the climbing. At this point I'll spot them if they ask me to, or maybe say things like "if you're going to climb that high you need to find an adult to spot you." With tree climbing I'm willing to be a stepstool if asked, but I won't lift them.

  • Recently Lily dropped her fork, and asked me to pick it up. I said that this seemed like the sort of thing she could do? Anna volunteered to pick it up for her, and was very happy to be helpful. This wasn't what I was going for, but a different nice outcome.

  • I was out with both kids, and Lily wanted to go home while Anna wanted to keep picking dandelions. We were on our block, around the corner from our house. Lily and I talked about how she could go home: she would walk home (no street crossings needed and she knew where to go) and ring the doorbell. If someone let her in she was set, otherwise she would walk back to where I was. After Lily set off I posted in the house chat that Lily would be ringing the doorbell soon, and once Lily was inside Julia replied to let me know.

  • We noticed that Anna kept giving or trading things to Lily, and then regretting it. For example, she gave Lily an elephant stuffy she got for her birthday, and then talked for months about how she was sad and wished it were still hers. We talked to Lily about this, and told the kids that any gifts Anna made were provisional, and she had three days to change her mind. We also told them that if they wanted to make permanent trades they needed to bring the proposed trade to a grownup first, who could jog Anna's memory ("Anna, do you remember how you felt when you...") and make sure they really wanted to go through with it. I think the first rule never ended up getting used, and the second rule got used maybe once? We've since let both rules fade away.

  • When the kids were little they would sometimes ask for a drink of water in the middle of the night. As soon as they were old enough that we trusted they wouldn't spill it, we gave them sippy cups of water to keep by their beds. The changed the frequent "I'm thirsty" for the less frequent "my water cup is empty." And, better, they started checking their cup when going to bed, usually telling us when it was running out. A few weeks ago Anna woke us up, for the first time in a while: her cup was empty. I told her I wouldn't fill her cup, but described how she could get a drink from the bathroom. She was mad that I wouldn't do it for her, but after I went back to bed I heard her walk out, get a drink, and go back to bed. She hasn't woken us since.

  • About a year ago I brought Lily to an amusement park. Near the end of the day there was a roller coaster she wanted to go on, but it was too scary for me, so I told her I wouldn't go on it with her. She asked if she could go on it by herself, but you needed to be 48" to ride alone. She told me she was going to find someone else to ride with her, and I didn't object. She wandered a bit with me until she identified someone who I think she thought was sufficiently non-threatening (middle-aged woman hanging out with family) and Lily asked me if I would be willing to ask on her behalf. I declined, expecting Lily would be too shy, but Lily went up, explained the situation, and asked if they would go with her. They were a bit confused, confirmed the situation with me, asked me if I was ok with it, and I emphasised that it really was fine if they said no. They decided to do it, and as far as I could tell both had a really good time.

  • When Lily was ~1.5, she was just learning to walk and was standing at the top of a short flight of stairs. I was below her, in a place where I could catch her if she fell, but as she continued looking around and seeming stable I started playing my mandolin which I was wearing on a strap. I wasn't expecting she would fall, but she did, and while I dropped the mandolin and went to catch her I didn't get her fully and she bonked her chin. She lost two teeth, and I'm sure it hurt a lot. This is probably the event I most regret in parenting so far, and pushed me in the more cautious direction.

  • As soon as our kids could walk we started teaching them how to stay out of the street. This was some work, but when we fully trusted that they would stop at the corner they gained the freedom to run ahead on their own. When they were little I couldn't let them get too far ahead, though, or other adults who didn't know that these particular kids knew to stay out of the street would get worried and try to protect them.

  • Our house has big heavy doors, which means the kids can't get out by themselves. I made a kid door out to the back yard, and put kid-height railings on the steps. Now if they want to go outside on their own they can.

  • One time we couldn't find Lily. We looked all over the house, and she was just not there. When I saw the kid door was unlocked, that told me she'd gone out, but then she wasn't in the back yard. Apparently she'd left? This was very unlike her, and we were worried, though I knew she wouldn't have gone far since she wouldn't cross any streets. I started to run around the block, and just as I'd gone around the first corner I saw Lily happily running from the other direction. She'd decided she'd like to run around the block on her own as an adventure. I talked with her about how it wasn't ok to go off on her own like that yet, and next time she should check in with a grownup first. When we put in the kid door I should have been clearer with them about how they needed to stay in our yard.

