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Instrumental lying by parents in the US and China
January 23, 2013 8:16 AM   Subscribe

The practice of lying to one's children to encourage behavioral compliance was investigated among parents in the US (N = 114) and China (N = 85). The vast majority of parents (84% in the US and 98% in China) reported having lied to their children for this purpose. Within each country, the practice most frequently took the form of falsely threatening to leave a child alone in public if he or she refused to follow the parent. Crosscultural differences were seen: A larger proportion of the parents in China reported that they employed instrumental lie-telling to promote behavioral compliance, and a larger proportion approved of this practice, as compared to the parents in the US. This difference was not seen on measures relating to the practice of lying to promote positive feelings, or on measures relating to statements about fantasy characters such as the tooth fairy. Findings are discussed with reference to sociocultural values and certain parenting-related challenges that extend across cultures. [HTML] -- [PDF]

BBC: Most parents tell lies to their children as a tactic to change their behaviour, suggests a study of families in the United States and China.
posted by Blasdelb (82 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Paging J. Walter Weatherman.
posted by arcticseal at 8:22 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love this line: "'That was beautiful piano playing.' (the playing was terrible)," but I'd like to see a citation for the terribleness of the piano playing (Steady, 2013).

I also see some of these as not exactly lies, but drastic over-simplifications. "We don't have enough money for that toy" may not be technically accurate, but "Buying that toy is not in our budget this month" is too complicated to an upset toddler. The piano playing one is another example. By it's technical merits, the playing may well have been awful, but perhaps it is just the fact that the child is finally practicing, or is taking an interest in music that is the beautiful thing.

That said, I don't think it harms the conclusion of the study. Most parents do lie to their kids. I'm skeptical that we can tease out the causality enough to determine if it has any sort of effect, though.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:25 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


"I'll turn this car right around": Instrumental lying as behavior modification technique in the postwar era.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:27 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think it's a healthy parenting technique. Believing in Santa Claus and then suddenly discovering that there is no Santa Claus is a perfect way to prepare for adulthood.

(My folks had an interesting spin on it -- there was a Santa, but he sent them an invoice after Christmas)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:31 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm not really comfortable having articles like this out in the open, where young Children can learn about the truth behind their piano playing, dogs sent to farms, etc. Who leaked this information? What are the Adult legal recourses to stop future leaks of this nature? Can we prosecute the leakers? There are Gerontological Security reasons for why we're not supposed to do these kinds of studies; Children will be emboldened by them, and may even attempt to overthrow the Adults. In terms of realpolitik, having this kind of information out on the internet seems pretty irresponsible.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:32 AM on January 23, 2013 [35 favorites]


My (mainland Chinese) parents used to actually purposely lose me in public places and then watch me to see what I would do... man, my parents were sorta mean. Then again, that training did possibly lead to me successfully navigating multiple bus transfers to get home within two weeks of coming to the US and barely speaking any English.
posted by kmz at 8:34 AM on January 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Ok, but what exactly do they mean by "falsely threatening" to leave the child alone in public. Because on the one hand I've never personally said "if you don't come right now we're just going to leave you here" but on the other hand I have said "ok, we're going now, you can come if you want" and then start walking away slowly. Once we get enough distance (maybe 15 feet at most) our son realizes we're serious about leaving and he scurries to catch up.

Is that what they're talking about? Because I never really thought of that as lying until this paper. Maybe it is, and maybe I'm an asshole parent...
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:37 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Believing in Santa Claus and then suddenly discovering that there is no Santa Claus is a perfect way to prepare for adulthood.

Discovering Santa has a reality show where he runs a pawn shop, employs Honey Boo-Boo, uses meth and tweets incessantly is the perfect way to prepare a child for adulthood.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:38 AM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Greg Nog: “I'm not really comfortable having articles like this out in the open, where young Children can learn about the truth behind their piano playing, dogs sent to farms, etc. Who leaked this information? What are the Adult legal recourses to stop future leaks of this nature? Can we prosecute the leakers? There are Gerontological Security reasons for why we're not supposed to do these kinds of studies; Children will be emboldened by them, and may even attempt to overthrow the Adults. In terms of realpolitik, having this kind of information out on the internet seems pretty irresponsible.”

It may seem so at first glance, but I think there are indications that these revelations were a calculated move by agents of the US government. Note, for instance, that the emphasis is on how Chinese parents lie much more to their children than American parents. Clearly someone is hoping that, when the children rise up, they go after the Chinese first. Devious, I tell you. I'd thought that the fear of mutually-assured destruction prevented such tactics, but in these frightening times apparently nothing is beyond the pale.
posted by koeselitz at 8:39 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


My (mainland Chinese) parents used to actually purposely lose me in public places and then watch me to see what I would do...

That's nothing!
posted by Brak at 8:41 AM on January 23, 2013


Yes but when the angry baby army marches on mainland China their opponents will be well-prepared to distract them with several hundred thousand tons of inexpensively mass-produced toys ready to deploy at a moment's notice.
posted by elizardbits at 8:42 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you kids don't quit yer bitching, I'm going to turn this thread around, haul your piano off to the farm, hoist it up with a winch and pully, and drop it on Santa's fat ass!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:44 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Obi Wan it - "Yes there is a Santa Claus, from a certain point of view."
posted by Artw at 8:48 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Note, for instance, that the emphasis is on how Chinese parents lie much more to their children than American parents.

Occam: more Americans lie during research.
posted by de at 8:56 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Only the most well-adjusted (and compliant, but I repeat myself) children can tolerate being lied to. The rest of us learn to distrust authority figures at an early age. Nothing like fostering an adversarial relationship between parent and child.
posted by moammargaret at 8:58 AM on January 23, 2013


My parents did that. They told me there was a god. On the other hand, they also warned me that if the wind changed my face would stay like that, and it did.
posted by Decani at 8:59 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Our kid is a bluff-caller of the first order. We have learned not to make threats we can't follow up on. If we say we are prepared to turn this car around, we better be ready to do so.

