Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Most Important Book
Basic Methods In This Book
The Three Exponential Changes
Basics: Determinants Of Behavior
Basics: Ethics
Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention
Rational-Ethical Child Rearing
Rational-Ethical Belief Management
Rational-Ethical Government
Rational-Ethical Religion
What The Reader Should Do
Book2: Humanianity
Book3: Mind-Body Problem
Book4: (Future Possible Development)
Child Rearing Issues
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography
 
"HOMO RATIONALIS" AND HUMANIANITY
 
HELPING TO PROMOTE OUR THIRD EXPONENTIAL CHANGE
 

RATIONAL-ETHICAL CHILD REARING


Let child rearing mean, for our purposes, all the behaviors that those in the parental role engage in to foster the development in the child of skills, wisdom, and ethical values that will optimize the child's current and future quality of life and the child's ultimate value to his or her society.


The reader should note that this definition of child rearing does not limit the responsibility of child rearing to biological or even psychological parents. Also included are grandparents and other extended family members, and any other adults (or even older siblings) that play a significant role in the child's life, thus also including teachers, coaches, big brothers, etc.


Our species engages in no activity of greater potential influence upon its survival and its effort to promote the good life than the area of child rearing. Each of us, at birth, has an enormous potential for becoming someone who makes good decisions or bad decisions. We know much, much more about ourselves and about what has beneficial and harmful effects on ourselves than we did a few hundred or a few thousand years ago. Our childhood experiences have a major effect on who we become later in life and on what kind of impact we will have within our spheres of influence.


Yet there is no set of generally agreed-upon principles of child rearing.


I will be contrasting two models of child rearing. The two models are idealized extremes; in actuality, current child rearing involves a mixture of elements from both models. However, it is my contention that current child rearing is still almost entirely according to the first of these models, and that there is only just beginning (primarily in this century) to be a change toward the second model.


The first model, therefore, I refer to as the "standard model." It is the one that comes naturally, arising from our basic animal nature. It is essentially our human version of what comes naturally to all higher animals, more or less. Of course, it is much more complex because of our use of symbols (language). The reader should remember that when our species underwent the first exponential change, namely, the acquisition of the ability to use symbols essentially to an infinite extent, this use of symbols was still in the service of our basic animal nature. Other higher species also rear their offspring. They engage in behavior toward the offspring that fosters the acquisition of behaviors that to some extent (but very imperfectly) promote the survival of those offspring. But remember that we are also attempting to foster, not just our survival, but also the good life for all of us, now and in the future. The standard model does not work all that well, and it is perhaps a matter of luck as to whether parents will get a good result by virtue of even conscientious application of the standard model. And sometimes the results are awful, even tragic.


The second model, in contrast, involves the purposeful effort to utilize certain principles in a consistent and integrated manner, and requires education and training in the area of child rearing. There is, however, almost no such training provided in any formal manner by our society. If asked, a parent should be able to state and elaborate on the principles of child rearing and describe the implementation of these principles in the milieu provided for the child(ren) in the family. This situation currently does not exist for our species. Instead, there is the assumption that child rearing comes naturally, that no specific training is needed, and that one easily learns the details by watching others (including one's own parents) and by asking some questions of them. This would imply either that everyone pretty much agrees on what to do (obviously not correct!) or that there are no such principles of child rearing, that is, that there are no better and worse ways to rear children (obviously not correct!).


For reasons that will become evident, I am labeling the first, or standard, model the "authoritarian-ethical model," and the second, or emerging, model the "rational-ethical model."


The differences between these two models will only gradually become apparent in what follows. However, a few orienting comments will be helpful.


In the authoritarian-ethical model, the primary goal of the parent tends to be obedience. There are other goals, of course, but obedience definitely takes precedence in the moment-to-moment interaction with the child, and for many parents, other goals are difficult to identify in this moment-to-moment interaction.


In the rational-ethical model, the primary goal of the parent is the development in the child of:

  • (1) wisdom (knowledge of how the world works and consequently the ability to predict outcomes of decisions, or, to use our basic terminology, accuracy of existential beliefs), combined with
  • (2) ethics (a set of accurate ethical beliefs that have a strong motivational state, the ethical sense, associated with them) that is at varying levels of awareness a strong component of the child's moment-by-moment decision-making.

The reader may at this point think that any parent would affirm the goals of the rational-ethical model, and indeed, if any parent were asked, he or she most likely would. However, what I am referring to is not what the parent would say, but what the parent would actually do, and why. So I ask the reader to suspend judgment of my assertions until he or she has finished reading my descriptions and contrasts of the models.


My plan is to make the contrast between the two models more and more evident by describing first the "levels" of child rearing (and how the models differ in the implementation of those levels), then the basic ethical philosophy that underlies the rational-ethical model and is the important set of concepts that will be referred to in talking with the child, and then a fairly specific set of procedures that represent examples of the application of the principles to certain family settings and situations.


I will not be asking the reader to accept any of what follows on the basis of my stating it; instead, if I am correct, the reader should find himself or herself agreeing on the basis of his or her own experience. If there is not such agreement, then I am probably wrong in what I am writing. Of course, any of what I say stands to be corrected by experimental evidence to the contrary, no matter how "obvious" it might seem.


There are four levels of child rearing . (This is my own proposed conceptualization, but I am maintaining that this is an enormously useful one in helping to understand and optimize the child rearing process.) All the levels are used to some extent in all child rearing, although the purposeful emphasis on the use of the higher levels generally requires more in the way of training, intelligence, education, and relative freedom from emotional problems. The reason that I speak of levels of child rearing is that the purposeful use of the higher levels is progressively not only more difficult, but also potentially more beneficial. The standard, or authoritarian-ethical, model of child rearing, the model that comes naturally, tends to make much use of the lowest level of child rearing, whereas the rational-ethical model, which has to be taught and learned and is much more difficult, tends to avoid the lowest level and to aim for the deliberate and informed use of the highest three levels.


The four levels of child rearing, from lowest to highest, are punishment, reward, teaching, and modeling for identification.


The lowest level of child rearing is punishment . It is the one that has the worst side effects. Let punishment mean anything the parent does to make the child feel bad (physically and/or emotionally) because the child has done what the parent does not want or has not done what the parent does want. Formal punishments are (let us agree) ones such as spanking, standing in the corner, taking something away, grounding, etc. Because of ambivalence about the use of punishment, certain euphemisms are sometimes used, such as "disciplining," or "consequencing." "Time out" usually has the effect of punishment, even though it is an effort to avoid it. Informal punishments are generally those painful verbal and nonverbal acts (subtle and overt) that parents engage in, such as scolding, shaming, ridiculing, raising the voice at, shouting at, threatening, ignoring, making envious, making jealous, startling, frowning at, widening the eyes at, staring at, pointing at, making feel guilty (e.g., "Why do you treat me this way, after all I have done for you"), etc. The informal punishments are always much more frequent.


Impromptu formal punishment is probably the worst kind. By impromptu formal punishment I mean punishment that is thought up for the occasion, after the act being punished has occurred. ("You did what?! Well, just for that I am going to…!") I will later advocate that a child should never receive a formal punishment for an act unless the child knew at the time of engaging in the act that this particular punishment would follow. And there will be other limitations, also. Yet, impromptu formal punishment is presumed to be an obvious necessity in the standard model of child rearing.


Punishment does indeed inhibit behavior while the threat of punishment persists, although there is a tendency for the behavior to reemerge when the threat of punishment no longer exists. The main problem with punishment, however, is that it has such negative side effects. I believe that when it is relied upon almost exclusively, terrible problems develop, even intrafamilial murder.


The negative side effects of punishment are lowered self-esteem, demoralization, fear, and anger, and all of the phenomena secondary to these.


Every time a child is punished, the punishment produces lowered self-esteem. Let self-esteem mean how one feels (the feelings being motivational states) when one entertains the image of one's self in one's mind. The motivational states are associated with beliefs about the self, manifested actively as predictions as to how the self will fare in the world, either right now or in general. (The predictions may consist of receipt of affection, praise, admiration, etc., or of punishment, rejection, abandonment, failure, etc.) These beliefs about the self are taught, in early life, by the important persons in the child's life, primarily the parents. When the parents or others disapprove of the child, the child concludes (develops the belief ) that he or she is in some sense bad. The repeated disapproval of the child, which is inherent in punishment, takes its toll on the child's capacity to believe good things about the self and thus feel good about the self. (It is well recognized that, even in adulthood, physically or psychologically abusive relationships can leave individuals with damaged self-esteem, that is, inaccurate and painful beliefs about the self.) For many individuals, the negative self-esteem becomes a permanent background to their daily mood, and, as a motivational state, produces excessive efforts to counteract it through continually obtaining praise or reassurance from others, or perhaps through efforts to denigrate others to the point that these individuals can at least feel superior to others around them. Under the impact of certain unfavorable life experiences, and perhaps in the absence of sufficient reassuring support from the environment, some will come to the conclusion that they are not even worthy to live.


Every time a child is punished, the punishment produces demoralization. Let demoralization mean a state in which beliefs become active as predictions that one is going to fail and that bad things are going to happen to one. Thus, the state is characterized by depressed or sad affect and a diminution in hope (prediction of success, reward, satisfaction, etc.) and consequently in enthusiasm (the good feeling accompanying such predictions and therefore serving as a motivational state pushing for continued effort). In the young child, demoralization is frequently accompanied by crying. Basically, the child believes, at that point in time, that whatever the child does, the outcome probably will not be pleasant. Frequent demoralization, with the build-up of sadness-containing memories, can result in chronic sadness. There is a reduction of motivation and initiative, and therefore effort. In an adult, one would not be surprised to find a thought such as, "If that's the way they look at me (or treat me), or if I will fail anyway, then why bother trying?" This demoralization, also, can become a life-long characteristic of an individual, manifested by a pessimistic outlook and an inability to become convinced that effort toward difficult-to-obtain goals will be rewarded with success. Low achievement and lack of realization of potential are likely to result. For some, this phenomenon may also increase risk-taking behavior in the service of short-term, unwise, immediate-gratification goals, manifested by thoughts such as, "What have I got to lose, anyway?" Thus, not only self-destructive behavior but also antisocial or criminal behavior may become more likely.


Every time a child is punished, the punishment produces fear. The intensity of the fear during the receipt of punishment will vary with the genetic temperament of the child, the past frequency and severity of (formal and informal) punishment, and the ability of the child to predict how extreme the current punishment will become, this in turn being based upon the child's judgment as to how predictable and "in control" the punishing individual appears and has appeared in the past. Each act of punishment leaves a fear-containing memory, and the build-up of these memories produces chronic fear. The fear may also become increasingly generalized and therefore irrational, now referred to as "anxiety," occurring in situations that perhaps even only accidentally become associated in the child's mind with punishment. Punishment, then, may cause and/or intensify separation anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, and/or a tendency toward panic attacks, and secondarily may cause and/or intensify anxiety-driven "habits" and symptoms. (There are, of course, also other causes of anxiety.) Some individuals become quite anxious whenever there is the likelihood of anger in an authority figure or in someone perceived, for whatever reason, as powerful, and they may become extremely submissive and thereby may easily fall into controlling and possibly abusive relationships. The child may become a very tense, inhibited person, unaware of his or her own anger, and fearful of displeasing anyone. Normal assertiveness may be absent. And chronic fear, or anxiety, can become a component of psychosomatic illness.


Every time a child is punished, the punishment produces anger. Usually, this anger is very evident, especially in the younger child, since it is manifested by immediate hostile behavior, such as a hostile facial expression, balled up fists, criticizing, name-calling, screaming, hitting, kicking, biting, throwing something, destroying something, or "throwing a temper tantrum." There are, of course, some children whose hostile behavior has been so punished that one no longer sees outward, obvious manifestations of the anger, producing the inhibited child, or person, described above.


