Adam Grant is an organisational psychologist and author. He’s written cracking best sellers, including Give and Take, the Originals, and Option B (written with Sheryl Sandberg on raising resilient kids, it’s on my reading list).
At one point, they talk about raising creative kids. Adam points out it’s a job of not crushing creativity, rather than growing it. A reminder of what’s lost through authoritative parenting.
He talks about data saying kids who are more creative in high school come from households with very few rules. Kids whose thinking is closer to the average have six core rules. ‘Rules’ is perhaps a misleading word. Really, it’s about principles vs. rules.
Principles are things that guide decision making in many situations. They are flexible. In contrast, rules are constraining and rigid. A blanket approach regardless of the context.
Adam’s approach to putting his kids to bed goes like this.
“Hey, we really value being well rested in our family. It’s important to us to get a good night’s sleep. You’ll feel better; you’ll get along with other people better.”
This explains why the principle, or value, is important.
He says they try to give their kids a lot of responsibility. For example, to their nine-year-old or six-year-old, “All right, lights will go out at 8:30, and I’m giving you a choice. Do you want to be responsible and turn them out yourself? Or do you want me to come in and turn them out?”
If they choose responsibility, they get a little bit of extra time. Not living up to the responsibility means they lose the privilege temporarily. Putting the child in charge of their own destiny. Learning what happens when they do and do not follow the principle. Having to think for themselves a little about managing their time. All powerful stuff.
They will no doubt take the piss a bit, not turning the lights off in this instance. Then they learn the consequences of a privilege being removed, and I’m sure, what it’s like to be tired the next day. That’s really when they learn why the principle is important (with a parent gently reminding them they’re being a grumpy git because they’re tired). Over time they change their behaviour.
The rigid rule based approach doesn’t have this learning opportunity built in. In fact it removes any responsibility from the child. Cotton wool parenting. Ironically this hurts the child more, because they have to learn the lesson at somepoint later. No doubt when the consequences are far more important, like screwing up your exams, important relationships or jobs.
It really comes down to the parent’s mindset. Are they ‘just a child’ who must do what you say, because you’re older and provide for them? Or are they a human being who deserves to be treated well, given explanations and the opportunity to learn for themselves? I know which way I lean.
Interestingly, Transport for London (the organisation that run the tube and the bus services in London), found that when they told people how long the next train would be, typically 1 or 2 minutes away, levels of complaints and passenger stress went down. It had a big impact.
Explaining the why of something is important to us humans. It removes uncertainty, making us feel in control. A feeling which makes us more confident. And we all want our kids to be more confident and responsible. Not to mention creative.