Or possibly we are just lousy liars and he can tell.

On the other hand, we don't have to come up with excessive threats of abandonment, just asking him if really wants X to happen (going to bed early, staying home in his room, not getting stories read to him) and he will usually go along.

Is it a lie to ask him if he really wants to get on the school bus without his pants, when I know I wouldn't actually let that happen? I don't know, but so far it does make him put on his damn pants.
posted by emjaybee at 9:01 AM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have turned the car around. We really did send our dog to a farm when we had to move.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:03 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I for one always wanted to get onto the bus without pants.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Let them eat pandas.
posted by fatehunter at 9:04 AM on January 23, 2013


My parents NEVER lied to me!
*french-braids palms*
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:05 AM on January 23, 2013


"I'll turn this car right around"

My dad actually did turn the car around. We were at the end of Day 1 of a three day car trip to Disneyland that we made every summer. Everyone (three boys plus my mom) is yelling and fighting and my dad makes the threat to turn around, to which everyone says "Fine", "Fine!", "I don't care" and pouts miserably. So he said "alright" and we drove a full day back home in silence and didn't go to Disneyland that year.
posted by molecicco at 9:06 AM on January 23, 2013 [38 favorites]


That must have been extremely satisfying for him, though.
posted by elizardbits at 9:14 AM on January 23, 2013 [32 favorites]


The pets going to the farm thing does not happen in the UK as far as I am aware. One of my first memories is asking for a cat for my third birthday. I still recall going to pick one out and we got a lovely black kitten who was great with kids and friendly and playful. When I was seven she got a tumour and had to be put down. A little sugarcoating might have been nice, though I am sure I would not have been happy about her being taken away to go to a farm either.
posted by biffa at 9:15 AM on January 23, 2013


That sounds like a Real Men of Genius ad waiting to happen, molecicco.
posted by Etrigan at 9:16 AM on January 23, 2013


Conditional parenting in order to coerce compliance is detrimental to the long term happiness of children.

"Do what I want or scenario X will happen" is a breach of the connection and trust between parent and child. You are disconnecting from them and in effect saying that "I love you but... only when you do what I want". Children understand that they are being coerced and manipulated even if they can't quite articulate the reasons why they feel that coercion.

Children fundamentally want that connection with their parents and will often comply just because they want to reconnect to the parent but over time these sorts of manipulations just undermine the parent-child relationship.

I think the question I always try to ask myself when I'm tempted to use lies and manipulation with my child in order to achieve short term compliance is whether I'd use the same techniques to a friend or peer and if they noticed that coercion would they react negatively. If your behaviors would be seen as negative among your peer group why is seen as acceptable to use them on your own child?

Threats especially threats that you have no intentions of actually using like abandoning a child in a public place are particularly loathsome.
posted by vuron at 9:30 AM on January 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


biffa, yeah, I had a similar experience too. "Frosty (the cat) won't be coming home again, forgetful snow. She died of cancer." "Mum, what's a cancer?" "It's what she got from sleeping under the car too much." To which my reaction was and remains, "???"
posted by forgetful snow at 9:41 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm curious, vuron, how do you get a 4 year old to do anything without the threat of a timeout? I would seriously love to know that.
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:42 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because I'm pretty sure I wouldnt threaten a peer with a timeout...
posted by Doleful Creature at 9:44 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I almost always lied to my kids about everything, particularly when they were smaller. Big, wacky, straight faced lies; trickier, more hidden lies as they got older. This was more of a game, however, because it was fun to motivate them to think things through for themselves and witness the cogs grinding away in their heads as they put ideas together. They were always willing to call me out if they thought something was amiss, and if they didn't, I'd go on and on until they did.

This was all in fun, for me and them, and I never gave it much thought at the time. It was just the playful way I deal with kids. Now that they're in high school and almost grown up, I think it turned out to help give them critical, inquisitive minds. It'd be fun if I could still do it. But I can't. They can smell bullshit too well, and not only from me.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:47 AM on January 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Small sample size.
posted by X | ANA | X at 9:57 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't used a time out since learning that I was being excessively coercive in using them.

Basically our solution has been to just slow down and explain our wants and needs and listen to our daughter explain her wants and needs and try to come to a compromise that meets all of our needs. Generally as long as she's not too tired she'll work with us as long as her wants and needs are acknowledge even if we can't immediately fill those needs.

The main thing that I've personally had to get past has been the fear of seeming like a bad parent that doesn't have control over their child in public (which often was driving my more coercive behavior). Once I realized I was parenting out of fear (being afraid of feeling judged) instead of taking the time and really seeking out a solution based upon mutual respect and cooperation rather than coercion and expedience it became a ton easier.

It's something I still struggle with (my daughter is 3 years old going on 13 or maybe 30) but it's definitely reduced the amount of time I've had to feel bad about forcing a child to do something or manipulating them.

It's a challenge though but there are definitely some good books out there that kinda deal with altering your approach towards parenting to be much less coercive and conditional in your parenting. Thus far I've been pretty pleased with the results.
posted by vuron at 9:59 AM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Conditional parenting in order to coerce compliance is detrimental to the long term happiness of children.

"Do what I want or scenario X will happen" is a breach of the connection and trust between parent and child.


You know what? Life isn't about making you happy, and the world doesn't revolve around the child's immediate wants/needs. "Do X or Y will happen" is a fundamental aspect of life, and it is something that children don't grasp, initially, so it has to be trained and conditioned. The poorest-functioning adults are the ones who never made this connection between cause and effect, action and consequence.

