some random parenting ideas
These have been bouncing around in my head for years. I finally wrote them down and showed them to a friend and he said I should post it.
Written from a WEIRD cultural background, plus my own idiosyncratic tastes, biased toward STEM stuff, probably outright wrong in some places, etc.
Mostly for ages 5-10. You’re on your own with the adolescents...and basically all the complicated, uncomfortable stuff.
Soon to be obsolete if the 21st century is even half as transformative as I expect it to be (regardless of AI).
I’m child-free, and I look forward to keeping it that way indefinitely! As such, I will have little or no occasion to practice what I preach.
Talk is cheap, grain of salt, etc. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(In random order)
Accept that you will have to be a tyrant. Keep in mind that not all tyrants are the same. If you got to pick which person was going to tyrannize you, you would not just pick at random.
Accept that your performance as a parent will probably be mediocre at best. Take an antifragile approach. Given base rates, you are pretty much guaranteed to cause some irreparable harm a few times. Accept this with equanimity and use the calm therefrom to avoid unnecessary further harm.
Your parenting style will probably mostly be derived from that of your own parents
Do what the mr. money mustache did: He only made a kid only after accumulating $1,000,000 (working as a software engineer and living frugally) and retiring (at ~30 years old). He then ran a part-time construction company for fun, and used the extra free time and emotional slack to raise his kid. If nothing else this is an existence proof and an ideal to strive for.
Study and practice better methods of communication before you make the kid. Reach the point where you can look back and think, “I used to be so bad at expressing myself....Good thing I didn’t try to raise a kid back then!”
Train them to express their emotions articulately. (If you are not already good at communication, you may want to consider not making a new person.)
Train them in effective emotional coping and processing. This one is hard and I’m still not good at it, so I leave the details up to you, sorry.
Get them in the habit of privately journaling.
At least once a year, prompt them to write down what they think would be a good parenting strategy. If/when they have their own kid, compare notes. (Can you imagine growing up in a culture that had upheld this tradition for generations?!)
‘Private journaling’ means you do not read it. It does not mean that you secretly read it while they are out of the house, you amoral animal.
If your kid is intelligent, speak to them intelligently.
Here’s one I hadn’t heard until recently: put them in an environment where a large handful of upstanding adults are around and have enough slack to take a genuine interest in interacting with the kid. Basically, the adage that “it takes a village to raise a kid” is a pithy way of saying “the more caring and attention from adults, the better.” (Yeah yeah, up to some rough Dunbar limit, ya pedants).
A large amount of your parenting will be done while you are tired and distracted. Become deeply acquainted with your own autopilot—because that’s who will be raising your kid a lot of the time.
If they make their own cookies from scratch, allow them to eat more of them than if they were store-bought.
Want them to learn X? Give them an opportunity and a reason to learn X. And if you discover they have some intrinsic motivation to learn something useful, then thank the gods and capitalize on it.
Take your kid to the park and leave your phone at home. Try to do this more than never.
Develop good money habits before making a new person. I was raised with poor spending habits and I’m still actively working to replace them with good ones.
Some of these pre-parenting preparations will take a while. Seems like you should freeze your sperms. The younger your sperm, the better your kid’s genome will be. You are not yet free of biology, don’t be reckless!
Remember that it’s not just a genetic lottery, but also genetic Russian Roulette.
Regular school sucks, use your aforementioned financial freedom to homeschool them and shop around for a competent tutor that they like. Let their precocity run up against the limits of their natural endowment rather than the limits of traditional schooling.
Given that they won’t be in regular school (because it sucks), socialize them by enrolling them in (for example) soccer, a chess league, Boy Scouts, axe-throwing lessons, a martial art, some choir or group-music bullshit...i dunno....Point is you can probably get most of the socialization benefits of school without most of the downsides.
Free up your schedule, open up your wallet, and shop around for a type of exercise that is fun for them. You just might unlock a lifetime of regular, low-effort exercise for them.