  • Lily asked me if she could cut her own hair, and I explained that kids who cut their own hair generally end up with hair they're unhappy with. She asked if I would cut it; I declined. She asked our housemate Ruthie if she would cut it, Ruthie checked with me ("it's Lily's hair, so it's fine with me") and Ruthie gave her a nice cut that Lily was very happy with. Julia was out at the time, and when she came home she was upset that I had let Lily cut her hair on a whim. Asking her now she wrote, "I'm less in favor of giving the kids free rein here because I think it's important to make sure any long-lasting choices are made in an informed way, and I don't think anyone made sure Lily understood that for the next several months she wouldn't be able to do some of the hairstyles she sometimes requested. I also likely would have required a waiting period of a week or two to see if she still wanted it. As someone who hated spending third grade growing out my bangs, the possible downside of haircut decisions is more salient to me than it is to Jeff." Afterwards, we talked for a while trying to find other places where we might have similar disagreements about what to let the kids do (tattos? piercings? cutting up their clothes?) This is a good illustration of how it's important to be on the same page as your partner about what you're ok with letting the kids do.

  • Anna and I were out with her trike, and she asked me to carry it home for her. We weren't very far from the house, and I declined. She said she was just going to leave it there. I told her that if she left the trike it would be available for anyone to take. And that I would probably take it, but it would then be my trike. She decided to ride her trike home.

  • When we started wearing covid masks, the kids didn't want them. I explained that the recommendations had changed, we were trying to help build a norm of mask-wearing, masks keep people from spreading their germs, and even our family could have the coronavirus without realizing yet. This was enough for Lily, who's pretty pro-social, but Anna didn't like having something on her face. I told her that if she wasn't willing to wear a mask she'd have to stay on our property, which meant inside or in the back yard. She initially (firmly!) said she was fine with that, but when she realized this meant she wouldn't be able to ride her trike around the block she changed her mind and asked me to help her put her mask on.

    A few weeks later, when wearing masks was routine, Anna was still asking us to put her's on each time. I thought she could probably start doing it for herself, when she next asked if I'd put it on her I said "can you do it?" She said no. I said that I thought she was big enough to do it herself, and that I was still willing to do it I needed her to try doing it herself first. With a bit of coaching (one ear, then the other) she got it on without any other help from me. She was so proud! Since then she's managed it herself every time.

    This morning I was out with the kids and I noticed that Anna's mask was around her neck. "Anna, your mask?" "Papa, I'm doing the honeysuckle, and my mask gets in the way." "Ok, as long as you put it right back on when you're done."

  • I rarely tell the kids "no". Instead, if it's something that I don't think is a good idea or won't work, I explain why. "The last time you climbed a tree not wearing pants you scraped your legs a lot, and were pretty sad about it." "If you want to use a sharp needle you'll need to find an adult who's willing to supervise so you don't stab yourself." "If you sign up to cook dinner you need to make sure you prepare enough food for everyone, with food everyone can eat." "If you want make that much of a mess you'll need to find a grownup who'll commit to cleaning up if you don't."

  • There are still some hard constraints. They have to go through their bedtime routine and go to bed. They have to sit at the table for their meals (though we don't make them eat, just spend at least 10min in front of their food). We try to make these really predictable, and we'll use counting and timeouts if they're not following them. Any consequence we're imposing should happen as quickly as possible, because that lets you use much weaker consequences for the same amount of behavior change.

Some common threads:

  • I'm willing to invest large amounts of time in teaching and advice, but won't do things for them unless I'm pretty sure they can't do it themselves.

  • I'm happy to talk in detail about why we do things the way we do, and am open to being convinced in cases where they think the rules should be different.

  • I want them to be practicing making decisions and living with the consequences, but not beyond what's currently safe for them or beyond what they can productively learn from. When I think they're making a bad decision I'll try to bring up information I think they're overlooking, but I'll only very rarely take the choice away from them.