I almost always lied to my kids about everything, particularly when they were smaller. Big, wacky, straight faced lies; trickier, more hidden lies as they got older. This was more of a game, however, because it was fun to motivate them to think things through for themselves and witness the cogs grinding away in their heads as they put ideas together. They were always willing to call me out if they thought something was amiss, and if they didn't, I'd go on and on until they did.

I know parents who do this, and it's just... weird. I mean, I don't interact with people that way. Then again, I'm strange and have no interest in telling my children about Santa Claus.
posted by deanc at 10:24 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why would I need to alter my approach to parenting,veron, given the vast majority of humans in history have been raised, presumably, in a coercive way, and now look at all the nice things we do!

*twitch*

Seriously though, I need more evidence it generates better adults before I accept 90% of parents have been doing things wrong forever.
posted by Jimbob at 10:26 AM on January 23, 2013


Conditional parenting in order to coerce compliance is detrimental to the long term happiness of children.
vuron

Oh, bullshit. Do you have any studies or evidence to back this up? You don't even specify how it is "detrimental to the long term happiness of children."

If your behaviors would be seen as negative among your peer group why is seen as acceptable to use them on your own child?

Because my peers are not children. Children are not just tiny adults. They are still developing and growing and cannot be reasoned with and understand situations in the same way adults do. A child doesn't understand social norms, doesn't understand things like monthly budgets and how they constrain spending, or other constraints on them satisfying their desires.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:31 AM on January 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


Crush the children. See them driven before you.
posted by Nomyte at 10:32 AM on January 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


I haven't read the article yet, but from the headline I wonder if the effect is just that Americans might feel more cultural pressure that lying to kids is a bad thing. (Maybe we lie just as much in either country.)

PS. I like what vuron said. (On preview: Even if it makes me a bad dad... Does anyone have some evidence that this kind of parenting is harmful to development into adulthood. I could imagine that being the case... or not. I have no idea. Does anyone?)
posted by spbmp at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2013


See, I think it's a good lesson to teach children that their actions will have social consequences. If you cannot be quiet and stay in your seat, you will be removed from the restaurant. If you do not do your homework, you cannot watch TV. Etc., etc.

Love doesn't enter into the equation one way or the other.
posted by Andrhia at 10:36 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Following up on my own questioning of the results, I really don't feel like they addressed the question of how different levels of cultural acceptance of lying may change the rate of parental reporting rather than lying itself. All I could find was this:
One limitation of the present research is that parents may not have always been completely accurate in their reports about lying. Presumably, any social desirability effects would translate into an underestimation of lying rates, but it is unclear whether these effects could be expected to differ between the two countries.
posted by spbmp at 10:41 AM on January 23, 2013


The main thing that I've personally had to get past has been the fear of seeming like a bad parent that doesn't have control over their child in public (which often was driving my more coercive behavior). Once I realized I was parenting out of fear (being afraid of feeling judged) instead of taking the time and really seeking out a solution based upon mutual respect and cooperation rather than coercion and expedience it became a ton easier.

On you personally, perhaps. On the rest of the supermarket listening to the kid throwing a tantrum, perhaps not. I suspect we have fundamentally different perspectives on the job of parents. I tend to think that most people are naturally selfish, and it's the job of a parent to tech them that sometimes their obligations to others supercede their own desires or their right to free expression. In other words it's okay to make kid feel bad when he acts like an asshole, all kids act like an asshole sometimes.

The other view --- that children are naturally wholly delightful creatures and it's only the world which corrupts them --- of course has a long and distinguished history as well.
posted by Diablevert at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


We make stuff up all the time. How old pictures are black and white because that was before color was invented...that sort of thing, when he asks a question that I think he can look up, so he can "prove" me wrong. Nothing better than tricking kids into teaching themselves something. Also, keeps me on my toes, having to come up with random answers.
posted by dejah420 at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


On you personally, perhaps. On the rest of the supermarket listening to the kid throwing a tantrum, perhaps not.
vuron didn't say that his/her child winds up acting worse in the supermarket when they're tired than other kids who have more consequence-based upbringings.

Speaking for myself, when I'm being my stubbornest, (careful not to reward bad behavior) is sometimes when I may cause the most suffering for passersby. (Yes I do leave the store when it gets to be too much. I do see that my comment here is more about giving in to tantrums than vuron's conditional parenting issue.)
posted by spbmp at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2013


They are still developing and growing and cannot be reasoned with and understand situations in the same way adults do. A child doesn't understand social norms, doesn't understand things like monthly budgets and how they constrain spending, or other constraints on them satisfying their desires.

My kids understand these things perfectly well. That's because we believe they can understand, so we take the time to explain. I'm convinced that if you treat children like their animals, they will act like animals. And yet that's exactly what so much behaviorist parenting recommends. Is it even accurate to call it parenting? Let's call it what it is: operant conditioning.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is it even accurate to call it parenting? Let's call it what it is: operant conditioning.

As Jimbo mentions, if this isn't really "parenting", then hardly anyone has ever engaged in "parenting" throughout the entirety of human history.
posted by deanc at 11:44 AM on January 23, 2013


I don't know about lying, but my sister told me the first thing she did as a parent that she always swore she'd never do if and when she had kids was resort to "Because I said so."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:52 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


My parents never lied to me, period. Santa and Easter Bunny notwithstanding.

They did whip my ass with a belt if I did not comply.

I now value honestly highly, have a violent temper and rage impotently against ethical lapses in others.
posted by Xoebe at 12:02 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


My kids understand these things perfectly well.

Your kids understand all social norms and can comprehend that you can't buy them the toys they want because it will cut into money budgeted for the food and electricity bills?

Your children are geniuses, apparently. Why do they even need parents? How old are your children? I'm talking more about very young kids. A 12 year old is going to be able to have a grasp on these things while a 3 year old might not quite yet know the nuances of behavior expected by society.

Whatever you want to believe about kids, it's simply not true that they are just like adults in terms of reasoning ability.

