A childrening manifesto


by Joseph Ivan Long 2012.

The only thing that qualifies me to make the following observations is the fact that I have been a dad for five years, a husband for ten, and a brother for thirty-three. These are certain core beliefs I have that may or may not be shared by others, but they they are of infinite importance to me, as a dad who wants our children to continually become more loving, kind, curious, adventurous, and empathetic people. And I think those are good things for adults to work on too :)

01. Childrening is a child-centric approach to raising children.

It is not a renunciation of adulthood or rejection of such mature concepts as "responsibility," rather, it is the embracing of an adventurous, open-minded enthusiasm that is born in every one of us, and often sucked out slowly as we are not-so subtly pushed out of the world of magic and into the world of "reality."

02. Enable the enthusiasm of childhood.

Do it. Regardless of age, and of recognizing that the world is a better place when people are able to be themselves, without fear of ridicule.

Skip, whistle, blow bubbles, fly balloons, and sing very loud. Good exercise, and your spirits will fly also.

03. Everybody has strengths.

Sometimes they are latent strengths that must be encouraged and reinforced. You can focus on your weaknesses. Or you can focus on your strengths. As a parent, I can do the same for my children. It does not mean ignoring areas that need improvement, or that are not inherently evident, but it means framing an approach to each child that recognizes their unique strengths and optimal ways of communicating and interacting.

04. Ban the word 'boring.'

Boring is the saddest word I can think of. Sad, because it is the equivalent of raising your hand and saying, "I have not developed my imagination to a point where I can find an interesting, fun, meaningful way to experience this situation."

05. Why?

"Why?" is a question that should be a fundamental building block of every person's day. You don't earn the right to ask it when you hit a certain age. Do children need to learn obedience? Yes. But they also need to learn that after obeying, they have the right to inquire, "Why?"
Simply, curiosity is good.

06. For parents, childrening is about making the decision that your child's interests come before your own.

A. You lose the right to engage in self-destructive behavior.

B. Whenever there is a decision where there is conflict between your own reputation with your peers and between doing the right thing in the moment for your child, you will choose the latter. This is enormously freeing, and paradoxically, allows you to return to that beautiful place of early childhood where you are not aware of how others perceive you. You simply like what you like, do what you do, and are who are because that's who you want to be. Basically, the elimination of embarrassment.

07. The Fun Theory.

There is fun to be found in virtually every activity. If it isn't there, make it up. Invent a fun way of doing something that others might call "boring." Re-read Tom Sawyer if you need ideas. Pay special attention to his approach to fence-painting.

08. There is Adventure in every day.

Re-read Huckleberry Finn. There is something new to learn. There are new songs to dance to. There are new poems to memorize, new jokes to tell, fresh food to try, crazy ways of making beds, strangers to say hi to, food carts to test, art to create, and memories to document. There is no reason to not make it an adventurous day.

09. Where do children learn to dislike doing things like…making beds?

It is (almost) always possible to frame a task in a way that is imaginative and fun. They learn to dislike those things from adults. So be an adult who is good at having fun while doing mundane tasks. They aren't mundane to everyone.

10. There is no better form of teaching than modeling.

Walk the walk. Live life as an adventure and that is how your children will learn to live it. Teach them fear, dread, and paranoia, and that is the world they will build around themselves. Show them (actively) love, affection, and self-respect and they will learn to treat the world the same.

11. There is never a need to preface something with "This is going to be educational."

Education should be embedded in every waking moment. It should be disguised, always, as something fun.

12. The only power source you need to be be able to play is the sun.

13. Do not speak down to children.

There is a difference between speaking in language they can understand and between speaking in ahierarchical way that is a constant reminder to them of how they are young, immature, inexperienced, and their opinions are cute little footnotes to be disregarded. Let them know their opinions matter and are being taken seriously. Let them know they are respected by actively listening.

14. There are Rules, there are Laws, and there are Societal Mores.

They shouldn't be confused with one another, particularly when it comes to expectations of gender. Childrenlearn not to like certain people, certain foods, certain kinds of everything from adults. Obviously, they will not spend their entire life having their preferences and choices made for them. But especially with younger children, they watch and absorb the expectations and labels that adults place on them; the foundation they begin to build is one based on the world they grow upon. When they hear phrases like,

"He's just really shy" "She's such a little princess girl" "He is 100-percent boy…"
these roles become the foundational building block that they will construct their permanent identities around. Self-fulfilling prophecies. Powerful.

15. Sibling relationships / Empathy.

The foundation of our children's peer relationships will be with each other. They will always be at different stages of development and have differing interests. They will build their own groups of external friends. But from birth onward, we will actively help and support the relationships they build with each other.
It is the quality of empathy that sibling relationships offer the chance to help construct. Our children will grow into very differing people and personalities. But they will grow up looking out for each other, mentoring, listening, guiding, confiding, playing, and loving. I am under no illusions that this means conflict-free relationships. But there will be an embedded sense of respect…and respect and empathy are conjoined twins. If we want children to care about a world outside of themselves as teenagers and adults, it begins with teaching and modeling for them to build positive, empathetic relationships with those closest to us.