  • I let them solve their own problems, and let them practice figuring out when to bring in help.

I have three main motivations here. The first is teaching: eventually they'll need to make good decisions on their own, and the sooner they start the more practice they'll be able to get. The second is a kind of long-term laziness: once they can do things for themselves it's less work for me. And the third is respect: they're people and as much as possible they should get to choose how their lives go.

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This is a bit offbeat as a curated LW post, but I felt it was appropriate to curate for a few reasons:

1. It was object level interesting. I felt like I learned a bunch about raising kids, enjoyed learning it, and from the karma of the post it seems others did too.

2. I think there is actually something fairly important about the topic of raising kids, which is relevant to more common LessWrong themes. First, there is a sense in which raising a family is one of the core things humanity is about. Many LW folk don't seem to have kids, and part of me is worried that all our philosophy and strategy is sort of missing something important if we don't have a background sense of "what raising kids is like" subtly informing our judgments.

There is also a sense in which this post is about "how to raise an agent", which I think ties pretty directly into core LW themes. I felt like reading the article fit into my overall worldview that includes robust agents and rationality and learning to think independently. (I think this effect was weaker than the previous “why artists study anatomy” curation, but similar in type)

But... I almost feel kinda bad listing this as the reason for curation, because honestly...

3. I think it's important that people feel not only entitled, but rewarded, for writing about whatever is important to them. Sometimes those post will be niche posts that don't get much appreciation, but I think it's good when one seems to capture a lot of enthusiasm to reward that. I want people reading LW Curated posts to get a sense that sometimes, exploring your own interests will find something that excites people and gets rewarded. 

I suspect that it's best for most curated posts to cleave a bit closer to central LW topics, but think occasional variety is good.

I think there is actually something fairly important about the topic of raising kids, which is relevant to more common LessWrong themes. [...] Many LW folk don't seem to have kids, and part of me is worried that all our philosophy and strategy is sort of missing something important if we don't have a background sense of "what raising kids is like" subtly informing our judgments.

+1 to this specifically. Taking an unformed brain and guiding it along a path to become stronger seems like the equivalent of a lab class in rationality.

I’m now a father of a 3 weeks old girl. So your parenting posts are extra useful and appreciated!

Tip: Take notes of what new things she does every week - or even every day. It is so cool to see one brain module after another come online.

Congratulations! How're the early days going? Does she sleep?

Honestly it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. One month in and it’s getting a bit easier. She sleeps about 2-3 hours at a time.

No joke! I once got so out of it that I was supposed to be fetching something from the kitchen, went out and wandered back three times empty handed, and then on the fourth try triumphantly returned with a bowl of watermelon I had sliced. That was not what I was meant to fetch.

There is a great book along these lines, highly recommended: "Parent Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon.

One thing the book emphasises more than OP is letting children make their own decisions wherever possible. This encourages them to take responsibility for their own outcomes and massively helps them to learn. It is important - and empowering - to allow them to experience the consequences of their decisions.

Our daughter picked her own clothes from the age of 8, for example. There were only two instances where we overruled her about her own life choices after she turned 12. We never forced her to do homework. [She ended up with a PhD in a hard science, so yes she mostly did her homework. But it is her life.]

A lot of this seems counter-intuitive to people. Parenthood seems to trigger some sort of authoritarian program in many otherwise liberal people. It may be that you could make better decisions on a given issue than your children, but they lose the opportunity to learn when you do that.

It may also be that you would not actually make better decisions than your child. Conjure up in your mind a 16 year old dressed for a party a) in clothes of their own choosing, b) in clothes chosen by their parents. Who did the better job?

+1 and the parent's role comes in the form of helping to make complicated and noisy feedback for decision quality more legible since the meta skill of doing that for yourself is something even many adults don't have.

One thing the book emphasises more than OP is letting children make their own decisions wherever possible. This encourages them to take responsibility for their own outcomes and massively helps them to learn. It is important - and empowering - to allow them to experience the consequences of their decisions.