Because each act of punishment produces anger, it leaves behind an anger-containing memory. The build-up of these anger-containing memories leads to chronic anger, meaning a tendency to have unusually intense reactions of anger in situations that remind the individual of the anger-containing memories, and a tendency to misinterpret situations as being like anger-producing situations in the past, thus causing anger when none would seem warranted. Manifestations of chronic anger can, of course, increasingly become a way of life, and some individuals even manifest a facial expression, body posture, and general manner that convey an impression of underlying anger, or an opposite manner that has been developed as an effort to keep the anger unrecognized and under control, but that can be intuitively sensed by others as being "saccharine" (referring to the bitterness perceived to be underlying the apparent sweetness). Chronic anger, producing misinterpretations of situations, is probably often involved in the tendency toward "paranoia," the tendency to misinterpret the intentions of others as being malignant. And chronic anger has been implicated as a cardiovascular risk factor, and I believe it is a factor in much psychosomatic illness and illness fostered by a frequently suppressed (by anger) immune system.


There are three very common and specific ways in which chronic anger is manifested in children, namely, as cruelty toward living things, destructiveness toward nonliving things, and rebellion. (Again, some children do not manifest these behaviors in any obvious way, because of extensive inhibition of expressions of anger, but a close look at the underlying nature of much problematic behavior of such children may nevertheless reveal some of these tendencies operating "beneath the surface.")


Cruelty is manifested in children as a need to hurt, torment, or kill. It is being mean. It is engaging in hostile behavior, not in response to some specific behavior on the part of another that has produced anger, but in response to the presence of chronic anger. Some children develop cruelty toward animals. Teasing is a common manifestation of cruelty, and is often directed toward younger siblings or other children that are found easy to scapegoat. (Other children chronically exposed to this teasing or scapegoating may themselves develop some of the problems and characteristics of the excessively punished child. There is growing concern about the destructive effects of bullying.) Children may be cruel to their parents; they may persistently behave in ways that they know will produce distress in their parents. Some children (angry at themselves) can become cruel toward themselves and manifest self-destructive or self-injurious behavior. And since this self-destructiveness generally has a very distressing effect on parents and others, it can also be hostility directed toward them. Any of these manifestations can become a way of life. There are adults who have a strong tendency to be cruel to children, other adults, or the elderly. Some of these adults drift into occupations that allow for and even foster such cruelty. I believe that this cruelty is a prominent factor in conning, sexual sadism, serial raping, serial killing, mass murder, and other sadistic predatory behavior. And some adults may have a strong tendency to torture themselves and can even think up especially cruel ways to murder themselves, usually also causing guilt in others as a last hostile act.


Destructiveness is manifested in breaking things, ruining things, ruining experiences for people, vandalism, fire setting, or even the damaging or destruction of one's own possessions. Destructiveness is actually a form of cruelty. Insofar as the child (or adult) has the fantasy (through animism) that the nonliving thing actually has consciousness, the cruelty is directed toward that nonliving thing, which is perceived as deserving the abuse. Insofar as the person sees the nonliving thing as belonging to a person, the cruelty is directed toward the owner of the thing. When the cruelty (destructiveness) is directed toward something that is not considered to be the property of a specific individual or group of individuals, but instead "public property," I believe that it generally reflects anger "toward the world," or "toward society," and that it reflects an attitude of having been "abused" or "cheated in life." Again, some individuals become destructive as a way of life, attempting to tear down what others have built, acquired, or accomplished (examples being the construction of computer viruses and other forms of vandalism), or even, because of self-hatred (chronic anger toward the self), become self-destructive as a way of life, undoing or denying their own successes, ruining their health, being self-derogatory, etc. Upon becoming adults, they have taken over the parental task of punishing themselves.


Rebellion, which may also be a form of cruelty, is the act of attempting to defeat the wish of the authority figure toward whom the rebellion is directed. The alternative is seen as submitting to the wish of, and thus pleasing, the authority figure. If affection rather than anger were the feeling directed toward the authority figure, submission would be the more likely behavior. Rebellion is manifested as overt defiance, sneakiness, and passive-aggression.


Overt defiance is the communicative act that essentially conveys, "I won't do it and you can't make me!" It may be a hostile (e.g., screaming) verbal refusal to do something, a walking out of the room when expected to remain, a persistence in an activity that the individual has just been told to stop, a persisting refusal to respond to questions, etc. When overt defiance becomes a way of life, the individual will almost always have difficulty working for others. A potentially pro-social outgrowth may be an unusual preoccupation with "freedom" and the elimination of coercion. This tendency can become extreme, however, with the development of a paranoid reaction to all authority, including a tendency toward imagining the existence of conspiracies that justify antisocial behavior. In addition, some individuals even feel cooperation with a peer as somehow "giving in" and being controlled by the other, and can therefore settle for nothing less than being in control of the other. Cruel control is the basic process in some predatory behavior, as in the extremes of serial rape, torture, and murder.


Sneakiness is doing what the authority figure doesn't want, but behind his or her back, and then lying to cover up. (The need to rebel may actually manifest itself in what would appear to be needless lying for its own sake, probably best thought of as overt defiance of the instruction always to tell the truth.) There is gratification in "putting one over on" the authority figure, and probably there is some anticipation that ultimately the authority figure will find out and therefore suffer. The individual feels a sense of glee in "getting away with" something, and thus "winning," and this sense of having won is an indicator of the fact that the individual sees himself or herself in a struggle with the authority figure. Obviously, sneakiness can become a way of life, the individual taking pride in antisocial behavior, usually of a non-aggressive sort, such as burglary, embezzlement, unauthorized use of others' property, cheating, infidelity, conning, etc.


Passive-aggression is covert, subtle, or sophisticated frustration of the wishes of the authority figure. It usually is manifested by doing a sloppy job, doing a job incompletely, completing a task late, "forgetting" to do what one has been told to do, dragging one's heels, having to be reminded, etc. It can also be over-doing a job or task, or doing something presumably "nice" for the authority figure that the authority figure really doesn't want. Although the behavior is of a hostile nature, being motivated by chronic anger and having as its goal causing the authority figure to feel defeated, the nature of the behavior is such that it cannot easily be shown to be hostile, because the usual direct manifestation of anger is not present and anger may specifically be denied. Passive-aggressive behavior is rebellion for which it is more difficult to justify punishment, and yet it can be productive of much anger in the authority figure. Passive-aggression, too, can become a way of life. In fact, when an individual becomes an adult and has to take over parental functions toward the self, he or she may find it impossible to make himself or herself do those things that he or she knows are important to his or her own self interest. Such an individual will be noticed to have great difficulty figuring out what he or she wants to do in life. Any option involves some commitment to attempting to put forth effort in behalf of the goal, and putting forth effort to do that which is approved of is what is unacceptable to the individual. In the person's important peer relationships, he or she may again have a tendency to see the other, either accurately or inaccurately, as attempting dominance, and may therefore become very passive-aggressive in such relationships, being a continual source of frustration, disappointment, and distress for the other.


There are several malignant developments associated with the emphasis upon punishment.


One malignant development is the escalating struggle between parent and child that is based upon the need to rebel as a response to punishment. The more the child rebels, the more the parent experiences anger and therefore punishes. The more the parent punishes, the more the child experiences anger and therefore rebels. It is this process that probably accounts for much of the cross-generation family violence. At the very least, the more that the escalation has taken place, the more difficult will be de-escalation and the restoration of family harmony and appropriate behavior. Much of the "teenage rebellion" that is considered "normal" in a society that emphasizes punishment is of this nature, and the eventual elimination of the struggle generally does not occur until the parent accepts the "adulthood" of the child and gives up the struggle. It may take quite a while for the reconciliation to take place, and sometimes it never does.


Another malignant development is that of punishment-seeking. The child finds that doing that which will evoke punishment not only satisfies the need to rebel and the need for cruel revenge, but also brings rewarding attention that may not otherwise be forthcoming from an already exhausted, depressed, and angry parent. The punishment also may relieve mounting guilt, producing the transient illusion of having "paid for" past "crimes," and may gratify a need to take revenge against the self (a need that exists due to the low self-esteem that is brought about by punishment, as noted above). When punishment-seeking develops, one may see paradoxical, inappropriate behavior in response to reward, as well as in response to any efforts on the part of the parent to do right by the child. And of course punishment-seeking can also become a way of life. This probably is a prominent mechanism in the development of sexual and other masochism.


And another, especially malignant, development is that of the chronic persecutor-rescuer-victim interaction. One parent becomes the most prone to punish, and the other becomes the most prone to criticize that punishment while at the same time refraining from taking action that would help stop the behavior that causes the punishment. The child becomes involved in a drama in which he or she is the subject of a battle between the "forces of good and evil." The child becomes allied with the good rescuer, and this alignment heightens the anger of the persecutor toward the child (and rescuer), as well as the anger of the child toward the persecutor (since the child obtains confirmation from the rescuer that the child is indeed being victimized). The increased tendency toward punishment and rebellion (due to the increased anger between persecutor and victim) drives the acts of punishment toward the extreme, thus making the confirmation of the victimization easier. The reward inherent in the alliance with the good rescuer then can reinforce the very behavior (hostility toward the persecutor, manifested by rebellion, etc.) that is being punished, and thus make that behavior more likely. The derogation of the "bad" parent by the "good" parent also can interfere with the child admiring and identifying with the valuable aspects of the "bad" parent. This particular pattern can become a way of life, with the individual dividing up people into the good and the bad, making alliances by turning people against each other, maintaining self-esteem by becoming a victim and therefore obtaining the sympathy of even more rescuers, and, in general, feeling that he or she is owed retribution and compensation from the world ("I have been ruined").


I do wish to reassure the reader that I do not believe that the emphasis on punishment is the only cause of the various kinds of difficulties that I have described. However, I do maintain that it is the most important cause, especially among those factors that, at least theoretically, we can do something about. And I believe that the development of an increased general awareness of these and other issues involved in child rearing will be the most important factor in the achievement of an optimal quality of life for our species, and perhaps even ultimately in the survival of our species.


Many individuals seem to do fairly well in life despite having been reared in a family that had no ambivalence about using both formal and informal punishment. I believe that the crucial factor is the amount of punishment the child receives. This is partly dependent upon the ability of the child to live up to the expectations of the parents. In turn, this ability to live up to parental expectations is dependent partly upon the genetic and congenital makeup of the child (e.g., learning disabilities, developmental delays in impulse control and maintenance of attention, temperamental extremes such as aggressiveness, various hypersensitivities, hypoarousal and excessive need for stimulation, fearfulness, and behavioral inhibition). It is also dependent partly upon the clarity and consistency of the parental expectations, partly upon the parents' awareness of the developmental levels and capabilities of the child, partly upon the cooperative capability of the parents, and partly upon motivational states induced in the child by environmental events, traumata, and conditions, inside and outside the home, many of which the parents may have no awareness of or ability to control. If by luck such factors are at a minimum, the occasional punishments may be more than counterbalanced by other, more beneficial family processes, and the individual may look back on the few punishments that stand out in his or her memory and evaluate them positively ("my parents cared").


However, once the vicious circle of punishment and anger (with its rebellion) begins, the process tends to drive the development of problems to the extreme. In this way, initial minor and easily discounted and forgotten problems can be important in the initiation and development of major patterns of dysfunction in the child, and later the adult, leading to a retrospective conclusion that the problems must have been entirely genetic or external to the family. The current punishment of the child is seen only as the necessary response to the development of the problems, not as an important ongoing causal factor. And often the parent and child end up seeing each other as having been respectively rebellious and abusive.


Many parents honestly believe that they almost never punish their children, because they do not use formal punishments, and many individuals honestly believe that they were seldom punished in childhood, for the same reason. However, the frequent (and sometimes almost continual) barrage of negative verbal and nonverbal messages (informal punishments), some of them quite covert and sophisticated, that perhaps many parents give their children has the same set of negative side effects that continual formal punishments would have had. It is actually impossible to administer formal punishments with the frequency that informal punishments can be engaged in, and it is for this reason that perhaps informal punishments may actually have a greater role in the negative consequences of punishment than do formal punishments. The effort to avoid formal punishment in the absence of effective higher level child rearing methods actually may promote exceedingly frequent informal punishment, and may produce the picture of a child that does indeed appear to "run wild," almost begging for limits so that the informal punishment will cease. Thus, the well-intentioned effort to avoid formal punishment, but in the absence of the needed improvements in the higher levels of child rearing, can indeed be pointed to by some as evidence that the reduction in those punishments leads to worsening of children's behavior and to worsening of ultimate outcomes. Reduction or elimination of formal punishment, alone, is insufficient to bring about improvement of results, and can actually be associated with worse outcomes. Much more is needed.