Is it even accurate to call it parenting? Let's call it what it is: operant conditioning.

I'm imagining you standing next to a crying 6 month old patiently explaining that a restaurant is not an appropriate place for loud crying and such behavior is not a proper way to express their emotions.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:16 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


"Mummy, what's a straw man?"

Anyway, parenting is hard and save cruelty I don't think I can judge how anyone else brings up their kids.
I taught my daughter how to lie with the idea that I'd rather her have the option to do it properly and choose not to.

Possibly the dumbest thing I've ever done.
posted by fullerine at 12:40 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The rest of us learn to distrust authority figures at an early age.

You mean this as a positive thing, right...?
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2013


I'm curious, vuron, how do you get a 4 year old to do anything without the threat of a timeout? I would seriously love to know that.

Timeouts haven't really worked with our kids - it just makes them more upset. Our eldest was and is pretty reasonable, actually (few tantrums, not much acting out), but our youngest is a different story. He goes absolutely berserk at least once a day, usually later in the day when he's tired and hungry, so what works really well is just holding him tight until the rage subsides (I am sure to remove my glasses first).

Public tantrums usually involve me picking him up and taking him to a different place, and then trying to cheer him up.

With our eldest, consequences don't really work - he just gets mad - so lately I've been trying to model behaviour, such as doing a lot of tidying and organizing (if we are working on getting organized) and asking for help, and providing some sort of baseline he can use to achieve success, if that makes sense (for example, it makes no sense to tell an unorganized kid to go in and clean up a messy room; help him clean it up first, and then try to reinforce daily habits).

Seeking confirmation also works with any kid any age - "You remember we had talked about you putting your books away, right?"

But the time out / consequences thing just doesn't work for us.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever you want to believe about kids, it's simply not true that they are just like adults in terms of reasoning ability.

>Is it even accurate to call it parenting? Let's call it what it is: operant conditioning.

I'm imagining you standing next to a crying 6 month old patiently explaining that a restaurant is not an appropriate place for loud crying and such behavior is not a proper way to express their emotions.


A lot of parents do this. I admire their patience. I think they are doing the right thing. As mentioned, my first response is to pull rank and just pick my child up. It saves a little time, and we're friends again once everyone has calmed down.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:38 PM on January 23, 2013


I should also say that my wife has the ability to make both our boys blubber and cry just by looking at them. I have to find other ways to get them to respect ma' authoritay
posted by KokuRyu at 1:44 PM on January 23, 2013


Is it even accurate to call it parenting? Let's call it what it is: operant conditioning.

Well, yeah. Another name for operant conditioning is instrumental conditioning, hence the title of the article.

A lot of parents do this. I admire their patience. I think they are doing the right thing.

Yeah? In the middle of a restaurant? I don't admire their patience. I think they are being assholes to the rest of the patrons. I, like you, pick up my kid and remove her (or did, when she was in that phase... happily she's 4.5 now and over it). Not angrily, just matter-of-factly. "we can't be here if you're acting like that". And do the explaining somewhere where we are not being dicks to other people. The world doesn't exist to back up my parenting methods.
posted by gaspode at 1:57 PM on January 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Further, I think that yes, behavioral conditioning is necessary, to a degree, for kids of a certain age. I am amazed that anyone could try to work out a compromise, or whatever, with a kid under the age of 3 or so (if you can, more power to you) particularly in a social situation. Kids don't have developed theory of mind at that stage, little empathy, all that stuff that goes into social perception, so trying to work a compromise, which inherently involves some thought about other people... wow.

But by the same token, I don't really think punishments work that well either. Or never has done for us. There's a middle road between those two though - neutral enforcement of consequences like abovementioned removal. No need to be angry - kid is just working through their development, but no need to treat them like a little fully-cognitively functional adult, either.
posted by gaspode at 2:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Because I said so.

I really don't resort to that. I have occasionally gone with, "Because I have a really good reason, but I don't have the time and/or patience to explain it right now so just trust me, OK? If you want me to explain later, I will." That usually works, especially now that she's a bit older.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:22 PM on January 23, 2013


"Small sample size."

In general researchers try to use the smallest sample sizes possible that still have the necessary power to answer the questions asked in a meaningful way so as to not waste money or time. That meaningfulness is generally abstracted as a significance level for the statistical test appropriate to the question. In this case the authors used Cronbach's alpha, as well as some linear regression, and for each test statistic they used they found very high levels of significance, especially for social science.

This indicates that, if anything, the sample sizes they used were excessive for the questions they were asking of it even if they look relatively small.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:30 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


X | ANA | X: "Small sample size."

As it happens, I have R open in another window. Conservatively using the smaller of the two group as the sample size (n=85), the estimated power of the study to detect a group difference, based on the two empirical proportions (84% and 98%) quoted in the post yields a power estimate of 89.7% for a test of equality of proportions. Even making allowances for overdispersion (e.g., assuming responses follow a beta-binomial rather than a straight binomial) I kind of doubt the study is short on power to detect a simple group difference. And sure, when you look at the study itself, you realise that there are covariates to be accounted for in a complete analysis, but on the other hand the dependent measures that the study relies on for most of the analyses are a lot richer than a simple "yes or no" question, which is usually a good thing from a power point of view.

So I'm curious... Am I missing something? Did you have any statistical basis for that assertion? Because the study doesn't appear underpowered on its face, at least not that I can see.
posted by mixing at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


We had two pets that were actually sent to farms when I was little. One was the cat we had when I was born -- we were moving, and for whatever reason couldn't take her with us, so she went to live on a farm owned by some family friends. We also had a dog that went somewhat bonkers, and ended up being too wild for my parents to deal with (again, I was pretty young, so I don't remember many of the details) so he went to live with a family that owned a farm with lots of room for him to run around. We visited them a few times, and got to see how happy he was there, which was nice.
posted by sarcasticah at 3:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of the points people made about our decision to not do Santa was "but it's so easy to make them behave!" - as if I wanted some external, made up, faintly creepy dude to be the arbiter of good behaviour.

