Parenting in Shades of Grey

As you already know, I am a Yes or No parent. Black and White, there is no middle ground or shades of grey. Some call it simplistic and some people call it archaic but I simply call it sensible. If executed properly, this type of parenting makes for a simple family dynamic without all the rigmarole that comes along with giving kids a say in their world. It is parenting on your terms not your child’s and it is the way nature intended it to be.

Raise your ire yet? Well let me add this…  I think negotiating with a child or (parenting in shades of grey) to be complete nonsense. It pains me when I see a parent wasting time, trying to come to terms with their snotty nosed, diaper wearing child over how much more time they get at the playground or which treat they can have from the checkout counter candy stand. It boggles my mind that someone can believe that a child is capable of rational thought, when they haven’t even reached a stage in their development where they can even control their own bowels.

It doesn’t matter how much Baby Beethoven you played to your child in the womb, or how well your toddler does at My Little Savant – Calculus Class. A child below the age of about 6 or7, has great difficulty making sense out of any choice outside of their egocentric world, involving time or consequence.

The result is that, any effort you make trying to come to consensus or reaching a middle ground is a complete waste of time. Young children need to be communicated to in black and white. Shades of grey or a “middle ground” is not a concept kids can even begin to understand until they reach what was referred to by Piaget as the concrete operational stage but even at that, kids truly do not have the capacity to participate in negotiation until they are 11 years or older.

Piaget's development theory

Learning and Teaching.com (2011)

Now my critics will immediately say that Piaget’s theory is out of date and can not be applied to today’s child but for all the changes in the modern day child, I believe that Piaget’s stages have stood the test of time and are still applicable to our children today. In fact, Piaget’s stages of childhood development are still the foundation of most early childhood education programs the world over. They still stand and I suspect they always will.

From an Old School Parent side of things, Piaget be damned… Parenting in shades of grey is just plain ridiculous. When a child is young it is so easy to set the boundaries in which you expect your child to live. Yes and No is so easily said and enforced. It just makes sense that you would used the first 11 (or so ) years of your child’s life to establish these boundaries.

Once your child knows where these boundaries are and understands they will be enforced, you can begin to parent in shades of grey. As they enter the realm of teenager, you can allow them to negotiate, test and experiment with life, all the while the safety of the boundaries you set in their first decade remain in place. The black and white world you created, act as a secure stable environment to retreat to when things go wrong both big and small. What is perhaps even more important, is that if you have to go back to black and white parenting for any reason, the ground work has already been established. When you say No or Yes your child may bellyache about it but they will at least know you mean it.

Kids who have always lived a life where there has never been any black and white and have always been allowed to dictate or participate in the terms of their existence, have great difficulty when they begin to enter the big bad world where no one gives a rat’s backside what they want or how they feel. Young adults who feel their opinions count for everything, start to find out that more often than not, their opinions count for nothing or god forbid… not wanted.

This type of child frequently exhibits symptoms of depression and anxiety because they cannot cope with a big bad world that really doesn’t care what they think. It starts in early adolescence and becomes more profound as they move along the food chain and enter University then into the work world. These individuals eventually hit a brick wall when mom and dad can no longer rescue them by creating a boundless grey world in which they can wallow.

“But mommy and daddy never said NO to me!? I am special, my opinion matters!” can be heard being uttered in work places the world over, followed by a chorus of laughter as senior management tries to determine who hired the little Prince.

It is your obligation to prepare your child for the real world and this world is frequently painted in black or white. If you do not introduce your child to this little reality at some point in their up brining, you are doing them a disservice. Only those who understand that grey comes from the mixture of black and white, truly appreciate what the middle ground means.

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