There is a very strong commitment to punishment among our species. Those who advocate eliminating punishment are viewed with incredulity and even anger. The need to punish is a part of our basic animal nature, and to avoid doing so requires substantial competing motivation, such as a set of ethical beliefs accompanied by a strong ethical sense. Such a set of ethical beliefs does not exist at this point among our species, but in the time of "Homo rationalis," if I am correct, it will. Currently, there is a strong need to believe that punishment is needed, and therefore there is a strong need to believe that punishment does not have the negative side effects that I have outlined above. This is despite the fact that I could give the reader two identical twin puppies with the instruction to raise one of them to be very affectionate, social, and apparently happy and to raise the other to be vicious, paranoid, and obviously unhappy, and the reader would know precisely how to go about doing so.


I believe that it is only after the reader really understands the concepts being presented here that he or she will appreciate the extent to which punishment does occur within many of our societies, and the extent to which much of our human misery is secondary to this punishment.


What has just been covered is an overview of the lowest level of child rearing. As can be seen, it tends to have quite unfortunate side effects. However, it is the easiest level to resort to because it generally occurs in response to behaviors of the child that draw immediate attention, and because it is consistent with the internal emotional or motivational state of the parent, namely, anger. In fact, refraining from punishment when feeling anger is generally quite difficult. Again, I maintain that optimal child rearing for humans does not come naturally; it has to be taught and learned, and it requires enormous understanding, effort, and self control, brought about by accurate, strongly held rational-ethical beliefs.


It should be evident that punishment should be used as little as possible. I do not believe that punishment can be avoided completely, but I believe that it should occur far, far less frequently than it does, and only under certain circumstances.


One circumstance in which punishment may possibly seem to be the most appropriate intervention would be dangerous behavior in the extremely young child, for whom words have yet to have a specific enough meaning to be of help in delineating behavior and for whom there has been an insufficient level of development of concepts for the words to have any organizing influence. (Of course, the far, far better alternative, if possible, is that of "child-proofing" the environment until the child can learn in other ways how to live safely.)


Another circumstance would be the situation in which, despite maximal help having been given to the child (through the higher levels of child rearing) to master a particular inappropriate tendency, the child has been unable to achieve success. (The optimal use of such punishment, however, would be as a collaborative process with the child, within a complex set of procedures to be described later.)


The standard model gives very little guidance to the parent as to what to do instead of punishment in order to give the above-mentioned help. The usual response of the parent operating within the standard model to the idea of drastically reducing punishment is to imagine that this involves letting the child "run wild," the implication being that what is being advocated is that inappropriate behavior should be ignored. However, it is actually the responsibility of the parent never to overlook or be unconcerned about the development of suboptimal tendencies in the child. The parent must always be in charge, and must especially exercise appropriate control to protect the child from engaging in dangerous behavior. And even non-optimal behavior that is not dangerous may ultimately lead to much unhappiness in the child's life during childhood and adulthood, as well as much suffering of others in that individual's life. Rather than either punishing or doing nothing at all about inappropriate behavior, one should look to the higher levels of child rearing for devising an approach to the problem. But as we shall see, the standard model does not give much guidance as to how to so use these higher levels of child rearing in an effective manner.


The second highest level of child rearing is reward. Let reward mean anything the parent does to make the child feel good because the child has done what the parent wants or has not done what the parent does not want. Formal rewards are ones such as money, tokens, taking the child somewhere, candy, giving an extra privilege, etc. Informal rewards are ones such as a smile, a hug, praise, an expression of gratitude, demonstration of interest, responding with delight or humor, etc., and generally consist of affectionate behavior.


Formal rewards, in general, should be confined to part of a well thought out overall set of procedures within the family, to be discussed later. Impromptu formal rewards can be quite problematic and should be, I believe, avoided.


Informal rewards (almost always impromptu) are, however, extremely important and beneficial, and it is to these that most of what follows pertains.


Reward tends to increase the likelihood or frequency of the behavior. Reward has the opposite side effects of those of punishment. Every time the child is rewarded, there is an enhancement of self-esteem. Every time the child is rewarded, there is an increase in enthusiasm and optimism, the opposite of demoralization. Every time the child is rewarded, there is an increase in security, the opposite of fear and anxiety. And every time the child is rewarded, there is an increase in affection (as opposed to anger), with an increase in the tendency to engage in affectionate and cooperative behavior, as opposed to hostility, cruelty, destructiveness, and rebellion. Rewards leave pleasure-containing memories, which influence future responses to situations far differently than anger-containing memories.


It should be obvious that the child should always receive much more reward than punishment. However, for two main reasons, reward is more difficult than punishment.


First, behaviors that result in punishment are generally much more evident to the parent than are those which should be responded to with reward. Inappropriate behavior usually produces an immediate emotional response on the part of the parent. If the behavior is dangerous, fear is elicited. If the behavior is seen as disobedience, anger is produced. Whatever emotion is produced, it is a motivational state pushing for immediate action. Appropriate behavior, on the other hand, is most often experienced by the parent as a period of time when "nothing is happening," and if the parent is unclear about the desirability of rewarding the ongoing behavior, and especially if the parent is preoccupied or fatigued, opportunities for reward may be overlooked. (This problem in child rearing has been alluded to by speaking of the desirability of "catching the child being good.")


Second, reward is difficult to carry out when the parent is lacking a feeling of affection for the child. The most effective rewards are affectionate behaviors. When the parent already has some anger toward the child, the anger makes it very difficult or impossible to feel affection and therefore to respond to the child in an affectionate manner. Also, when the parent feels anger toward the child, the parent often believes that punishment is warranted, and that reward, or affectionate behavior, will undermine the effectiveness of the punishment. In actuality, punishment tends to undermine efforts to reward.


It should be noted that the extreme of rewarding everything that is not inappropriate behavior would neither be feasible nor desirable. Continuous indiscriminate reward would undermine the effectiveness of the reward for those certain accomplishments that are significant and should be emphasized. Some of this rewarding may be rather automatic, based upon an intuitive understanding of where the child is in his or her development, but some of it may need to be well thought out in advance of the appearance of the behavior. The judgment as to what to reward may be very difficult.


The problem of identifying what to reward is tied to one of the differences between rational-ethical child rearing and authoritarian-ethical child rearing, namely, the manner in which suboptimal behavior on the part of the child is regarded. In authoritarian-ethical child rearing, the child's suboptimal behavior is often regarded as disobedience, a challenge to the parent's dominance, and is responded to with anger and hostility (punishment). In rational-ethical child rearing, the suboptimal behavior is looked at as probably a manifestation of deficiency in one or more skills. When the parent has identified the deficient skills, then the task becomes one of working out a set of procedures to help the child acquire and practice these skills, and the rewarding of the successes of the child will be an important part of these procedures. (Needless to say, there is also always the possibility that the parent's belief that the behavior is suboptimal is a mistake, so the parent should always look at this possibility carefully.)


I will give an oversimplified example of the above difference, risking sounding silly.


A child had ten temper tantrums yesterday, and has had four today. The parent responds, "Just look at you! When are you going to act your age? You had ten tantrums yesterday, and you're already on your fourth today. Grow up!" This was an act of punishment, making the child feel bad because of his suboptimal behavior. Another parent responds, "You know, you had ten tantrums yesterday, but only four so far today. Also, this time you didn't kick anything. I think you're getting some increased control over your anger. All kids have trouble controlling themselves when they are angry, but you are learning, and when the anger gets back down to a level which allows you to talk with me in a way that I can understand, we'll talk about why you're so angry, and what I can do to help." First, this parent is being sympathetic with the child's distress, rather than punitive toward the suboptimal behavior, recognizing that punishment undermines reward. In addition, the parent is rewarding the possible reduction in frequency of the tantrums, reduction in the length of them, and reduction of destructive behavior as a response to anger. And if indeed the tantrum turns out to last a shorter time than usual, this would be rewarded by being mentioned with some pleasure, as an improvement in skill. (The actual words used, of course, would depend upon the age of the child and the idiosyncratic language patterns of the parent and child. What is being demonstrated here is only a principle, not necessarily an optimal intervention.)


A difficult skill that the parent needs in order to engage in effective reward is that of understanding how to reward. For instance, it would be possible for the parent to think that he or she was engaging in reward when actually what was occurring was punishment. It could turn out that a parent who was saying, "Now that's a good boy! You've stopped your tantrum," could actually be painfully rubbing in the fact that the child had submitted to the parent. And the parent's behavior could indeed actually be hostile, perhaps unconsciously, in response to anger toward the child. Children are very sensitive to the underlying meanings of interactions, even if they can't verbalize those meanings. The parent may be aided in understanding the actual meaning of his or her communication to the child, not only by self-examination, but also by examining the response of the child.


It should be noted that refraining from punishing the tantrum is not the equivalent of doing nothing about it. In fact, in addition to the interventions described above, there also might well be, for example, some later discussion with the child, at the child's level of understanding, about the nature of anger and tantrums, and what the better alternatives to tantrums might be. One of the very important judgments that the parent would make has to do with determining the proper time to talk with the child about suboptimal behavior, in addition to the proper manner of doing so. Each of these issues would influence whether such a discussion would really turn out to be a kind of informal punishment that would undermine any efforts at reward. (The previous chapter, "Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention," speaks to these issues in the principles of problem-solving behavior.)


Thus, reward is more difficult than the simple use of punishment. It requires an awareness of the responsibility to help the child with a problem, rather than just a response to one's own discomfort produced by the child's behavior, and it requires understanding what the child needs to work on in order to overcome the problem. Also, figuring out what to reward when faced with ongoing behavior that contains both positive and negative components requires some sophistication of understanding and often some prior preparation, as well as the above-implied self control. And although rewarding a child for pleasing behavior when one is feeling good toward the child and feeling good in general is of course quite easy, doing so under other circumstances may be very difficult. The parent needs to understand his or her own emotional reactions as well as those of the child in order to do a good job of rewarding. Much thought and reviewing of the outcomes of interactions is necessary in order to improve on the child rearing that comes naturally.


Earlier, I said that formal rewards, and especially impromptu formal rewards, were problematic. One problem is that since formal rewards often tend to have some monetary value, the child can tend to develop the expectation of "being paid to be good." Hopefully, approval and affection are more important to the child than the acquisition of material things, anyway. And it is more optimal to have material goods (and "services") be tied up in a formal set of procedures that fosters learning about interdependency, as will be described later.


Reward and punishment primarily foster obedience (at least temporarily). But in the rational-ethical model, the goal is not to create an obedient child (or, later, person). An obedient child has to have someone to obey, whether this is a parent, a teacher, a policeman, or an older or more powerful peer. In the rational-ethical model, you will recall, the primary goal of the parent is the development in the child of wisdom (knowledge of how the world works and consequently the ability to predict outcomes of decisions), combined with ethics (a set of ethical beliefs that is a strong influence in the child's day-to-day decision-making). Accurate existential and ethical beliefs and a strong ethical sense are the goals. One would hope that the child would be obedient when it was the right thing to do, rather than do the right thing only because it was the obedient thing to do. Given certain adverse circumstances, an obedient child can end up in jail, on a milk carton, or dead from an accidental overdose. The highest two levels of child rearing, carried out properly, do indeed promote wisdom and ethics. The basic ethical sense, however, derives strongly from reward and punishment, and hopefully much, much more from reward than punishment.


The third highest level of child rearing is teaching. By teaching, I mean engaging in deliberate behavior designed to produce in the child increasing wisdom and ethics, namely, an increasing understanding of (accurate beliefs about) the world and an increasing ability to make good decisions based upon that knowledge, even in the face of strong motivations toward less optimal decisions. Now almost any parent will think that this is an easy level to understand and one that the parent is doing all the time. However, there are some rather marked differences between what a parent operating in the standard model would regard as teaching and what a parent operating in the rational-ethical model would regard as teaching. To clarify this difference adequately, I will have to exaggerate to some extent.