We definitely fall on the 'talk and compromise' line. Time outs do not work (this is a child who will puke within three to five minutes of sustained crying). Working with her on managing her emotional response, as volatile as it is, has been working. She has never really had a tantrum, the way people talk about them, but she has had a meltdown over something as small as "he took my cup". It's generally a cue that she's tired, overwrought or hungry. So we treat the problem, not the symptom.

I'm also haunted by my mother-in-law's story of their dad actually putting the tantrumming child out of the car and driving off, for said child to then run into the bush to teach her parents a lesson. It certainly worked, but that sort of will and nous is what we're expecting our daughter to have and we'd rather be on her team than be the opposition. For our sake and hers.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:32 PM on January 23, 2013


Because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't threaten a peer with a timeout...

Oh, man, do I really want to try this. Just point to the corner and quietly say, "Timeout. Now"

I can't wait till my granddaughters figure out their weasel dad is lying about paying his child support. Their mom's taking the high road right now. You reap what you sow.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:48 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't threaten a peer with a timeout...

On the other hand, I am pretty sure that I would threaten to throw a peer out of my car and tell him to walk home if he threw an abusive temper tantrum.
posted by deanc at 4:40 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


For whatever reason, I find this, "Parental instrumental lie scores were not related to parental education in the US, but in China, parents with a higher level of education tended to have higher parental instrumental lie scores: Among Chinese college graduates the average score was 3.88, as compared to 3.15 for those with no college degree, t(84) = 3.32, p < .001." interesting.

I wonder if that's just because of some quirk in the sampling, or if it's some function of Chinese society. If there was a relationship between education and lying in the US, I'd have expected it to go the other way than the Chinese one, but that's probably just because we don't lie to the our kids, and we're pretty well educated.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:05 PM on January 23, 2013


deanc, what you're calling "parenting throughout the entirety of human history" is hugely influenced by the behaviorist ideas of John B. Watson, a behaviorist psychologist who wrote a book in the 1920s, Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, advising among other things the idea that children should never be hugged or kissed by their parents.

Child-rearing practices like putting infants on schedules, encouraging independence as quickly as possible and using operant conditioning as a form of discipline only seems universal by ignoring the historical and cultural roots of those ideas.

Sangermaine:

Whatever you want to believe about kids, it's simply not true that they are just like adults in terms of reasoning ability.

They aren't exactly like adults and they aren't exactly unlike adults. But you say flat out that children don't understand social norms. My three year old is potty training, and now she's afraid of being an adult because she's had some accidents and thinks she'll never be potty trained. So clearly she's aware that adults don't wear diapers and don't have accidents.

But when my kids beg for toys at stores, I don't explain the budget to them. I started keeping a list on my phone of toys they want, so I just add it to the list. Sometimes I take a picture of it so they can look at it later. Around their birthday, we look at the list and get it for them if they still want it. There's no whining now.

They used to beg for ice cream nearly every time we were out, but we didn't try to explain cavities and nutrition to them. We just designated every 4th weekend as dessert weekend where we go out and they can pick whatever dessert they want. Soon after we started that, my wife offered them ice cream as a treat on a day when it wasn't dessert weekend, and my daughter totally refused. She only wanted ice cream on dessert weekend. I think she was 4 or 5 at the time.

Those methods were variations on the caveman technique that we used to deal with tantrums. This technique works by reflecting back to the toddler their frustrated feelings in the same kind of tone and language. It's extremely effective, except when the kids are truly exhausted. By the standards of behaviorism, it shouldn't work at all. It should actually make things worse, since you're technically reinforcing the behavior. Or in the weak cliches of behaviorist parents, "You're sending the message that it's OK to throw a tantrum!"

And yet it works. I think it's something to do with getting feelings or wants out of you: into language, writing it down, putting it on a calendar. If your caught in the behaviorist paradigm, these approaches are totally foreign and would never get used.

Truly, I don't understand how parents like that sleep at night. You know what your doing would be totally unethical if you were doing it to a peer. And yet you rationalize it by saying "Only people like me deserve real ethical treatment." It reminds me of the Emerson quote: "Children are all foreigners."
posted by AlsoMike at 5:18 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


BlueHorse: “I can't wait till my granddaughters figure out their weasel dad is lying about paying his child support.”

That's understandable but incredibly selfish. It'll be real fun for you to see him discredited, but it'll probably hurt them a lot.
posted by koeselitz at 5:26 PM on January 23, 2013


2N2222: “I almost always lied to my kids about everything, particularly when they were smaller. Big, wacky, straight faced lies; trickier, more hidden lies as they got older. This was more of a game, however, because it was fun to motivate them to think things through for themselves and witness the cogs grinding away in their heads as they put ideas together. They were always willing to call me out if they thought something was amiss, and if they didn't, I'd go on and on until they did.”

I meet parents who say they do this, and a lot of them seem like perfectly nice people, but this is utterly foreign to me. My dad is an ecologist and a scientist; I think it would have actually been painful for him to lie to me about anything, particularly things in the natural world. If I asked him a question about the way the world worked, he'd try to explain it as best as he could – he loved doing that, talking with me about the world and how it interacts with itself. If it was beyond him, he'd get even more excited and suggest that we head to the family encyclopedia, and we'd start looking up various things until we could find an answer. He even tried to put an end to the whole Santa deal, but my mom reinstated Santa-ism right away after I went to school and told everybody sadly that "Santa didn't come to our house this year." (Ha.)