I don't know how much my view differs from the book here, but practice making decisions and seeing how they turn out is definitely really important, and features in I think the majority of the examples above. It also is a natural part of doing things independently, since doing anything involves making lots of decisions!

Our daughter picked her own clothes from the age of 8, for example.

Our kids pick which clothes to wear that day, but Julia picks what clothes are available in their drawers. As they get older buying clothes will move to be their responsibility.

Picking what clothes to wear goes back to before they could dress themselves ("papa, I want you to put my bow dress on me")

On the topic of parenting books there is also Kazdin's Everyday Parenting Toolkit (one of the few evidence-based books on parenting).

I haven't thought much about parenting in general, and don't have kids. Overall this seems like an interesting and probably valuable approach. But it also feels very individualistic, which would make me concerned in applying this myself. I expect that most Westerners, and especially Americans, are already too individualistic, and that it'd be useful for them to think of families and friendships more as cohesive units - as opposed to combinations of individuals, which is what it seems like your approach pushes towards. The two most salient examples of this for me:

Often they wanted me to lift them or support them in their climbing, and I wouldn't.

and

I told her that if she left the trike it would be available for anyone to take. And that I would probably take it, but it would then be my trike.

This sort of distinction between parents' property and children's property seems strange to me. What would be the consequences of this becoming your trike - especially given that you bought it for her in the first place? Apparently it worked in this case, but still... idk.

Jeff's approach to parenting is shockingly similar to mine, and I actually feel exactly the opposite regarding individualism (at least insofar as individualism is equated with being antisocial). I am perfectly willing to help my children with any number of things, but I want them to *understand* the cost to other people when they need help or when they make a mess they're not willing to clean up.

It feels more prosocial (to me) for them to understand that other people are people too, with their own needs, rather than to operate under the belief that they are entitled to someone's time and effort simply because they want it.

I also believe it's prosocial to give our time and effort where we can be helpful, and I try to teach them that as well.

The result is that our family is very cohesive, everyone sincerely grateful for help, and similarly more inclined to help because it feels like a gift we are able to provide for each other, rather than an obligation.

Those two examples actually feel very different to me!

In climbing, they have a desire to be up high that, if I don't get in the way, they'll use to learn how to climb up and down. If I step in, either by prohibiting climbing or by letting them get the benefits without putting in the work, that keeps this from working.

With the trike, if she chooses to bring the trike away from the house it's her job to bring it back again. I wouldn't want to get into a pattern where we leave the house with all her stuff and then she expects me to pack it back home again, especially if both kids might expect me to carry their things (trike + bike could be a lot for me!) If she had decided to leave the trike, and I'd brought it home, I hadn't thought about what I'd do next. I probably would have put it in the basement. At some point she would probably ask for it back, and then maybe I would have offered to sell it back to her for a few weeks worth of her allowance? This sounds a bit weird and maybe mean, but compare it to the alternatives of (a) the child can at any point abandon their things and expect the parent will handle it or (b) the parent forces the child to bring their stuff home.

As for what it would mean for it to be "my trike", the idea that some things in the house belong to different people is pretty normal to them: they know I'd be grumpy if they used my toothbrush, they each have some toys that are theirs (along with a lot of others that are communal).

I think it's important for people to learn how interpersonal boundaries work. Anna could ask me to bring the trike back, and I might decide to say yes to be nice, but I'm not obligated to say yes. I would like to raise my kids to be nice and help people out, but also to know when they're asking for a favor and know what sort of requests they can say no to.

One thing that I have not yet figured out is how to teach delegation. Being very independent myself, I took very long to realize that I achieve more by delegating or working together on topics. Many friends esp. in manager roles love to delegate tasks while I enjoy figuring things out myself. I really have no solution. Maybe it is also a question of interests and talents - but then how do you know you kid has the talent to delegate and organize?

I think the parenting approach described here is very good and the post is well worthwile. There are a couple of things I’m itching to say, though. I have this itch because I’ve been sensitized by proud parents claiming the good outcomes of their kids to be a consequence of their parenting, while I’ve been doing all the same things without getting such great outcomes, so such posts are a bit painful to read. I apologise in advance.