In the standard model, the parent knows what is best for the child, and the parent simply has to impart this to the child, primarily through words spoken to the child. The parent talks to the child, who therefore receives "a good talking to," during which the child is told "the difference between right and wrong." The implied, if not spoken, prologue is something like, "I have lived many years longer than you and have acquired, obviously, much more wisdom than you could have acquired by this time in your life. Therefore, listen carefully to what I say, remember it, and act according to it. If there are parts of it that you do not understand, despite my explanations, simply accept what is most likely, namely, that you just have not lived long enough to acquire the necessary wisdom to understand fully. Be grateful for this help I am giving you." The prologue may also contain some material that includes the phrase, "when I was your age." Of course, the parent also knows, through the accumulation of wisdom in this area, that, ideally, a stopper should be placed in one of the child's ears. What follows the prologue is almost always something that is painful to the child, and probably is an example of informal punishment. Observation of the child during this process will help to clarify the nature of it (the reactions to punishment having been described above).


In the rational-ethical model, the parent wishes the child to develop a set of skills. One of the most important skills that a child needs to develop is that of rational thinking. By thinking, I mean here engaging in a mental dialogue. This dialogue consists of speaking in one's imagination, and it generally consists of sentences. The dialogue may or may not be with a specific imagined individual who is responding or at least listening. Very frequently, the dialogue is of the nature of (friendly) debate, in which both sides of an issue are being expressed. And the reason I refer to "rational" thinking is that we hope that the child is thinking more or less according to the rules of logic and the rules of evidence, in other words, "making sense."


Now how does the child learn to do this? Well, how does anyone learn how to do anything? The crucial element is practice. The child needs to practice this dialogue behavior in such a way that there is feedback regarding his performance. How is this done? Obviously by talking. Not by listening, but by talking. And how does one foster in the child the practicing of this skill? By rewarding the practicing. And how is the practicing of talking rewarded? By asking the child questions, by listening to the child, and by responding to the child's expressed ideas in a manner that makes the child feel good. One of the most important ways to make the child feel good about having spoken is to demonstrate an interest in what the child has said. And perhaps the most usual way in which to demonstrate that interest is to ask the child to elaborate on what he or she has just said. Please note that what is being rewarded is the expression of the ideas, not necessarily the ideas themselves. One wants the child to talk.


But do we want the child to talk? The standard model is replete with indicators that communication is expected to be one way (unless the child is being asked for evidence that can be used against the child, or unless the child is being asked for an indication that the child is duly accepting what the parent is saying to the child). "Children should be seen and not heard." "Don't talk back!" "Did you hear what I said?" "Don't interrupt!" "Listen to me!" "Be quiet!" "Shut up!" "You better watch what you say!" "Watch that tongue!" "Go to your room until you are ready to listen." "You think you know so much!"


In addition, there is a great emphasis, not upon what the child has to say, but upon how the child says it and whether what the child is saying is indicative of "respect" for the parent, meaning submission on the part of the child toward the parent. "Wipe that smile off your face!" "Lower your voice!" "Stop being ugly." "Listen to how you are speaking to me!" "I expect you to show me some respect!" The content of what the child has said is ignored and forgotten in the process of shifting the attention to his or her nonverbal hostility or challenging of the authority of the parent. (This shifting of attention, of course, violates one of the principles of problem-solving behavior described in the chapter on "Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention," namely, that one should not change the subject.) In fact, in the standard model, an interaction with the parent is felt to have concluded satisfactorily if and when the child has submitted to the parent (by ceasing or markedly reducing hostile behavior and by indicating agreement with the parent, even grudgingly).


It is very frequent that one hears, "My child won't listen," but very seldom that one hears, "My child won't talk." It is actually fairly frequent, however, that children don't talk. One can often see a child with a "sheepish grin," frozen with fear, able only to say the relatively safe "I don't know" that seems to be the one acceptable answer to all dangerous questions. Why are the questions dangerous? Because the truthful answers to those questions would more than likely be punished (informally, at least).


I wish to make clear that I don't think that hostile behavior or the challenging of authority or the use of suboptimal modes of communication by the child should be overlooked. Remember that it is the responsibility of the parent to help the child overcome any suboptimal tendencies. But it is also the responsibility of the parent, within his or her capabilities, to use optimal methods, ones that will work the best and will not produce unacceptable side effects. The time to work on suboptimal communication is not when the child is angry about what is happening.


So what does teaching in the rational-ethical model look like? Well, look at the behavior of those who have made a profession of it, teachers, primarily good ones. What are good teachers? They are ones who use methods that result in the students learning a lot, learning how to learn, and learning to love learning (wanting to learn).


One of the most obvious characteristics of a good teacher is the teacher's ability to produce in the student pleasure in the learning process. A good teacher arouses the curiosity about and interest in the subject. A good teacher often makes the learning an exciting challenge. A good teacher displays an interest in the student's ideas and successes. A good teacher rewards rather than punishes, and the student thereby experiences good feelings rather than bad ones. Of course, rather than science and language arts, we are thinking here about child rearing, in which the material to be studied has to do with suboptimal behavior in the child. The question is whether this topic, too, can be a pleasurable one to talk about.


Think of the response that a good friend of the reader might make to the reader if he or she went to that friend and revealed what a terrible mistake he or she had made. The friend would first of all try to help the reader feel better. He or she would point out that everyone makes mistakes, would share a similar mistake, and/or would try to reduce the reader's overestimation of the magnitude of the mistake. He or she would let the reader know the reader wasn't alone.


Is the parent likely to do this? In the standard model, there is the tendency to think that the worse the child feels, the more the child might benefit. For instance, a child "sent to the office" at school may then receive a spanking at home. Only if the child really, really feels bad about the mistake might the parent decide to provide comfort rather than additional bad feeling through informal, if not formal, punishment. In the authoritarian-ethical model, any halfway serious mistake must be punished. The worse the impact of the mistake on others, the more intense the punishment should be. ("The punishment should fit the crime.") The parent says, "Well, you see now what I've been trying to tell you?" or "Let this be a lesson!" or "What punishment do you think you deserve?" or "I'm really disappointed in you!" or "You have to take responsibility for your actions!" or "What am I going to tell Grandma?" or "You just wait until your father gets home!" or "What in the world were you thinking?"


In the rational-ethical model, the first consideration, in order to foster an atmosphere that will promote learning, is the effort to comfort the child and let the child know that, even though the plan is to talk about the mistake, the primary consideration is for the comfort and welfare of the child. In other words, the parent is aligned with the child against the problem, not against the child-with-the-problem. The parent, with his or her arm around the child (literally or figuratively), faces the problem with the child. The child should feel relieved by the discussion with the parent, rather than feeling worse.


The reader may notice that, consistent with the chapter on "Basic Concepts: Determinants of Behavior," I have made several references to the suboptimal behavior of the child as a "mistake." Indeed, in the rational-ethical model, suboptimal behavior is regarded as a mistake that occurred because of the insufficient mastery of one or more skills (such as the ability to inhibit the direct expression of some motivational state, the ability to ask for something in a manner likely to result in obtaining it, the ability to predict consequences in a particular area of living, the ability to soothe the self during a period of deprivation, the ability to recognize a situation as belonging to a particular set of situations in which a particular rule usually applies, etc.). In the standard model, as we have said before, suboptimal behavior is seen as disobedience and therefore as a challenge to the dominance or authority of the parent, to which the natural response of the parent is anger and the need to reestablish dominance (generally through punishment). I believe that the rather extreme difficulty that many adults have in admitting a mistake is derived in part from the strong tendency, in the standard model, to punish mistakes. Many an adult will experience an intensely painful motivational state when he or she starts believing he or she has made a mistake, and will punish himself or herself for the mistake by, for instance, calling himself or herself a derogatory name or even striking his or her head. And many individuals respond to someone calling mistakes to their attention in the same manner as children who are being "called on the carpet." This painful reaction lies behind many parents' refusal to learn more optimal child rearing methods, instead preferring to see their child's problems due solely to a "chemical imbalance" or a genetic disorder correctable only by the taking of a pill. This punishment of mistakes on the part of children leads to the development of adults who are highly intolerant and critical also of others' mistakes, and who are prone to litigate and to advocate for severe punishment of misdemeanor and crime. The culture I am familiar with is highly punitive, and I understand there are others even more so.


So, we might say that the first consideration in making teaching a positive experience for the child is the provision, if necessary, of sympathetic comforting.


It might also be instructive to look at the very widespread ambivalence that is expressed toward "sympathy." We feel on safer ground if we consider that we are experiencing or expressing "empathy." The danger, of course, is that we might "feel sorry for" someone, or worse still, that someone might feel sorry for us! "I don't want to be pitied!" Where does this terrible, isolating fear come from? I think that it arises from the punishment, in the standard model, of crying (or otherwise "acting pitiful"). The parent fears that feeling sorry for the child will undermine the punishment, and anyone crying tends to elicit a sympathetic response from others, unless the response is fought against. And it can be fought against either internally or externally. One way to fight against it externally is to punish, and thus stop, the crying of the child. One can sometimes see a parent specifically refuse to stop a punishment until the child stops crying. Males, of course, are especially taught that crying is bad. But females, also, know to apologize for crying.


What I have been talking about above is the establishment of an atmosphere in which learning can take place.


Next, we need to consider what it is that basically needs to be taught and learned, to promote the development of wisdom and ethics. In order to develop wisdom (accuracy of existential belief), we have to learn about "how the world works." We have to learn to label the parts of it, learn how the parts are related, and learn as much as possible how to predict what will probably happen. And in order to develop ethics (accuracy of ethical belief), we have to develop rules of behavior (ethical rules of conduct) that serve as simplifying guidelines that tend to foster desirable outcomes, and to develop a way of thinking that helps to determine when the rules are applicable, and how they can be extended or revised to cover new kinds of situations. Furthermore, we need to develop ways of thinking about a hierarchy of values, such that we can choose among different sets of desirable outcomes. This hierarchy is what follows from a basic ethical philosophy, to be discussed later.


In the young child, the emphasis first has to be on learning the proper labels (symbols) for things, especially such things as feelings or motivational states and behaviors. There will then be instruction on what behavior to engage in when one is having a particular feeling or motivational state. "If you feel hungry, you should …." "If you feel angry, you should …." And obviously these rules get more and more complicated as the child also learns labels for situations. "If we are in a restaurant and you feel angry at your brother, you should …." "If you are frightened because you think you are lost in a store, you should …." "If I am on the phone and you have an important question, you should …." "If the teacher asks a question and you are excited because you know the answer, you should …." "If you get stung by a bee and no one is around, you should …."


This early use of language to label feelings, behaviors, and situations is very important in helping the child to gain self-control. In many families, words have almost no meaning other than their emotional effect. A parent may say, "Stop that!" when the child is in the middle of doing several things, some of which may be appropriate and others of which may not. Words may be used primarily for punishment, such as, "Don't be ugly!" or "Grow up!" or "You're asking for it!" or "Johnny!" or "This time I really mean it!" or "Hey!" The effect is to produce a heightened tension in the child based upon an awareness that he or she may at any moment be punished again, but without the ability to control his or her behavior such as to prevent it. The heightened tension increases the child's activity level, impulsivity, limit testing, and likelihood of making mistakes, and a vicious circle is thus created (augmented also by increasing anger). On the other hand, just describing (in a non-punitive manner) the child's behavior as the child is engaging in it often helps the child to gain control.


As soon as the child has the capability of labeling behaviors and situations, it will be important to help the child learn the predictable situations that will arise upon engaging in particular behaviors. This relationship between behaviors and predictable outcomes becomes the set of answers to the recurring and very important question "Why?" (The child asks why he or she should do as the parent is instructing. The answer optimally would be, "Because if you do such-and-such, then so-and-so will probably happen, and that will be desirable/undesirable.") Again, it should be noted that in the authoritarian, or standard, model, the importance of wisdom is very secondary to the issue of obedience. The child asks, "Why?" and the parent answers, "Because I say so!" This is called "teaching obedience." It certainly is depriving the child of an opportunity for increasing wisdom. I have known of situations in which the parent would deny the child permission to do something, admittedly for no other reason than to demonstrate to the child that the parent could do it, that is, was in a position of dominance over the child. Such behavior of course produces rage in the child.


Now I am not saying that a discussion of the reasons for telling a child to do something that needs to be done right away should take the place of doing it, or that a child's question always has to be answered at the time that it is asked. However, in the standard model, the parent generally considers the parenting task accomplished when the child does what the parent wants, and both parent and child easily forget about the unanswered question after the child has obeyed. In the rational-ethical model, the parent has the responsibility to make sure that the question is eventually answered to the child's satisfaction; otherwise, a problem still exists. The child may still be disappointed, but if anger remains, implying that the child believes the parent is in the wrong, then more work needs to be done.