When I first found out that I had friends whose parents did this stuff, I was taken aback and a little miffed. It seemed like my friends had missed out on discovering awesome things with their parents because their parents were too engaged in playing practical jokes. Now I've learned to be more accepting, and I see that the social interplay involved in these kinds of lies can have a value in itself; the experience of figuring out if somebody is fooling with you can give you a real education in human behavior. So now I guess I don't believe that this form of parenting is wrong, necessarily. It's just something I don't ever really want to do with my kids when they come along.

With my kids, if they evince any curiosity about the world, they're getting the truth as best as I can deliver it to them in that time and place. It's probably even a little selfish of me, but discovering things anew with a little person who's full of wonder and who is interested in the way things work is too awesome for me to want to give up.
posted by koeselitz at 5:41 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


deanc, what you're calling "parenting throughout the entirety of human history" is hugely influenced by the behaviorist ideas of John B. Watson, a behaviorist psychologist who wrote a book in the 1920s, Psychological Care of the Infant and Child, advising among other things the idea that children should never be hugged or kissed by their parents.

Child-rearing practices like putting infants on schedules, encouraging independence as quickly as possible and using operant conditioning as a form of discipline only seems universal by ignoring the historical and cultural roots of those ideas.
This is obviously a "thing" of yours that you're clearly really concerned about, but this kind of thing is not something I was referring to at all when I was talking about "parenting throughout human history."

Truly, I don't understand how parents like that sleep at night. You know what your doing would be totally unethical if you were doing it to a peer. And yet you rationalize it by saying "Only people like me deserve real ethical treatment."

The "children are just like you and me who deserve to have their tantrums talked through and explained via reasoned discourse for 2 hours" crowd is trying to have it both ways. On the one hand, they're treated like adults who can understand and make connections and come to positive-sum compromises of everyones wants and needs, like any adult in a negotiation. On the other hand, their behavior is to be considered normal and acceptable and validated in ways that we wouldn't countenance from an adult.

Now I've learned to be more accepting, and I see that the social interplay involved in these kinds of lies can have a value in itself; the experience of figuring out if somebody is fooling with you can give you a real education in human behavior.

Possibly. IMHO, parents who do this enjoy turning questions and other social interactions into a social dominance play. The fun is in lording it over the other person when you can say, "Ah-HA! You BELIEVED something I TOLD you!" or maybe figure that there's fun in seeing your child eventually try to outwit you. I'm "accepting" of it in that I wouldn't be as horrified seeing it as I would be if I saw something beating their child, but it is an indication that "this person is not one of My People."
posted by deanc at 7:20 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


deanc: "Possibly. IMHO, parents who do this enjoy turning questions and other social interactions into a social dominance play. The fun is in lording it over the other person when you can say, 'Ah-HA! You BELIEVED something I TOLD you!' or maybe figure that there's fun in seeing your child eventually try to outwit you. I'm 'accepting' of it in that I wouldn't be as horrified seeing it as I would be if I saw something beating their child, but it is an indication that 'this person is not one of My People.'"

Mm, I'm not so sure. Understandably I am on the outside of this, so I might not be getting the sense of it right. However, there are societies where pranking and practical jokes are used as a kind of social cohesion. In that context, these kinds of lies can act as a sort of initiation ritual. When someone takes the trouble to fool you and you go through the process of figuring it out, it becomes a shared experience; and the fact that they chose to go out of their way to make something up and fool you can even be a sign of the effort and imagination they're willing to invest in you. They thought you were worth joking around with.

Like I say, though, this isn't really me, and it isn't how it went down in my family. I suspect that that's largely because both of my parents had difficult relationships with their parents and were exposed to varying degrees of abuse. I think a feeling of safety is sort of necessary for these kinds of things to work right. But I can imagine people other than me getting a lot out of them.

I guess I should also say that I've always been very sensitive to any amount of teasing, to the point where women I've been in loving relationships with will make a very minor joke and unwittingly leave me crestfallen. I imagine this kind fooling around builds up one's defenses, and allows a person to understand that playful joking is not necessarily unloving. And that's probably a worthy lesson, too.
posted by koeselitz at 7:40 PM on January 23, 2013


AlsoMike: "Those methods were variations on the caveman technique that we used to deal with tantrums. This technique works by reflecting back to the toddler their frustrated feelings in the same kind of tone and language. It's extremely effective, except when the kids are truly exhausted. By the standards of behaviorism, it shouldn't work at all. It should actually make things worse, since you're technically reinforcing the behavior. Or in the weak cliches of behaviorist parents, "You're sending the message that it's OK to throw a tantrum!""

I'm not sure that's a fair characterisation of reinforcement learning. I would have thought that if you adopt the "caveman method", you're creating an association between a toddler-generated aversive stimulus and an equally aversive response from the parent. I'm pretty sure that Skinner would have characterised this as positive punishment, in the sense that a bad behaviour is followed by an aversive consequence (in contrast to negative punishment, like a timeout, which is the removal of a desirable consequence). Maybe I'm missing something here, since all I've read is the NYT article linked to earlier, but the caveman technique just looks like old-fashioned operant conditioning to me.
posted by mixing at 8:00 PM on January 23, 2013


The "children are just like you and me who deserve to have their tantrums talked through and explained via reasoned discourse for 2 hours" crowd is trying to have it both ways.

I agree, and that's just stupid because it doesn't work at all. But this type of parenting is just the flip side to coercion. If you have a fundamentally narcissistic ethics, where you are only ethical insofar as the other person is like you, then faced with a child, you have two choices: a) either be ethical and assert that they are exactly the same as you, and you end up with parents who use reason with toddlers; or b) admit that they are different from you, which allows for coercion. Neither are good options, but the latter seems worse, because although a) may ruin the dining experience of other restaurant patrons, b) opens the door to significantly more horrifying possibilites.