First, as you probably have heared, parenting style (excluding outright abuse) appears to have little effect on adult outcomes of children, which are mainly determined by genetics and „non-shared“ environment. So if you are a good law-abiding LW reader and you don’t beat or starve your kids they’ll most probably turn out fine. Even better, I think almost all LW readers would do a nice job parenting. This does’t mean that it’s futile to exchange parenting tips, these are often very useful. Moreover, childhood is a large part of one’s life so we’re not only concerned with adult outcomes but also the happiness of the child while she’s a child.

Second, the author has apparently been blessed with two rather sensible kids. All kids, unfortunatelly, are not the same. Some of the advice in e.g. Gordon’s book or Jefftk’s post leaves me thinking that it’s very nice on paper but how would one carry it out in the wild? For example, I never have the chance of giving a lenthy explanation instead of saying „no“. Things happen very fast in my house. When I see my son hurling a heavy object towards his brother, or hacking at century-old furniture with a fork, etc, all I can do is shout „nooo!“ and jump. If I just say „please stop“ calmly, they don’t stop, that’s not their way. I do the explaining later, but they don’t seem to remember very long. And I had no way of preventing my older son from running ahead in the street when he was little. I considered it dangerous, but I just couldn’t catch him with the younger child dangling from my chest, and nothing I said could stop him from running. You get the picture.

Now some people would say proudly: „I always taught my kids to love and help each other, which is why they hardly ever fight!“ Well, I did the same and my sons love each other dearly. It just happens to them every now and then (a couple of times a day) that they get into bitter fights. The problem seems to be that they move much faster than they think, or something. The same with not listening when I ask them to stop: I have introduced Consequences. I’ve given them Me-Messages („when you do X that makes me feel like Y“). I’ve given them Responsibility and told them I Trust them. I’m naturally warm and empathetic, so they love pleasing me. I’ve done everything in the book, but the book isn’t working with all kids.

What I wanted to say is, the genetic background of your kids is likely a better predictor of their behavior than the specific parenting style. Or more precisely, parenting has a stronger effect in the early childhood, but looses it’s power more and more as the child grows. Claims along the lines that „I raised my kid to be independent and now she has a PhD“ make therefore little sense. She probably has a PhD because she’s your child.

Although the approach differs a fair bit, the intended effect sounds very similar to my understanding of Montessori parenting and education systems. This style emphasizes the child's independence, encouraging children to use real, "adult" tools, such as knives and glass cups as opposed to toy knives and sippy cups so they can learn these skills, and generally are expected to do the things that they are able for themselves. There is a focus on child-led learning, with you providing the things that the child needs to develop. For instance, a child going through a schema where they're refining fine motor control would benefit from being provided with a wide variety of toys and games to exercise this skill, and as their interests shift elsewhere you would shift the toys in their environment to reflect this change. I believe another goal is creating a yes space, where the child is safe to use or play with everything in a given room, even if left unsupervised, from a young age.

There are a few other tenants of Montessori parenting, such as not exposing young children to fictional books before a certain age as it's suggested they may have trouble distinguishing fiction from reality until and an emphasis on filling the child's environment with high quality natural materials like woods, metals, and so on as opposed to plastics, including in the case of toys.

I've not read into it very deeply yet so my description may be inaccurate in places, but I believe that it originated in Italy, as a style of education aimed to help children with mental disorders reach a better level of independence and self-sufficiency.

When the kids started being able to climb things, I would spot them. Often they wanted me to lift them or support them in their climbing, and I wouldn't. They would also want to be lifted down at the end, but the rule would be "if you can climb up, you can climb down."

And this, as well as a few other points you mention, remind me of this documentary about a school in New Zealand with a no rules policy. They allow the kids to climb, but maintain that if they get up on their own, they can get down on their own as well. They also don't seem to intervene unless a child explicitly asks for help, allowing issues to be resolved by the children, potentially with the help of the older children should they desire to intervene.

It's an interesting policy, and one I appreciate, effectively providing children with an adventure playground on school property. I remember seeing something to the effect of children who are given the opportunity to take risks and test their limits with a large degree of freedom will develop a better understanding of their limits as teenagers and into adulthood, allowing them to take more calculated risks than their peers, who would be just starting to build this life skill. I wish I knew the source for it, but it certainly rings true of my own personal experiences working with children.

