Guest post by Kevin Kirkpatrick, originally a comment on Hiss point hiss hiss.
When I read Emily Dietle’s defense of Shermer’s “NAUGHTY-NAUGHTY” comment, I see a direct parallel in how parents might choose to deal with sibling in-fighting, teasing, and bullying. I have direct experience with three methodologies: that which my mother applied to my siblings and me; that which my father applied, and that which my wife and I apply for our own children.
My mother’s approach to dealing with teasing was “rule based”. She simply had a set of rules which determined what behavior was teasing and what behavior was not. Rules included but weren’t limited to: no unwanted touching, no name-calling, no finger-pointing, no ‘copying’, and so on. And the result? The older siblings were savvy enough to identify behaviors which sidestepped these rules and allowed them to torment and bully the younger siblings “at will”. Acronyms were invented to give normal words derogatory meanings; a younger sibling might be called a “G.I.R.L.” after having been told what that “really” meant. Pointing/staring at something near the younger sibling was very popular. Almost but not quite touching (“I’m not touching her!”). And so on. The rule-based approach required my mom to interview both sides and figure out who broke a rule. And boy, did the elder siblings get good at “gaslighting” (amazing to find such a perfect term for something 30 years after the fact): “We didn’t call her a name, we just called her a girl, she’s crazy and just trying to get us in trouble.”
My father’s approach was authoritative and emphasized peace and quiet: punish/scold whoever is disrupting the peace so the peace is not disturbed. This was a gold mine of opportunity for the older siblings: tease quietly/surreptitiously, and when the younger siblings loudly retaliated or complained, there’d be the added delight of seeing that sibling both get upset and reprimanded.
As a middle child growing up in the above household, I walked away with a pretty good feel of how ineffectual those strategies were. Frankly, up until adulthood (at which our own maturity allowed us to work through and mend things), we children basically resented one another. We rarely got along, never sought opportunities to do things together, and ultimately lived completely independent lives through to college age.
And as a parent, I resolved to handle things differently with our children. Our approach to teasing is 100% empathy based and victim-supporting. If one of our kids is upset based on what the other is doing, that behavior is directed to STOP immediately (with direct consequences if merited). The “worst” backlash the victim can expect is, if the behavior is innocuous enough and/or plausibly non-malicious, we ensure that the victim first directly asked the transgressor to stop the behavior. If the teasing continues (in any capacity), the “teasor” is removed from the social situation completely; timed out until they’re ready to behave kindly and respectfully. Much emphasis is put on empathy training: the consequence is usually some form of the teasor working out and explaining to us how the teasing makes the other sibling feel, and understanding how they wouldn’t like to feel that way themselves.
Suffice it to say, the different approach to teasing has yielded astonishingly different results. Our kids, now 7 and 5, are and have always been best buds. As I write this, they’ve literally been at imaginative play for going on 3 hours (and that’s the norm). Sibling fighting still occurs from time to time (mostly when the kids are over-tired/hungry/etc.), but it simply does not exist in any significant way in our household.
Emily Dietle’s defense of Shermer 100% rings of the rule-based approach my mother used, and I’m mostly stunned that my 7 and 5 year old children seem to have already developed a better grasp of how to respectfully engage others than she seems to advocate. The CFI culture seems more in line with my father’s authoritative attitude: punish and shame the noise-maker, with the end-goal of “peace and quiet” being the measure of success.
(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)