Much of this ability to think about such issues accurately comes about through the analysis of mistakes. In other words, the parent must help the child to learn from mistakes by learning how to talk about them. This is in stark contrast to the punishing of mistakes, which is so prevalent in the standard model of child rearing. The effort, in this analysis, is to identify as clearly and precisely as possible the specific point at which a non-optimal decision was made, and what factors led to that decision, such as lack of knowledge about something, avoiding looking at something because of the discomfort in doing so, misunderstanding due to communication breakdown, lack of the development of a particular procedure (for example, designed to remind oneself of something), failing to acquire a particular person's viewpoint, etc. Such analysis leads to an increased awareness of optimal behavioral routines and an increased awareness of danger signs of potential mistakes.


I believe that the two most useful "techniques" to foster thinking are the asking of questions and the engaging in "friendly debate."


To ask a question is to request an answer, which must be formulated. The formulating of the answer is the act of thinking, so asking questions fosters practicing thinking.


Friendly debate fosters practicing rational thinking. The reader will recall that in friendly debate, opposing opinions are given with their reasons, and the "reasoning" is evaluated according to the rules of logic and the rules of evidence. (I realize that this is usually not done in a formal sense, but it is the basic process whereby each opinion is looked at according to certain implied standards of thinking to see whether it "makes sense." Most often, the opinion is examined to see if it is logically consistent with or contradictory to other beliefs considered to have been adequately legitimated by repeated personal experience, by acceptance by almost everyone, or by scientific study.) Friendly debate is debate in which the goal is that of arriving closer to the truth, through listening to the efforts of the other to demonstrate the presence of evidence of nonrational thinking in one's own presentations of one's opinions. "Unfriendly debate" refers to debate in which the goal is to win, through whatever means that may work, such as intimidating, interrupting, shouting the other down, deliberately changing the subject, etc., and it is the process that individuals are most often referring to when they say that they "don't want to argue." In fact, most people have probably had very little experience with friendly debate, and when offered the opportunity, turn it down, thus rejecting that which might offer them the greatest opportunity for growth. I would also suspect that much of the reluctance to engage in friendly debate comes from the experience of growing up in the standard model, in which the child's effort to debate with the parent is seen as disobedience or "disrespect," and dealt with accordingly.


Thus, one wishes to have many, many friendly debates with one's children, in which the child is asked many questions.


What are some of the questions that the parent asks the child? Here are some possible examples. "Do you think that what you have done is right or wrong? Why?" "Do you think everyone would agree with you? Who might not? Why would they not agree with you when others would?" "If you were a parent and your child did this, what would you think, and what would you do?" "Yes, I agree with you, but could we both be wrong? How could we find out?" "Okay, you think that you did not do the right thing. But do you think there was any part of what you did that actually was good? Why?" "What do we need to find out in order to make a good decision in this case? Should we call someone? Check something out in the library?" "What do you think is the basic thing that we disagree about? What do you think is the reason we disagree?"


(Now of course questions having to do with thinking about thinking require adequate intellectual development of the child, but well before the child can do such a thing, the parent doing it serves a model for the child such that the child can learn to do it as early as possible. Even if the child cannot understand what the parent is talking about, the child can sense that the parent believes he or she is doing the right thing, and the child will certainly watch the process in an effort to learn how to do it, assuming that the child does not feel alienated from the parent by the parent's punitive behavior.)


Of course, the parent will not just be asking questions. The parent will also be asking for feedback on his or her own opinions, and thus will be offering them. "I would be interested in what you think about my idea about this." "I have always assumed…. Do you think I have been making a mistake? Why?"


The point of the discussion, however, is the cooperative effort to approximate the truth, optimize decision-making, and achieve the good life.


Those who are most imbued with the standard model will tend to regard the above as a ridiculous abandonment of parental authority. Lest the reader worry that I think children should not see the parents as being in a position of authority, I assure you that I believe leadership and authority are essential. However, there are varying kinds of leadership and different ways of using one's position of authority, and the differences in this regard between the standard, or authoritarian-ethical, model and the rational-ethical model will become even more apparent as we proceed.


As I have previously said, the higher the level of child rearing, the more difficult it is. Why is this level (teaching) more difficult than the first two (reward and punishment)?


It should be fairly evident that teaching takes much more time than rewarding or punishing, or at least it could. It is so easy to say, "Because I said so, and that's the end of it!" In the standard model, there is no need to discuss the rationale for one's decisions, because the most important goal is the obedience of the child. But in the rational-ethical model, there remains a problem if the child thinks the parent is wrong, whether the child obeys or not. And some issues may be quite complex, such that the discussion may take a very long time. In our society, where the tendency is to think that child rearing comes naturally, the parent often assumes that having discussions with the child is a luxury to be indulged in after other, more important or satisfying matters are attended to. This is a little like the surgeon saying that he or she doesn't have time to do a good job.


But even more difficult than the expenditure of time is the difficulty parents will at times have making sense to themselves and the child about the rationales for their own decisions. Even with adequate time for discussion, a parent might sometimes find it nearly impossible to justify his or her viewpoint to the child. It is even possible that the child might have a better set of arguments for his or her position than the parent does. In that case, the parent should of course acknowledge this to the child. In the authoritarian-ethical model, however, this would tend to feel like submission, and would tend to be intolerable. The parent often feels a strong need to demonstrate that he or she is superior to the child.


And to do a good job at teaching, it is very beneficial to have had a good education. For one reason or another, a parent may be lacking in education, and have a difficult time comprehending the issues that are involved in a discussion. It certainly can be expected that the skilled teaching of the child will be an education for the parent, no matter what the educational level of the parent is to begin with. Once again, the standard model assumes that the education of the parent is not very important, because the primary goal is to bring about the submission of the child, and this can (presumably) be done without the use of education.


In addition to the third level of child rearing being more difficult than the lower two levels, the potential benefit of the third level is substantially greater than that of the lower two levels. Teaching enables the child to become independent of the parents and other authority figures and to evaluate for himself or herself what the appropriate decision should be, even in a rather novel situation. As opposed to being obedient to external guidance, the child acquires a very much needed internal guidance system, which adds stability to his or her life, even during times of environmental confusion. And the child becomes a person more valuable to his or her society, more able to arrive at good decisions in more and more complex situations, and therefore more able to take a position of leadership and perhaps even rear children.


The fourth (or highest) level of child rearing is modeling for identification. Basically, whatever the parent wants the child to do, the parent should do also, or at least the equivalent of it, adjusted for age difference and differences in circumstances.


Imitation and identification are extremely important factors in personality development. Even in the first year of life, the child watches the behavior of others (especially parents), and soon begins, sometimes consciously, to imitate the observed behaviors. Some of these behaviors begin to be the child's "way of doing things," and ultimately they contribute to the child's collection of traits that is referred to as the personality, or the child's "way of being," or identity.


The child not only learns how to do things by watching and imitating, but also learns what things are valued. Children are acutely aware of the implications, with regard to values, of the behavior of their parent(s). This fact is what is referred to when the (bad) instruction is given, "Do as I say, not as I do!" The parent is, in such a case, recognizing that his or her own example would lead the child to do that which is against the parent's values (for the child), because the parent is behaving in a way inconsistent with those values.


If the parent wants the child to be generous, the parent should be generous. If the parent wants the child to be kind, the parent should be kind. If the parent wants the child to be violent, the parent should be violent (hitting the child will help). If the parent wants the child to sit quietly and talk reasonably and rationally, the parent should do so. If the parent wants the child to interrupt the parent, the parent should interrupt the child and the other parent. If the parent wants the child to scream and shout, the parent should scream and shout. If the parent wants the child to be able to accept criticism, the parent should show the child how it is done. If the parent wants the child to help the parent, the parent should help the child. If the parent wants the child to be honest, the parent should be honest.


In fact, the parent will not just do things optimally, but will additionally be a certain way. This is indeed the reason that this is the most difficult level of child rearing. It goes to the very heart of the parent's own identity or personality (that collection of traits and tendencies that are characteristic of the parent). In other words, since the parent is not likely to be "perfect," the optimal approach to child rearing will involve, among other things, efforts to change the self in a positive direction, not only in order to be able to model more desirable behavior, but also to be able to model the valuing of self-improvement itself. This requires having a continuous awareness of areas of the self that need working on. (If this sounds like an excessive expectation of the parent, we must ask whether we are expecting something of the child that the parent considers excessive for an adult!)


Consider the following questions to be asked of a parent. Does the parent have an orderly household? Does the parent ever speed? Does the parent ever have the child say that the parent isn't home? Does the parent use alcohol? Tobacco? Caffeine? With what explanation to the child? Does the parent ever make fun of anyone? Does the parent like his or her job? Does the parent continue to have curiosity about all things? Does the parent continue to learn? Does the parent read? Does the parent have irrational fears? Prejudices? Does the parent return money when given too much change? Does the parent work to perfect his or her anger prevention skills? Does the parent eat healthily? Exercise? Avoid watching unhealthy things on TV? Does the parent believe in emotional and social growth? Does the parent really want to learn about his or her mistakes, so as to be able to improve? Does the parent ask for criticism? Does the parent live his or her life such that he or she would be proud of it should it become visible to the public?


Remember that the goals of child rearing are to foster the development in the child of skills, wisdom, and values that will optimize the child's current and future quality of life and the child's ultimate value to his or her society. Are there any parts of this set of goals that should not be retained by the child, as his or her own goals for himself or herself, once the child is 18 years old (or 28, or 58, or 78)? If the parent, as an adult, does not value for himself or herself these same goals, then the parent cannot model the behavior that demonstrates these values. No matter how old the adult is, assuming the adult is not significantly disabled, there arise opportunities for the acquisition of new skills, new wisdom, and more optimal values. Thus, ideally, the adult carries on the work begun in childhood, and this is what allows the adult to model such work for the child and to work collaboratively with the child toward these goals.


Let's take an example. The child says to the parent that the parent is being unfair (with regard to some decision). In the authoritarian-ethical model, the parent may easily say to the child, "Don't talk back. Just do as I say." In the rational-ethical model, the parent might reassure the child that he or she has the open, listening attitude (as described in the chapter on "Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention") and say, "Help me to understand why you believe I am being unfair. It may indeed be that I am making a mistake, and if I am, I want to know. I want to be a good parent for you. It is important to me that I do the right thing." If it is important to the parent that the parent does the right thing, the child will identify with the parent in this regard, and the child will also value doing the right thing. If it is important to the parent to get feedback, it will become important to the child to get feedback. If it is important to the parent to be a good parent for the child, it will become important for the child to become a good child for the parent (to become good in one's role).


And here are some more examples of things a parent might say to a child, this time at the end of a discussion. "You know, I think you have raised some very important points. I will give what you have said much thought, and we will talk about this some more. Meanwhile, I do have to stick by my original decision, because I believe it is the right thing to do. You have raised some doubt in me, so I will continue to think about this and to hear your thoughts about it." "You know, you have indeed convinced me that I was wrong. I am glad that you have pointed this out to me. In the future, I will probably make better decisions about something like this." "You know, I am trying to understand why you are disagreeing with me. I cannot follow your reasoning. However, I want to hear your thoughts about this as long as you believe that I am wrong. Meanwhile, I must stick to my original decision, because I still believe that it is the right one. I hope that I am doing the right thing. (It's hard being a parent!)"


Needless to say, these examples will not represent the exact words that a parent might use. It is not the words that count, but the implied attitude, expressed in the idiosyncratic language of the parent and child. Also, the examples given are obviously for the older child, who has some increasing ability to think abstractly. However, one can, in the child's earliest years, convey the attitude and philosophy implied in the examples, and doing so early will make the attitude and philosophy a basic part of the child's identity. One can say, even to the smallest child, "No, don't do that! That's not right, because it can hurt someone. We don't want anyone to get hurt." This is far better than just, "Cut it out!" There is a perceivable difference between affectionate concern and angry domination.