Because children are not properly socialized yet, it is quite easy to dehumanize them and deprive them of ethical status. They are effectively monsters - people who have strong aversions to children in restaurants and airplanes are quite accurate to see them this way. The challenge is how to love our monsters. How do we act ethically towards them as monsters, i.e. without denying their monstrous aspect.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


you're creating an association between a toddler-generated aversive stimulus and an equally aversive response from the parent

I don't think so—the point isn't to generate a fear or shock response in the child. They often smile and start laughing, for example. The article says that it's essentially active listening in toddler-speak.
posted by AlsoMike at 8:38 PM on January 23, 2013


I don't explain the budget to them.

But you said, above, in reference to budgets:

"My kids understand these things perfectly well."

Which is it? You've either explained in detail the way budgets work and affect the household, causing your children to understand the reasoning which they understand, or you've simply done the classic consultant/facilitator method of dealing with toys by acknowledging the distraction and promising to get to it later.

There's nothing exactly wrong with your above anecdotes of child raising, but you're giving them a moral gloss which they don't actually have and in some cases aren't that different than the very things you're railing against.
posted by deanc at 8:44 PM on January 23, 2013


Hm. I see your point. Seems like the NYT article is slightly unclear. I was working from phrasing like this:
This means using short phrases with lots of repetition, and reflecting the child’s emotions in your tone and facial expressions.
If I "reflect" my toddler's emotions in my responses, it's pretty bloody aversive to him, because he is screaming angrily, and he doesn't like it when I display anger at him. That's a very different parental response to the one implied by the "active listening" characterisation of the parental response:
Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands.

“You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

It’s hard to imagine an adult talking like this in a public place. But Dr. Karp notes that this same form of “active listening” is a method adults use all the time. The goal is not simply to repeat words but to make it clear that you hear someone’s complaint. “If you were upset and fuming mad, I might say, ‘I know. I know. I know. I get it. I’m really really sorry. I’m sorry.’ That sounds like gibberish out of context,” he says.
That's not the same thing at all, to my mind. A "soothing" response to a tantrum, expressed using phrases that the toddler can clearly understand, is rather different to one in which the parent adopts the same type of emotional tone as the child. But yes, I'd agree that standard reinforcement learning doesn't capture this very well (I think it's a special case of Skinner's framework failing to capture verbal behaviour and verbal learning).

Mind you, I'm now pretty unsure of what the point of this "caveman" thing actually is. If you use complex phrasing that your kid doesn't understand when they're pissed at you, surely they're going to get pissed even more? So it makes sense to simplify your words so that they actually understand what you're saying. That's kind of obvious, isn't it? Or at least, that's what I've been doing for the last couple of years with my kid.
posted by mixing at 8:55 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


But by the same token, I don't really think punishments work that well either. Or never has done for us. There's a middle road between those two though - neutral enforcement of consequences like abovementioned removal. No need to be angry - kid is just working through their development, but no need to treat them like a little fully-cognitively functional adult, either.

This is how I approach things with my almost-2yr old - natural consequences. I do what I can to anticipate and meet his needs and give him the tools to ask for what he wants... but he's a toddler. There are going to be breakdowns. When they happen at home, he goes to his crib if he's freaking out to the point of accidentally smashing into stuff. When they happen out and about, we go home. The point being we're trying to teach him how to calm himself down and deal with things like "I'm sorry you can't stay at the playground for the rest of your life" or "You can't throw toys at mommy."

I never raise my voice or react in anger, it's always "Well, this is the consequence of that thing that happened." I will confess that I do mutter "This is what happens, Larry." from time to time. This is what happens Larry when it gets dark and you have to go home. This is what happens, Larry. This is what happens when you have to leave the playground.
posted by sonika at 9:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tried the caveman technique with my son. Once. It was an unmitigated disaster.

Maybe it works for some kids. I've been working with toddlers for years and it goes against my instincts which are to model expected behavior. I model dancing, table manners, playing with trucks, and every other activity all day long. When I want my son to calm down, I feel it's more effective for me to display what calm looks like.

Right now we're working on "You need to find a gentle way to be angry." Acknowledging the emotion as valid and allowing him to express it in ways that aren't harmful has been better for us than Dr. Karp's toddlerese, which just pissed him off even more.

Yes. I was doing it right, I saw videos. Also, worked with toddlers for eons. I know when *I* am making it worse, even if I can't always identify the root cause of a tantrum.
posted by sonika at 9:29 PM on January 23, 2013


deanc, they do understand budgets and especially social norms, and it is effective to explain those things to them when their primary need is to understand why. It's not always effective. If my daughter cries when I go to work, it doesn't help to tell her that if we won't have any food to eat if I don't go, even though she cognitively gets it.

It's a little tone-deaf. Like "I miss y—" "Suck it up, kid, this family has to eat you know!" A lot of times parents justify to their kids why their immediate desire can't be met, as you would an adult. But if the kids don't have a well-developed ability to defer gratification, it falls on deaf ears. The reasons why are like the key that starts the deferred gratification engine — parents have an expectation that their job is to get in the car, turn the key, and the engine just starts, because that's how it works with adults, more or less. Well, these cars don't actually come with an engine. You have to built that part.

Does operant conditioning help to build it? No. It only works by forcing the child into a position where somehow they have to figure it out. You're dropping the kid in the skinner box and telling them to call you when they figure it out—that sucks. (I don't think modeling works either because emotion is very much a physical sensation, so it's not just a matter of imitating external behavior. Telling the kid where you want them to be doesn't help them get there.)

My examples were about how we helped our kids deal with the tornado of emotions that is a small child's demand. They're different ways of deferring gratification, not by suppressing their demands, but by articulating them. We can give up the demand for gratification by putting the demand into language, rather than just feeling it. It's as if we can give up the demand because the word (the note, the calendar) demands it for us.

Lots of parents do stuff like that without necessarily thinking about it, even if they also use time-outs and rewards. But they can't necessarily explain what they're doing because there's no general theory or set of principles like there is with behaviorism, and that means we have a hard time applying it to new situations, or giving advice to parents who really don't know what to do.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:23 PM on January 23, 2013


Xoebe: "My parents never lied to me, period. Santa and Easter Bunny notwithstanding.