16. Wrestling, not fighting.

No kicking. No hitting. No scratching. Roughhousing, yes. When someone says "Stop" or "No," respect it.
Wrestling - actual physical wrestling - is something that no Wii game can ever compete with.

17. Who decides what activities or interests are 'boy ones' and which are 'girl ones?'

I don't know. Never got the memo. And if I did get the memo, I would burn it. Little boys are supposed to like trucks. So we get them trucks. Little girls are supposed to like dolls. So we get them dolls. Maybe our son will like trucks and maybe he'll like dolls. Maybe he'll like both. Or maybe neither. Whatever it is my children are into, that is what I will be doing. It will not be determined by pre-existing gender mandates that are subtly, unconsciously, repetitively ingrained into us every day.

18. "My parents did __________, and I think I turned out just fine (false).

People often take the attitude that because a person or situation "turned out fine," it means there's no need for a critical evaluation of what might be done different or better. Yes, many adults grew up getting spanked and turned out "fine." Does that mean it was a healthy disciplinary approach?

No. There are so many better ways to handle discipline and respect than corporal punishment.

There were many people who were humiliated, mocked, and put-down upon as children and teenagers. Many turned out fine. Does that make their (painful) experiences "Okay?"

Resounding No.

There is sometimes an attitude that growing up is "tough" and that undergoing certain experiences is a "normal" part of childhood. That is RIDICULOUS. Drinking, drug abuse, sexual trauma and suicide are far-too common, but that doesn't make them anymore "normal" than undergoing peer bullying, teacher/parent humiliation, or having stereotypes* perpetuated at a time when self-confidence and identity is formulating.

Kids may "get through" these experiences, but it does NOT make them "okay."

19. Ritual.

We have choices today. More choices than at any point in history. Food, clothes, entertainment, toys, movies….we have an overwhelming number of choices with everything.
Reducing the number of choices we have does not diminish our freedom or independence. It clears our minds and gives us the opportunity to really prioritize our time and spend time making experiences and enjoying what we have, instead of so much time trying to figure out what we still need to get, and add to our already numerous options.

If a child has a hundred toys to play with in a day, she will eventually get to all 100. A little time with each, then on to the next.

If a child has one toy, she will imagine and create a hundred scenarios for it. And if there is an adult with imagination, attention, and energy to compliment it, that day will be filled with spontaneity, hilarity, creativity, and joy.

What children love is attention. Attention that may come in bursts, because there are, of course, always other responsibilities that must be attended to (see #s 7 & 11).

20. Conversation.

I hate - HATE - comments along the lines of "enjoy them now, 'cause they'll be teenagers before you know it."
I have no fear of any age, any stage of our children's lives. There will be tough times. There will be ups and downs. But there there will always be love and conversation. I think conversation should be thought of as a sibling to love. You don't plan times throughout the day to love your children. You just love them throughout everything you're doing. You might get upset, lose patience, whatever, but you still have love embedded throughout your interactions. Should be the same with conversation. Start talking with kids before they can even start talking. Have conversations, even if they don't have the vocabulary to answer. They'll pick that up soon enough. Genuine conversation is tied into respect - a mutual respect that says 'I am listening to what's important to you.' If that is embedded into every day, there will always be communication, and the door will be open to talking about the tough stuff when those times come.

21. It's OK to cry.

It's OK to get angry. It's OK to feel. It is a disservice to try and shut down, or banish someone's emotions. "YOU BE HAPPY RIGHT NOW! STOP FEELING SAD!"

Every emotion, or feeling, should have a healthy outlet. A way to deal with it (e.g. #20) without having it dismissed or "handled." It's OK to be angry. It's NOT OK to hit someone when you get angry. There's a difference between dealing with the action that is taken as the result of an emotion, and the emotion itself.

22. There is something beautiful about you.

And you. And you. If you can learn to see and find the unique beauty in the world - starting with yourself - your children will learn it too. Be confident in yourself and your unique value to the world. Without arrogance; but be willing to take confidence in your strengths. Value them. You can't expect your children to have a healthy self-image; to arm themselves with the self-confidence and curiosity to flourish in the world, without modeling that for them.

Make a point to look at the unique attributes of other people and commend them. Children will be inundated far too soon with expectations of what is beautiful, what is popular, what is acceptable, what is normal, and so many other things. Show them that it's OK to be different. It's OK to be yourself. It's OK to be weird and let your weirdness shine bright, as long as it is tempered with respect and kindness to others.

Parents are not perfect. And that is such a good thing. If we were, we wouldn't give our children a chance to be better then us someday. And that, in the end, is one of my goals for our children: to give them the chance to learn from us and our mistakes.

I want them to be curious and to love; to always develop their imagination and invent fresh ways of doing things; to be loyal yet not close-fenced; to embrace the uniqueness of everything and everyone around and to define their own standards of beauty based on what is unique, not what is airbrushed; to develop and evolve strong relationships with each other, with others, with God, in their own differentiated ways. I want them to know they have the skills and the ability to go after what they want - and to know that it's not OK to grumble about what they don't like if they aren't willing to do something about it. I want them to know that Change is Good and that It's OK to Make a Lot of Mistakes. Saying I'm sorry is a sign of strength, not weakness, just as changing your mind or learning how and when to compromise is a good thing.

Love big. Live big.

Thanks for reading. Go Play!