Parents operating primarily in the standard model will find approaches like "behavior modification" appealing, while those operating in the rational-ethical model will not. Behavior modification emphasizes analyzing the behaviors that need modifying and the kinds of rewards and punishments that can be used to mold the child's responses. In doing so, the two lowest levels of child rearing are being used. In addition, however, one has to look at how the parent is relating to the child, and what that behavior is modeling for the child. The parent is looking for ingenious ways to trick or force the child into complying with the parent's wishes. The parent may even go to a specialist to learn more sophisticated ways in which to win out over the child. No matter how good the parent is at using words to describe what he or she is doing to the child, the parent is not modeling collaboration with the child in an effort to achieve conjointly an optimal quality of life. The relationship is basically manipulative or coercive, not intimate. The differences will become more apparent later.


In order for a parent to operate optimally at the highest level of child rearing, the parent must have a strong commitment to self-improvement, to reason and rationality, to doing the right thing (being ethical), and to doing what he or she can to make the world a better place. Especially because much of this is not only not promoted, but actually often undermined, by the standard model, and because we were all raised primarily in the standard model, operating optimally at the highest level of child rearing is extremely difficult for most of us. Yet the rewards can be tremendous, for children, parents, and our species in general.


Several or even all the levels of child rearing may be operating in any specific interaction with a child, in the standard model and in the rational-ethical model of child rearing, not only when carrying out well thought out procedures but also during the more automatic, intuitive, moment-by-moment interactions of the parent with the child. However, the conscious and deliberate use of these principles will allow them to serve as a set of guidelines and reminders to the parent, to help in optimizing the parent's approaches to the child. Just as the child will obtain better self-control and make better decisions, the more the child can label his or her own behavior and can think in terms of rules and guidelines for conduct, so too will the parent be able to do a better job of child rearing with such labels and principles as tools. In this way, we can rise above our otherwise basic animal nature and use a model of child rearing that is markedly different from that which comes naturally, and thereby implement a "basic ethical philosophy" that can greatly enhance our quality of life and our chances of survival.


This "basic ethical philosophy" is the most fundamental set of explanatory concepts that the parent will be referring to when the parent is explaining to the child how the parent is arriving at his or her beliefs about what the right thing to do is. It will be the guiding set of principles for all decisions of the parent.


Much of this basic ethical philosophy has been covered in the chapter on "Basic Concepts: Ethics." We need to review what we have so far.


The rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle is that we should do that which will promote the survival of and the good life for our species, meaning all of us, now and in the future. We are a group animal, and there is hardly anything that we can have and hardly anything that we can do that does not involve others having done their part. I should therefore do my part to make the world a better place within my sphere of influence and within the limits of my capabilities. My sphere of influence has my self at its center and consists of all of those individuals upon whom any of my decision-making has some impact. The boundaries of the sphere are indistinct, in that there is no way of knowing how far the influence of my behavior will spread among others, but it is clear that there are some individuals who are obviously affected by my behavior and others who are almost certainly not affected in any discernible way.


The people that are closest to me in my sphere of influence are the ones that are impacted most strongly by my behavior. In usual terminology, those closest to the center of my sphere of influence are my immediate "family" members, primarily the ones with whom I live, and who thus occupy the same household. These individuals and myself I will refer to as "the family." Needless to say, there are many ways that we humans live, such that there is not just one scenario that can be referred to as "the family." Since I will need to use examples, my examples will necessarily refer to family structures that I am most familiar with. I believe the reader will, however, be able to apply the same principles to other family structures. I am going to refer to the family as a household of one or two parents and one or more children. It will be the task of the reader to apply what is said here to other "family" scenarios.


So, within the family, the basic ethical philosophy extends to the idea that each of us in this family should do what he or she can to make life better for all in the family, and the family should, as individuals and as a group, do what it can to make life better for those outside the family, including neighbors, extended family, and society in general. What I can do is what is within the limits of my capabilities.


My capabilities consist of those built into my physical makeup and those acquired through learning and practice. These latter capabilities are what we should mean by "skills." Increasing my skills is increasing my capabilities, making me better able to make the world a better place. In the rational-ethical model of child rearing, the guiding orientation of the parent is that of promoting the acquisition of skills on the part of the child.


It should be remembered that, as the terms are used in this book, all behavior is determined by beliefs and motivational states, within the limits of the environment and the physical (primarily neurological) makeup of the animal, in this case the child. Therefore, as the child's existential and (rational-)ethical beliefs become more accurate, his or her behavior becomes more optimal, that is, less likely to be mistaken, non-optimal, and regretted. So the task of the parent is to do that which will promote the accuracy of the child's beliefs, both existential and ethical, and to promote the development of the ethical sense accompanying those ethical beliefs. These capabilities (to make the world a better place) that the parent is promoting are the child's skills.


We have talked about the time of "Homo rationalis," when life will be drastically different (in good ways) from the way it is now. At that time, by definition, our species will live by rational ethics, not authoritarian ethics. What will seem idealistic and improbable to us will seem normal to them. They will have a basic ethical philosophy, globally held, that is a background to all of their decision-making. For us, since all of us have been reared in the standard model, more or less, and since our culture in which we are embedded is nowhere near being like the culture that "Homo rationalis" infants and children will be reared in, we can only struggle to attain something close to this state of affairs in our own lives and within our own families. But we can indeed engage somewhat in this improved way of living if we are aware of how to do it and if we are motivated to do it. The motivational state that will promote doing it will be the ethical sense associated with the ethical belief that doing so is the right thing to do.


Even though some of what appears in the rational-ethical model of child rearing is indeed used by some families today, such that what follows should not really seem totally foreign, I want to emphasize the drastic difference in the overall approach to child rearing that will be maintained by "Homo rationalis" and that is the basis for rational-ethical child rearing. Therefore, in order to be clear, I will tend to focus on the worst of our current child rearing tendencies, as seen, however, in many families.


In most current households in my subculture, I believe, there is usually little going on that can be associated with the idea of making the world a better place for everyone, etc. Instead, there is often a preoccupation with how to get the most for oneself, while keeping out of trouble. There is a certain amount of time devoted to having fun. There is a certain amount of time devoted to doing that which will elicit praise and perhaps even material reward. Sometimes individuals will do things for each other, and hope for getting some things in return. What seldom occupies the minds of most children in many households is the idea of doing the right thing. Avoiding doing the wrong thing is more frequently thought about, as a way of staying out of trouble.


But in rational-ethical child rearing, the basis for everything that is done is rational ethics. It is by virtue of the fact that what the child is doing is believed by the child to be the right thing to do that the child is doing it. Ethics, instead of being an unpleasant, limiting influence on pleasure, is the source of the joy of living. Why is this? Because doing one's part to make the world a better place is what life is all about, and it includes the rationale for all of the fun that the child is experiencing in life. Remember, the world includes the self, and the self is at the center of one's sphere of influence, so one wants to make the world a better place for oneself as well as others. In addition, one wants to make oneself better able to make the world a better place, so taking care of one's equipment (body, brain, mind, and possessions) is of topmost priority, and this includes making sure that one has a fun-filled life. But the reason for doing so is in order to go beyond oneself to making the world a better place for one's family, friends, acquaintances, community, and species.


And why will the child have this unusual (in our minds) orientation? Because the child's parents will have it and everything they do will reflect it. They will talk about it, and they will make decisions that reflect it. They will model it for identification, they will teach it in their dialogues with their children, and they will reward it when they see it operating in their children. The child will be born into a world drastically different, socially, than is true today.


We can attempt to predict some of the basic differences between their lives and ours.


In the first place, obviously if doing one's part to make the world a better place is to be rewarded, the question will arise as to what to do about the child who, through genetic makeup and constitution, does not have the same level of capabilities as his or her siblings. Much of our current effort to produce capable children is centered around competition. One child tries to be better than another, and is urged on by parents and others to become better than other children. Inevitably, this produces failure for at least some. This threat of failure is often fought by the parents by having the child devote extra time to whatever the task is. For instance, the child has to work longer on his or her math homework, and because this is the area that most produces a sense of failure, it is the most unpleasant way the child may have of spending his or her time. Currently, when insufficient time is spent by some children on such areas, punishment, formal or informal, may follow. There is obviously something wrong with the scenario described in this paragraph. So what will "Homo rationalis" do about this problem?


I believe that "Homo rationalis" will look at competition as an optional activity for those for whom the activity is pleasurable, and that children will participate only if that is what they find enjoyable. But there will not be some universal scale of worth, on which every child is compared with others, that has to do with the child's ability to excel in at least one area of activity. Instead, what will be valued basically is the sincerity of effort on the part of the child to do his or her part, within the limits of his or her capabilities, in behalf of his or her family and those around him or her. If the child finds that entering competition in some area makes it more enjoyable for him or her, and perhaps helps him or her to accomplish more, and the child therefore requests to do so, then such competition would be made available to the child. There is currently a great tendency in our society to value successful competition, even when the competitors have somewhat antisocial attitudes toward society and a very self-oriented approach to life. Other individuals who quietly work hard to make the world a better place for others, perhaps in quite important ways, do not seem to be valued as much. They may get an occasional article on a back page of a medium, more as a curiosity than as a focus of admiration. The relative incomes of the two groups of individuals also reflect their value in our current society. The attitude of the child's parents regarding this will be crucial. The parents will have to see and value the child's efforts in the context of understanding what the child is capable of and what the child's intentions are.


Certainly an educational assessment will need to be carried out routinely and periodically for every child, to see where the child is in his or her learning and skill development, and a curriculum will need to be provided for that child that allows the child to be successful, not in terms of competition but in terms of development of the child's potential. And whether a child has a more limited curriculum than another, due to less capability, should be irrelevant to other children because it will be irrelevant to their parents.


Another drastic difference between rational-ethical child rearing and the current, standard model, has to do with a particular value that will be modeled by the parents at all times, and that is that if anyone in the family is unhappy, it is a problem for everyone in the family. By being a problem, I mean that it will be a topic of conversation and a focus of efforts to solve the problem until the problem does go away. Notice how different an orientation this is from that in which sibling rivalry and teasing is considered a "normal" phenomenon. Currently, one child's difficulty may be the source of glee for another. In many families, there is a continuing struggle to see who can make whom feel worse. In rational-ethical child rearing, one of the important functions of the parents is to foster the children empathizing and sympathizing with each other, and even helping each other. This same set of skills will be extremely important for doing one's part to make society a better place for all.


We may look at a list of some general sets of skills that the procedures of child rearing should be designed to foster:

  • (1) The ability to communicate accurately (symbol and syntax usage)
  • (2) The ability to recall useful, relevant information (education)
  • (3) The ability to utilize anger prevention principles (empathy and absence of hostility)
  • (4) The ability to inhibit non-optimal behavior (ethical sense and rules of conduct)
  • (5) The ability to negotiate (interpersonal and group interaction)
  • (6) The ability to think rationally (rules of logic and rules of evidence)

So all of the above has been an elaboration of the basic rational-ethical philosophy underlying all interactions with, and specific procedures involving, the child or children.


I will now offer some specific procedures in child rearing that are most likely to foster the above sets of skills.


These procedures may be of use to the reader or others who might wish to attempt a transition toward rational-ethical child rearing. But first, I want very strongly to clarify what such a transition involves. Consider the following four scenarios:

  • (1) A child is reared currently in the standard model, from birth till adulthood.
  • (2) A child is reared currently in the standard model until middle childhood, with then transition to the rational-ethical model.
  • (3) A child is reared currently from infancy till adulthood in the rational-ethical model.
  • (4) A child is reared in the time of "Homo rationalis" from infancy till adulthood in the rational-ethical model.

The reader can surely see that each of these scenarios is entirely different, and that different expectations are warranted from each of the scenarios. I mention this so that the reader will not have inappropriate expectations regarding what I am proposing. Some of my comments will have to do with trying to solve problems that would not have arisen in the third, or especially fourth, scenarios. But my effort is not just to describe what the time of "Homo rationalis" will be like, in my opinion, but also to offer some help to those that would like to make use of such ideas within their current living. And this book is for the reader, at the time the book is being written, not for some future culture.


Some of the procedures below may indeed be unnecessary in the time of "Homo rationalis" while nevertheless being quite helpful in our current efforts to foster rational-ethical living through our child rearing procedures, given the starting conditions for such a transition.


The first set of procedures, I believe one of the most important, will be that of the family meeting.