They did whip my ass with a belt if I did not comply.

I now value honestly highly, have a violent temper and rage impotently against ethical lapses in others.
"


Similar upbringing here. If we misbehaved we were told we were going to be smacked (face) or spanked/whipped (butt/back/legs) and it happened even if we had to wait until we got home.

See, all you need to do to get your children to behave is have them fear you.
posted by deborah at 11:52 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a long con, but if you go to Target and buy a couple of picture frames with different pictures showing the same young child model and place them on the mantle when your first child is young, you can get excellent behavior.
When they are old enough to ask who is that in the photo, just tell them it is their older brother Kevin, who is gone now because he didn't behave, with a small shake of the head.
posted by bystander at 2:00 AM on January 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


And you'll see from that comment we play the lie/jokes in my family, and my Dad did the same with me.
For example, he pronounced the work kiosk as 'koisk' (koy-sk) consistently throughout my childhood.
My sister and I soon wised up, but it still got a giggle from us.
If you are humorless, you could imagine it would be humiliating the first time I pronounced kiosk incorrectly and was set right, but I don't remember that happening, although surely it must, but I do think of my Dad fondly when I see a kiosk.
He also tried out the breed of cow with longer legs on one side for mountainside living and got my sister with little folk performing in the TV.
My kids know there is no real older brother Kevin, and conflate it with the Simpsons halloween episode where Bart has an evil twin in the attic, and sometimes ask me to tell other kids about what happens if you don't behave.
It isn't at all about pranking, as much as building shared jokes that evolve and mature over the years you, hopefully, get to spend together.
posted by bystander at 2:09 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]



Possibly. IMHO, parents who do this enjoy turning questions and other social interactions into a social dominance play. The fun is in lording it over the other person when you can say, "Ah-HA! You BELIEVED something I TOLD you!" or maybe figure that there's fun in seeing your child eventually try to outwit you.


I have to say, reading some of these threads on the blue I've come across this attitude a lot, and it's like hearing about things on the planet Zargon, where no concept of humor exists. You know, humor, where delight is evoked in subject A from the incongruity between the revealed truth and the expectation created by subject B.

Put it this way: Not all false things are harmful lies. It's the difference between puppies playing tug of war and actually fighting --- yeah, objectively described, the behaviors are the same, the difference is that in the former case I have invited you to play with me, because I find joy in your company. The funny part isn't that they believed you, the funny part is that they believed something that they now see is absurd; you share in that moment of delight.

My dad wasn't much of a one for tall tales in particular, but surely teasing and in-jokes and deadpan humor were a part of they way I grew up and something I cherish about my relationship with my extended family to this day.
posted by Diablevert at 3:41 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know, humor, where delight is evoked in subject A from the incongruity between the revealed truth and the expectation created by subject B.

You realize that there are different forms of humor, right? I mean, that's why some people like Woody Allen but don't like the Three Stooges, and vice versa.

But, yes-- planet Zargon: why would asking a question about something provoke a response of some crazy story punctuated with distorted faces and exaggerated hand gestures? I am more apt to believe that raising children can get tedious sometimes, and there's a big temptation to find out things to do with them that are good for your own personal entertainment.
posted by deanc at 4:33 AM on January 24, 2013


Does operant conditioning help to build it? No. It only works by forcing the child into a position where somehow they have to figure it out.

Except that they figure these things out.

There's this one AskMe about cursing where the parent explains how he "spent hours talking with my kids about this", as if that were a productive use of his time with his family. What it actually did was waste a lot of time talking for hours about cursing when that time could have been used to have other discussions with his children. My parents simply didn't curse in the house and scolded/punished us when we did, and family conversations revolved around more interesting and educational lines of discussion, and we modeled norms of behavior that only later were we able to understand and articulate the reasons behind. Meanwhile, my parents avoided much wasted time pontificating about something that we didn't have the abstract reasoning abilities to grok. First you learn wax on/wax off, then you learn tactical sparring.

As I said, you seem to be really, really hung up about the evils of "behaviorism" and "operant conditioning", so you're really, really sensitive about pointing out that whatever you're doing isn't that. Traditionally, norms of child rearing were learned from the previous generation, which themselves were not connected to early-20th century American psychologists. Trying to claim that everyone who raised their kids different than you was really working off that source text is a bit of a stretch.
posted by deanc at 4:46 AM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Operant conditioning" got a bad reputation that it doesn't deserve, in my opinion. Skinner didn't invent it; he found the way our brains react to incentives already. And the reason our brains are that way is because it's a damn good way of modifying behavior to adapt to your environment. A key survival trait, even. And indeed, we use the principles Skinner discovered to modify our own behavior on purpose, right? See the gamification of weight loss.

Around AskMe, we talk a lot about Health Month and Zombies Run. These are types of operant conditioning. And they work. As parents, a lot of us use chore charts and sticker rewards. That's operant conditioning, too, and it also works. This is how our brains function, so if we are trying to mold the behavior of a child so that he or she can grow up to lead a happy life as a good person, it would be foolish not to use it.

That's not to say you shouldn't be explaining why you're setting those conditions in place. These things aren't mutually exclusive, you know?

Even from a pre-verbal age, my kids were hearing, "This is a place you have to be quiet. If you are shouting like that, you will bother the other people here. So if you cannot be quiet now, we will have to go outside while the rest of the family finishes their dinner." The reasonable explanation.

If the child is of an age where they can both follow the reason and regulate their own behavior, great! But if not, they will learn that if they cannot regulate socially unacceptable behaviors, then bad things will happen. Since this is a true fact of life, this is very much a lesson I want my kids to learn.
posted by Andrhia at 6:52 AM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


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