Thanks for a big list of concrete examples from your life! I find stuff like this really useful/insightful.

The general approach of teaching vs helping goes is the same directions as "say yes, but" in this post I wrote some time ago, more examples (esp. for older kids) can be found there:

https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/DEsgKpLJ9LvTRuDh7/soft-paternalism-in-parenting

My father-in-law said: "I'm not here to make you happy but to prepare you for life."

Note that if your goal is only that it can lead to a lack of trust that comes from unconditional support. I think kids should receive quite a lot of unconditional support and love. As always the trick is to find the right balance.

I would argue that giving your kids unconditional love and support is one of those things for which a person should be prepared in life. Of course, I see discipline and independence training as complimentary to this objective.

I feel like a big trick to parenting so far has been trying to find the angle from which these look the same, or at least harmonious.

I feel like a big trick to parenting so far has been trying to find the angle from which these look the same, or at least harmonious.

This!

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Your children are young and thus have had a very limited time to gain knowledge of language and of the world and are thus incredibly inarticulate with respect to you.

I'm actually quite lucky here, in that I happened to have two kids who are very articulate. They're really very good at explaining why they want to do things.

Because they are so inarticulate it is easy to default to a patronizing response when they ask for help. When Lily adamantly desires a haircut, perhaps consider why rather than discarding it as the nonsensical whims of a child.

I'm confused why you're saying this? As I wrote in the post, when she wanted a haircut I didn't stop her, because it's her hair. Letting kids do what they want, as long as they're not going to get hurt, do something they'd really regret, or cause problems for others, works well here. They don't have to convince you why they should be allowed to do the thing if the default is "yes".

We wear shoes so our feet can't sense what is below us, we have homes where we decide the temperature so we're never too hot or too cold

https://www.jefftk.com/p/still-barefoot and https://www.jefftk.com/p/how-we-cool-our-house, but point taken ;)

Scraped knees are a good thing.

I think I disagree there. Letting kids do things where they might scrape their knees is important, but if we could magically have knees that were more resistant to abrasions that would be a good thing!

your daughter falling and hurting herself may be a positive in the long run

Again I disagree; I think she was much to young to get anything out of it. And even if it had happened today instead of years ago I still would think it wouldn't have been worth it.

Thanks for dunking on me! I can tell you have a far superior understanding of the world than I.

"I'm actually quite lucky here, in that I happened to have two kids who are very articulate. They're really very good at explaining why they want to do things."

I'm sure your children are brilliant but I am certain they are less articulate than you. I think when we use comparative words like articulate we are implicitly saying that someone is better with respect to their group. Your 4 year old is articulate with respect to other 4 year olds (and don't say it is because of luck as that undermines your whole ideology) but I think my statement stands unless you are genuinely arguing that your child speaks as well as you.

I concede: your daughter falling and hurting herself may be a positive in the long run.

I now realize I lack the knowledge of how the brain works, especially at such an early age, to make such an argument.

Upon rereading the hair example I see my judgement was flawed. I am really nitpicking now but I think being Socratic (in the sense of imploring her to defend her original statement) rather than just explaining the world as you see it would be a superior rhetorical strategy.

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That said, your daughter falling and hurting herself may be a positive in the long run.

I am also of the opinion that we should let our kids take some real risks (at least those without long-term health consequences). And risk here meaning that some of these risks do lead to getting hurt. getting bruises or even broken arms or teeth. This way the kids can calibrate how dangerous (or not dangerous) the world really is. This way, when they grow up, they will a) have more options to choose from and b) avoid options dangerous options they didn't know were dangerous.

My go-to-example is a toddler who jumped out of his high-stool head-first because he genuinely didn't know that was a bad idea. My boys knew that certain heights are bad ideas because from early on when they were crawling toward the edge of our bed we would let them 'fall' down, i.e. let them slide down head-first and just make sure they would land just gently enough (by holding their leg) that they would learn "this is uncomfortable and probably not a good idea this way".