The family meeting is a time when the members of the family get together for the specific purpose of working together to make life better. The main functions of the meeting are working on problems currently or previously identified, development of new procedures to improve life, arriving at decisions about what is okay to do without specific approval, and planning for future events. The meeting should, as much as possible, include everyone in the family.


It is important to recognize that the ability to negotiate (communicate, listen, explain, advocate, engage in friendly debate, etc.) in a group setting, using behavior that fosters the success of the efforts of the group, is an extremely important set of skills that adults need in order to engage in those meetings of adults that determine current and future societal outcomes, and ultimately the fate of our species, so the family meeting should indeed be the first training place for all children to help them become good citizens of the world.


Efforts to establish family meetings in current families often face resistance on the part of the children. This resistance disappears if the meeting is really used for the above functions, and if the way of relating to the children is consistent with the above material on the four levels of child rearing. Thus, if the children see the meeting as a place where they will be made to feel bad, they will not want to come. If on the other hand family meeting is a place where children will actually be appreciatively listened to and where they can report on their progress in working on their "projects" (efforts at self improvement and at contribution to the family welfare), and receive recognition for doing so, they will look forward to the meetings. And if decisions about requests they have made are deferred until family meeting, when adequate discussion can take place, the children will feel the necessity to be there.


Family meeting is the specific time and place to bring up and talk about anything that anyone has any dissatisfaction about. Not only is it a place for parents to clarify non-optimal behavior of the children, but it is also the time and place for children to complain about the actions of parents and siblings. The crucial aspect of the meeting is the commitment to looking at all problems from all perspectives, hearing all ideas, and recognizing that the problems are not really solved until there is consensus. All complaints are looked at against the backdrop of the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle and the other principles considered consistent with it. Thus, there will be the effort to find ways of dealing with problems that are most likely to have the best total set of outcomes. This is the way of determining, as much as possible, what the right thing is to do. If a child is dissatisfied, even if for now things have to be a certain way, there must be the commitment to continue to review the issue to see if anyone has any new ideas.


Decisions are generally not made by group vote in the family meeting. The parents are the leaders of the family, and as such must be responsible for decisions. But this does not mean that parents are always right, and this fact should always be acknowledged to the children. Parents have to do what they believe to be right. Doing otherwise is modeling a low-intensity ethical sense, a belief that it is okay to do that which is not right. But what must go along with this responsibility for decision-making is the openness to reviewing decisions to see if they are really optimal. A problem still exists if the child does not agree with the decision. This does not mean that the parent must agree with the child. Instead, it means that either the parent or the child (if not both) is incorrect in his or her thinking, and in either case important work needs to be done. Both parent and child must acknowledge that what is important is doing the right thing, whatever that is, and that coming to be correct is the goal, not just being able to maintain the belief that one is correct. The parent is thus modeling the open, listening attitude described in the chapter on "Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention."


There are indeed times when the parents may decide that putting an issue to a vote is the right thing to do. But they should be able to explain to the children why doing so appears to be the right thing to do. The parents are making the higher level decision to delegate the decision to a vote of the group, presumably, for instance, because the issue does not involve "technical knowledge" and is of interest to all involved.


In making the transition to having family meetings, parents may often find that the behavior of one or more children may not be optimal for the functioning of the group discussion. If however such behavior leads to decisions not being made, or being made in an undesirable way (from the children's perspective), they will soon learn to avoid interrupting and to stay on topic, for instance. Of course, if children do indeed make progress in behaving appropriately, their progress in this regard can be recognized (rewarded informally). Parents, then, must set the model of not interrupting and of staying on topic. Doing so additionally accomplishes making the inappropriate behavior non-rewarding, by virtue of its interference with rapid decision-making.


Regarding the above, a parent might say, "So far, I believe that the right decision for me to make is X, but I know that you don't want that, so I certainly will listen to why you think some other decision would be right, and we have fifteen minutes until we have to stop." At the end of that time the parent might say, "You know, I was able to follow some of what you said, and it sounded somewhat convincing, but not enough for me to change my mind. I wish we had spent more time talking about one of these issues, but we seemed to have gotten off track. I'll have to stick with my original decision, but we can talk about it some more tomorrow."


By the same token, a parent might say, "You know, in order for me to believe that you have a real understanding of what I am saying, I need to be able to speak several sentences without being interrupted, and so far that has not been possible. Now our time has run out. Maybe we can continue next time."


The bottom line is that everyone should be able to be listened to without interruption, and the way that the parents conduct the meeting can be such that the children learn this ethical principle in a very concrete, convincing manner. Experiences such as these help children to learn very fast how to optimize their input into decision making. What does not work, of course, is for parents to interrupt and shout down the children, setting the model for such behavior. Also what does not work is to change the decision to what the child wants as a way of getting the child to stop an emotional display, thus rewarding inappropriate behavior.


Having an agenda on the family bulletin board, such that anyone can add to it and see what is going to be discussed, can be useful for maintaining interest and encouraging participation. Also, in a family meeting plans can be made that certain individuals will "research" a particular topic to present at a later meeting. In some families, but not necessarily all, a written record of the topics and decisions might be kept. How formal or informal a meeting is to be, and how long or how frequent, are decisions that will vary from one family setting to another and perhaps from one time to another.


Thus, there are no absolute rules for the conducting of family meetings. Instead, what should be done in a particular family at a particular time should follow from the principles of rational-ethical child rearing. The specific procedure itself will not be what works. Only the following of the principles will.


I will assume the reader knows that the words and sentences that the parent actually uses in talking with the child will necessarily vary from family to family and will also depend upon the age and understanding of the child. On the other hand, if the parent occasionally says something the child cannot understand, this will offer the child a wonderful opportunity to learn something new and to learn to ask questions when he or she is failing to understand something. It is of course a good idea for the parent to question the child to make sure the child has indeed understood. (And such a question should be more than "Did you understand?" since the child may not be aware he or she didn't.)


The second set of procedures has to do with the formal reward system within the family.


We must recognize that families vary very widely with regard to their economic capabilities, and that any specific ideas about the formal reward system that will be optimal in a family will depend upon such factors. I am going to address some of the kinds of problems that I have witnessed in my own culture. The important conclusions for the reader to draw have to do with the principles behind the specific problems and procedures I am outlining. (In what follows, when I use the term "should," the reader should interpret this to mean "probably should, if appropriate in that particular family setting.")


In my culture, which is one of affluence, there is, I believe, a major lack of recognition on the part of many of our youth of the importance of interdependence, and consequently a major lack of a system of ethical thinking that serves as a guide to good decision making. To some extent, authoritarian ethics has always failed to promote the best functioning of our groups (families, societies, etc.), but in addition I believe that currently there is even a greater failure of such ethics. Rational ethics is very early in its development, and it has not filled the void. Consequently, we are seeing, in my culture, an increase in disorganized, antisocial behavior among our youth, often with tragic results. Nothing has satisfactorily replaced the weakened authoritarian ethics.


I have already called the reader's attention to the fact that there is hardly anything we can have, or anything we can do, that does not require others having done their part. Many youth seem to have the belief, "I exist; therefore, I should have." It is unrealistic to expect the infant to be aware of the importance of doing his or her part to make the world a better place, but child rearing should accomplish this awareness quite early.


The key concept to be taught is that members of a group benefit from the group only to the extent that the group functions well, and the group functions well only to the extent that the members of the group do their part in behalf of the group. My use of the word "group" implies some sort of coordinated activity, generally with the acceptance of roles by the members of the group. The members of the group give to the group, and the group gives to its members. This is the reason that the child should contribute to the group, learning and utilizing his or her growing skills in order to so contribute.


But what I observe instead is that many families operate in such a way that the child expects to receive things from the family group simply because of the attainment of a certain age, and when the child does not receive, anger is produced. Furthermore, there is a strong tendency for parents to give or withhold as an impromptu reward or punishment in response to whether the child obeys or not from moment to moment. "If you do X, I will give you Y." "Just for that, I am not going to give you Z." And children are paid to do chores, as if there is not a reason to do them just by virtue of being a member of the family.


What I am about to propose to the reader will not be appropriate for every family. It is oriented toward those families that are attempting to make the transition to rational-ethical child rearing and are encountering characteristic problems in making that transition from fairly common family situations currently. Thus, although I will be advocating for a specific set of procedures, the reader should realize that there will be this variation in applicability.


After the attainment of a certain age, in the preschool years, the child should receive no handouts except perhaps for annual occasions. Instead, the parents should give the child a weekly allowance that would equal all of the handouts during the course of a year, divided by fifty-two. (The allowance could be given daily for the smaller or more immature child.) The allowance should be ample, as much as the family can reasonably afford. This allowance should be for "optional pleasures." The family also provides food, clothing, shelter, medical care, affection, and training, and these items should be considered separately from the allowance. The allowance might depend on a formula that considers the child's age, so that different children in the same family might receive different allowances.


Now it is not reasonable for the child to receive the allowance for optional pleasures if he or she is not doing his or her part for the family. Therefore, if the child is having problems in meeting this expectation, some of the allowance should be withheld. For example, if the weekly allowance were $7.00, then the daily amount would be $1.00. At the end of the week, the child would receive his or her allowance, consisting of $1.00 for each day that the child met all of his or her responsibilities. (Notice that we are not talking about withholding specific amounts for specific, individual mistakes, any more than we are paying the child to do specific chores.)


On the family bulletin board, there should be a chart showing each day of the week as a column. As long as nothing is written in a column, the child will receive the allowance (at the end of the week) that is for that day. What is written in the columns are designations such as C3 and R5. A C3 would mean that chore number three had not been completed properly. An R5 would mean that rule number five had been violated. At the bottom of the column would be written in the allowance for that day. Note that only one day's allowance would be held, no matter how many mistakes there were, if they happened on the same day. For younger children and for children with greater difficulty with self-control, the day might be divided into two, three, or four sections, such that the day's allowance would be given according to the number of sections having no entries in them. Doing this would allow a child to quickly start again to try to have a mistake-free interval of time and consequent attainment of allowance.


For children who can read or are learning to read, next to the chart on the family bulletin board would be two sheets, one for rules and one for chores.


A rule is an ethical rule of conduct. Examples would be:

  • No hitting. (I should not hit.)
  • No stealing. (I should not take brother's possessions without brother's permission.)
  • No coming to supper late. (I should not come to supper late.)

A rule should be on the list only if a child has demonstrated an inability to avoid violating the rule despite adequate discussion in family meeting. Notice that the loss of allowance due to a violation of a rule is indeed a form of punishment, but that its characteristics are that it is not impromptu and that the child is able to know at the time of violation of the rule what the consequence will be. Thus, the child should be given the opportunity to work on the problem first, without punishment, and the provision of this punishment is only to help the child have added motivation to inhibit the problematic behavior. The child should be told that when he or she seems to have achieved the necessary skill of inhibiting the problematic behavior, the rule will be removed from the list so that the child can practice obeying the rule purely out of the wish to do the right thing (ethical sense). (Remember, if the child disagrees that following the rule is the right thing to do, discussion of this issue is urgent. In rational-ethical child rearing, one is trying to promote ethical thinking, not obedience, unless obedience is recognized by the child as the right thing to do in the case in question.) And ethical rules of conduct are only guidelines. If the child believes the rule should not have been followed in this particular case, he or she should discuss this in family meeting, where a decision can be made regarding the allowance reduction. If the rule violation happens several times a day, then the above-described option of dividing the day into sections may be optimal. One always wants the child to have more success than failure, and one especially wants to avoid a prolonged period of time in which appropriate behavior can make no difference. (Prolonged periods of "grounding" are a currently frequent example of this kind of error, and are quite demoralizing.)


A chore is something that the child is expected to do, without being reminded, by a certain time, following which a parent is likely to inspect to see if it has been done and done adequately. The chore should be described on the sheet and the inspection time specified (with actual inspection being done anytime after that, within a certain, specified limit that makes sense).


Whereas rules should be written on the rule sheet only if the behavior continues to be a problem, all chores should probably be on the chore sheet, to help the child attain a sense of pride that he or she does indeed have a set of responsibilities. In fact, the reader might prefer to use a different term than "chore," one that has a more positive connotation, such as "responsibility" or "role." However, the child's feeling about the chore will have most to do with how the parent presents it to the child, not what word is used for it. And if the child really does not like doing it, that fact should be accepted and the child appreciated for doing something distasteful in behalf of the family.


