Practical Taking Children Seriously

Annette Abma

From the archives: 2003

Though many parents may be convinced of Taking Children Seriously in theory, they often want practical advice on how to resolve real problems; yet, as parents taking their children seriously come to learn, there is no one solution to any given problem just as there is no one kind of child or parent. Unlike most approaches to parenting, Taking Children Seriously does not and cannot offer formulas or methods for dealing with specific problems. This is because solving problems involves discovering what is most preferred by the very unique individuals involved.

That’s a hard truth for parents new to Taking Children Seriously. When I first learned about Taking Children Seriously, I remember how uncertain I was and how desperately I sought helpful advice both on and off the Taking Children Seriously list (and got plenty, thanks to all the wonderful contributors there!). Sometimes I didn’t even know if something was an actual problem to be resolved or not. For this reason, I have put together three scenarios which offer examples of explicitly coercive and implicitly coercive approaches, and Taking Children Seriously approaches to sample problems. Each scenario is also followed by a list of possible solutions as well as some suggestions on how one might prepare for solving such problems in the future.

I hope you find them helpful on your path to taking children (and yourselves!) seriously.

Scenario 1: Billy wants to go to the park but his mother wants to stay home and look at her new magazine:

Explicitly Coercive: “No, and that’s final.”
Implicitly Coercive (and not true!): “Oh, Billy, I’m exhausted. You don’t want me to be unhappy do you? Why don’t you let Mommy rest and we’ll go later on when I’m feeling better?”
Self-Sacrificial: “Okay Billy, whatever you say. I guess I’ll read the magazine some other time. ”
“Okay, let’s go. I never get to do what I want to do anyway!”

Taking Children Seriously Approach: “I want to read my magazine. You want to go to the park. Let’s think of a good solution here.” (Actually, we rarely state that we are finding a solution, we just find one, but you get the idea.)

Possible Solutions:

  • Mom takes magazine to the park and reads it while Billy plays. 
  • Mom asks Dad if he’d like to go to the park with Billy 
  • Mom asks Billy if he’d like to play in the yard with something really fun. 
  • Dad asks Billy if he’d like to go with him to the hardware store 
  • Mom asks Billy if he’d like to look at some books while she reads her magazine. 
  • Mom remembers that she wanted to get exercise today so decides that a trip to the park is a great idea. 
  • They decide to go out for ice-cream. 

Proactive Considerations:

  • Help children become happily occupied on their own for times when parent needs a break. 
  • Consider if the children get enough time to do the things they love and set up trips to the park, zoo, etc. either with yourself or with some other adult caregiver 
  • Try to think of some activities that you know the children always love doing and make sure that the supplies are handy (such as painting, sculpture, chemistry set, books, TV, etc.) so that when you want quiet time you can offer a fun activity for them. 
  • Make sure you are getting sufficient rest and assistance. Ask for help from spouse, friend, family, local youth or teenager, or a hired helper. 

Scenario 2: Nancy has a mild throat infection but refuses to take the prescribed antibiotics because she dislikes the taste.

Explicitly Coercive: “You have to take it, Nancy. I’m sorry but we’re going to have to hold you down and force you to take it for your own good.”

Implicitly Coercive: “Nancy, if you don’t take this medicine you’ll die!”
“Please, Nancy, do it for me. I hate to see you sick”
“Mmmm, this is yummy! (pretends to take some). ”Mommy likes it! Now you try it.“

Taking Children Seriously Approach: “You don’t like the taste of this medicine, yet you’ll probably get better much faster if you take it. How can we resolve this problem?” (Do keep in mind that we are talking about a mild throat infection here. If her condition was such that medication was vital, the Taking Children Seriously approach would be different.)

Possible Solutions:

  • Parent finds a compounding pharmacist and asks to have the antibiotics made more palatable (choose child’s favourite flavour) 
  • Parent asks pharmacist or doctor if the medicine is available in a different form (tablets, capsules, liquid —whichever the child would prefer) 
  • Parent offers to put the medicine in something more palatable (chocolate milk, pudding, juice, soup, etc.) 
  • Parent looks into consequences of not taking medicine and shares the information with child so they can make an informed decision together. 
  • They go out for ice cream (and perhaps offer to put the medicine in a spoonful of child’s favourite flavour) 

Proactive Considerations:

  • Get to know a good compounding pharmacist in your area 
  • Find opportunities to discuss the role of doctors, medicine, health, etc. with children so they know what to expect and what their options are. 
  • Become a trusted advisor so that if a rare occasion arises where a child really must do something s/he dislikes for the sake of hir health (emergency situation), s/he will trust that you are being honest when you say that it’s essential. 

Scenario 3: Five-year-old Abby refuses to take a bath.

Explicitly Coercive: “You have to bathe, Abby. I’m putting you in whether you like it or not”

Implicitly Coercive: “You’re so dirty, Abby. Do you want people to think of you as a dirty girl who can’t take care of herself?”
“Abby, if you don’t bathe you’ll get sick. There are germs all over your body that need to be washed off every day.”
“If you bathe now, I’ll read you an extra story later.” “No one will want to play with you if you’re not clean, Abby.” (Of course if there really is a bad smell, such as if the child has hit puberty and not changed her frequency of bathing, she will want to know that there is a bad smell, because it could be true that people avoid her because of it, because it could be very embarrassing for her, and because it is unpleasant for those around her.)

Taking Children Seriously Approach: “I respect that it’s your body and therefore your choice entirely.”

Possible Solutions:

  • Parent respects child’s choice and child bathes when s/he wants to. 
  • If parent has legitimate concerns for the child’s happiness or health, s/he offers alternative methods of cleaning such as shower, swimming pool, warm washcloth body tickle (great for toddlers),sprinkler, etc. 
  • They go have some ice cream. 

Proactive Considerations:

  • Remember that bodily integrity is vital and that no-one should impose themselves on another’s body without their consent. 
  • Get factual information on hygiene and don’t let your own coercive upbringing influence you. 
  • Have lots of fun bath toys, bath paint, bubbles, etc. so that bath-time is fun time.

See also: Is hiding medicine in your child’s food wrong?

Annette Abma, 2003, ‘Practical Taking Children Seriously’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/practical-taking-children-seriously/