When there are more than one child, I believe the optimal approach is to designate a list of "chores to be done by the children." Each week, the children can decide among themselves how to divide up the chores, and a child will be responsible only for those chores for which he or she has signed up. Thus, if chore number three were not done, the C3 would go only in the column for that child. If no child was willing to sign up for the chore, then it would be the responsibility of all of the children, such that, if it were not done, C3 would be placed in the columns for all of the children. Such a procedure is far better than the parent making the decision as to how the chores will be divided up, because the children are not likely to agree with the parent's choices, and because leaving the matter up to the children gives them the opportunity to learn the skills of negotiation and the problems involved in determining fairness. Some children will decide to rotate the chores in order to achieve fairness, and it will have been far better if the children come up with this solution than if the parent imposes it upon them.


Always the concern of the parent should be the welfare of and the good life for the child. A way of demonstrating such concern is to tell the child, upon assigning a new chore, that although failure to complete the chore will result in the appropriate designation on the chart, the actual loss of a part of the allowance will only occur after an initial period of time during which the child is getting used to the chore and learning how to do a good job. Thus, the child gets helpful feedback, but does not actually experience a significant punishment (the withholding of part of the allowance). Also, the parent should make sure that the child can request at any time to be shown in what ways his performance of the chore is unsatisfactory. Always the role of the parent should be as an ally of the child in the child's efforts to learn the appropriate skills. (Currently, because of the reliance upon punishment, the parent is often seen as an enemy rather than as an ally.)


Above, a chore was described as something a child was supposed to do without being reminded. Indeed, one of the main reasons for managing the issue of chores in this manner is to avoid reminding the child. I have many times told parents that a child should never be reminded, that when a child is reminded, doing so is a sign that there is a problem and is also a cause of the problem. The general principle is that a child is not likely to do that which is done for the child. If someone reminds the child, the child is not likely to remind himself or herself. So a parent should arrange the procedures in the family such that children have the opportunity to develop the skills involved in reminding the self. If the child has trouble remembering to do something, the role of the parent should be to help the child (usually in family meeting) develop methods for doing so, again being the ally of the child against the problem, rather than being aligned against the child-with-the-problem.


It is apparently tempting to many parents not only to indicate on the chart the failure to complete the chore, but also to say something to the child. What is said is almost always painful to the child, and therefore represents punishment and should therefore be avoided. Placing the C3, for example, on the chart should be all that is done, if possible. Although the use of the chart in this manner does inevitably produce negative feeling, and is therefore to some extent punishment, doing it in this manner represents the least punitive approach to the issue of failure to meet expectations, and it offers the parent the opportunity to sympathize with the child. Additionally, the child knew exactly what the "punishment" was supposed to be, whereas what the parent may say to the child is quite unpredictable, and would therefore be impromptu informal punishment. Of course, the parent, in saying something to the child, does not have to be punitive. The parent might say, "Gosh, I sure hate marking this down. You have otherwise done so well. What do you think went wrong? Is there any way I can help? Do you want to go over again what the chore involves?" Doing so sincerely would be avoiding punishment.


With regard to the allowance, there are possibilities for "advanced learning" for the older child. For instance, the child can have an "account" in the family "bank" (maintained in the home by the parent), in which the child can save his money, without having to carry it around, and the parent can even add interest to the amount that is kept in the account, helping the child to learn that concept and even to make the appropriate calculations. Lending the child money, however, can be quite problematic, and probably should only be done with the much older child who has demonstrated satisfactory financial responsibility. Doing so clarifies the concept of having "good credit." Lending the child money tends to undermine what the child needs to learn about budgeting. Also, the more the child really has to have the right amount of money to get something, the more he or she will learn about arithmetic, money, cost, and value.


I believe that a child should not be allowed to work for money outside the home unless he or she is doing his or her part satisfactorily at home. And if a child works outside the home, and therefore does less in the home, it makes sense for the child to contribute some of his or her income to the family, rather than keeping it all for himself or herself.


The third set of procedures has to do with the granting of permission.


Currently, one sees in many families children continuously asking, "Can I (do X)?" It is also not unusual to see a parent say, "No," and then to see the child ask, "Why can't I?" whereupon the parent might say, "I told you that you couldn't, so stop bugging me!" In all of this interaction, what is portrayed is authoritarian-ethical child rearing. The "author" (parent) has spoken, and has told the child what to do (or not do). The ultimate legitimization for the original ethical rule of conduct (given in shorthand as "No," meaning "You should not do X") is that the author does not wish the child to do it. The child's question ("Why?") is looked upon as a plea for reconsideration, and is responded to with anger and some hostility (punishment). A more accurate answer (still within the standard model) would be, "Because I said so."


Now the question to ask about this procedure is whether it fosters development of ethical thinking in the child, and of course at this point the reader should see that it doesn't and should understand why. But what to do instead is not immediately clear. The right procedure surely could not be to get into a detailed ethical discussion every time a child asked to do something, because the functioning of the family would slow down significantly. The answer to the question is that what is done should be guided by principles, applied perhaps creatively to specific situations. So what are those principles?


The goals are to foster in the child the capacity for ethical thinking, a set of accurate ethical beliefs (ones consistent with the rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle), and a strong ethical sense associated with those ethical beliefs. The accurate ethical beliefs, accompanied by the strong ethical sense, will motivate the child to do the right thing without the parent telling the child to do it.


Therefore, insofar as possible, the child should not have to ask the parent for permission, because the child should already know the answer.


So there should be an emphasis upon the child having certain privileges, meaning behaviors that the child knows do not require specific permission. For instance, a child should already know whether he or she can spend the night with a friend, because that should be or not be one of his or her privileges. Of course, the privilege may indeed be conditional, meaning that the child automatically has permission under certain conditions, such as the completion of all chores and homework, for instance. And there may be certain required ways of carrying out the permitted behavior, such as, in the current case, notifying the parent of his or her intention to do so by a certain amount of time before leaving, etc. And of course there may be specific reasons why a child cannot be granted permission to do something which he or she has the privilege to do, such as that there is an important family event or problem that interferes and takes precedence (in which case the parent would of course express sympathy and try to provide some comfort).


Now our discussion shifts to the procedure of granting of privilege. How is this to be done? Again, we are talking about having some general principles to go by. So we are asking, "What set of principles will guide us in the granting of privileges?"


We want principles that will work. Therefore, we should look at what we have found to work best so far. The reason for having such a set of procedures is to reduce the chances of making mistakes. The worse the potential outcomes of such mistakes, the more important it is to have good procedures. In other words, we should not have permission to do things which, by virtue of insufficient skill, might result in really bad outcomes. This is the reason, for example, that there are procedures for granting the privilege of driving.


Let us take a look at one set of potentially very dangerous behaviors that certain individuals are nevertheless given the privilege of engaging in, namely, the practice of medicine, even, say, neurosurgery. What are the procedures involved in the granting of such privileges? They would be the following:

  • (1) The individual learns "academically" the information necessary to make good decisions (i.e., with acceptable safety).
  • (2) The individual observes another, who is proficient, engage in the behavior.
  • (3) The individual participates, by helping, in the procedure.
  • (4) The individual engages in the behavior under the (perhaps declining) supervision of one who is proficient.
  • (5) The individual demonstrates by being tested that he or she has learned all that is considered needed for acceptable safety.

The above set of procedures is carried out because it optimizes the chance that the individual will be able to do competently what he or she has been granted the privilege to do, and this is the same concern that any parent should have in granting privileges to a child. These procedures involve telling and then showing the individual how to do it, and then having the individual learn to do it in steps that make mastery the easiest and the safest, all the while determining whether the individual is indeed learning what he or she is supposed to learn. So prior to a child receiving the privilege to do something on his or her own, the to-be-permitted activity should be talked about with the child and to the extent possible shown to the child, and then the child should be given the opportunity to do it under gradually decreasing supervision, but all the while the child should be asked questions to see if he or she really is learning how to handle whatever problems might come up while doing it. And hopefully the process will occur with the maximum of reward and minimum of punishment or experience of failure, such that the child will feel a sense of pride in his or her accomplishment. (The anticipated experience of pride would be a component of the child's ethical sense.)


The reader is asked to try to imagine what using the above principles would involve in the granting of the following privileges:

  • Brushing one's teeth on one's own
  • Going to the store with the parent
  • Setting the table
  • Riding a bicycle
  • Going swimming
  • Vacuuming
  • Doing laundry
  • Visiting with a friend
  • Driving the family car
  • Going on a date
  • Having music lessons

I am aware, of course, that the above list will be relevant only in certain cultures, including my own, but again, it is the principles that are important, not the specific details. And the overall idea is that children, in fact all individuals, should be continuously developing, practicing, and maintaining skills, namely behaviors that hopefully will make the world a better place within their spheres of influence. Skillful behavior is behavior that is not a mistake, i.e., does not lead to a bad set of total outcomes.


Child rearing is the effort to bring about in children accurate existential and ethical beliefs, and an adequate (strong) ethical sense associated with the ethical beliefs, so the granting of privileges should be according to procedures that are most likely to bring this about.


The final set of principles has to do with impromptu instruction, meaning telling a child to do something.


Children certainly do not always know what to do and at times have to be told. However, we should remember that every opportunity that the child has to figure out what to do helps the child to grow in knowledge, skills, and problem solving. So when parents needlessly tell a child what to do, they may be starving the child of important experience. I have seen examples in my practice. I go to the waiting room and ask the family to come into the office, whereupon a parent immediately tells the child, "Come on." I ask the child a question and before he or she has a chance to answer, a parent says, "Answer the doctor." I have seen situations in which for prolonged periods the only activity that the child engages in that is not preceded by an instruction to so act is restless fidgeting. And I have seen children look as if they were in a trance, responding to continuous commands in a robot-like manner, with no affect or interest, and with a manner that suggests resignation and detachment, as if they have long ago given up the hope that they might, on their own, do the right thing.


I believe the reader can imagine that in the above examples the child really should have been given time to do his or her own responding, rather than being told what to do. If the child were not to do the appropriate thing, then there could be useful discussion as to why he or she had not. If the child does not respond properly to the situation, an opportunity for learning has occurred. If the child does respond appropriately, an opportunity for informal reward has occurred, with a further enhancement of the strength of the ethical sense (anticipation of such approval).


We have now seen some specific procedures or ways of doing things that are generally different from what often occurs in current, usual child rearing, which is mostly according to the authoritarian-ethical model. We have seen that these proposed specific procedures do often take more time and energy, but even more, they require knowing how to do them and they require the belief that the underlying principles are optimal.


We have seen how skillful child rearing will bring about a strong ethical sense associated with accurate ethical beliefs, as well as accurate existential beliefs. And we have seen that although reward and punishment both produce the ethical sense, punishment also has the unfortunate side effect of producing anger, and the build-up of anger-containing memories (chronic anger) over time produces a motivational state (rebellion) that competes with the ethical sense, making it more difficult to do the right thing. Therefore, skillful child rearing, including the avoidance of punishment, will produce a strong ethical sense without the repetitive stimulation of anger and the build-up of chronic anger. Thus, reward, teaching, and modeling for identification are the levels of child rearing that should be used primarily, and of course used skillfully, according to well understood principles.


Just as in the last chapter we concluded that although our basic animal nature arose through natural selection because it fostered the survival of the species, it did not cause us to deal with anger-producing situations in such a way as to produce a good quality of life, our basic animal nature has not provided us with a model of child rearing that reliably promotes a good quality of life for the child or for us as a species. Therefore, just as in the last chapter we concluded that we would improve our quality of life by adding, and adhering to, a set of ethical principles and rules of conduct to handle anger-producing situations, we now can say that having a different model of child rearing produced by a more optimal set of ethical principles and rules of conduct may allow us to provide our children and our species in general with a much better quality of life than has so far been possible.


So I propose that the task of the reader is to decide whether this rational-ethical model of child rearing does indeed make sense, and if it does, to advocate for it within his or her sphere of influence, and, if the reader is involved in child rearing, to utilize it in that child rearing. This is what I believe the reader should do, if he or she wishes to do his or her part to make the world a better place within his or her sphere of influence.