Badminton, swimming, paintball, dance, fencing, parkour, gymnastics, rock climbing, basketball, lacrosse, competitive running, water polo, skateboarding, surfing, scenic hiking, capture the flag.
Find an activity in which they take turns being a leader and being a follower.
If you live in a safe area, you should let them spend a lot of time outside with other kids. Jonathan Haidt claims this is important and he’s, like, an expert or something.
Privacy is really important to me personally, but...Facebook wasn’t around in my childhood. My thoughts about this are underdeveloped.
Read them to sleep. Promotes good sleep habits, develops their reading taste, and increases their vocabulary. Also it makes for some good family time.
Develop their taste for vegetables. Use cheats like cheesy broccoli, seasoned spinach, and glazed carrots.
Bring them into the kitchen sometimes. Train them to cook their favorite meals. Then train them to cook healthy and inexpensive meals.
(Try to add a few vegan options to their repertoire in order to make that path easier for them, should they later choose to take it.)
When they are watching TV, watch it with them. Consider aiming for a less TV-intensive lifestyle though. That goes double for the internet.
Don’t let them get into addictive video games too young. Give their brains a chance to develop a bit more before you drop that kind of superstimulus on them. As a kid, when I had no stimulation available, I would just spend hours thinking or talking about various video games. It was often creative and collaborative, but looking back I am humbled by how deep the stuff got into my brain.
When they cry, just put a device in their hands. Boom, problem solved. Likewise, when you yourself are feeling anxious—about anything—just whip your phone out. Anxiety fixed, thanks technology! Okay but seriously, this is one of those new problems of our incipient, sexy, cyberpunk weirdtopia. Seems like a lot of parents find it too difficult to soothe their kid without a device, and will get indignant when you so much as mention the downsides.
Don’t feed them energy drinks.
Show them your quarterly budgeting spreadsheets (you preemptively developed good spending habits, remember?) and get basic economic concepts (such as opportunity cost) deep down into their brain.
Escape rooms are awesome.
buy themhelp them save up for a trampoline. Trampolines are fun, active, low maintenance, and they add an enticement for friends to come over.
Tell them about sex sooner rather than later. If it seems like they are too young, consider that they are actually too fragile, and that this may be your own mistake.
Let them have snowball fights as often as is possible.
Enroll them in something like inflection point or whatever. Better yet, steal the ideas from inflection point and adapt them to your own kid.
Give them Ender’s Game.
Let them enjoy some real magic before you try teaching them STEM:
Pull wacky pranks on them with magnets.
Take them to some kind of STEM museum and don’t bother with explanations unless they ask.
Help them build a baking soda and vinegar volcano at the beach, but don’t spoil the surprise. At first, just tell them you’re making a sand mountain.
Don’t try to teach the 12 virtues of rationality. Just live them. If you speak overmuch of The Way, your child will not attain it.
Use your rationality tools regularly and in plain view. Start with pro/con lists.
Leave them with enough slack to pursue their own hobbies with vigor.
Train them in some basic skills that open up some menial job opportunities.
Train them in some more advanced skills that open up some better job opportunities
Increase their autonomy at every available opportunity. Going places on their own, managing their own budget, self-defense, building their own routine, etc. As things are, this is a very rare parenting style (at least in my culture), and I see it as a massive ongoing tragedy.
Help them design and construct a tree fort.
Allow them to keep a minifridge in their bedroom...if they build the minifridge themself!
When you see them being mean to another kid, first try to empower that other kid to stand up for themself before you try punishing your own kid directly.
Help them build things with their own hands, like trebuchets and remote-controlled gliders. Help them work their way down to building things from scratch, like workbenches and addition circuits.
Train them into the habit of writing things they want to say.
Help them write fan fiction.
Help them write heartfelt emails to their friends.
If they want more junk food or more autonomy or something, have them submit a persuasive essay first. Reward cogent writing more than you reward whining.
They will be raised by their peer group as much as by you. It will be pretty hard to tell how good or bad their group is. Just do your best.
Get them some low-stakes practice getting away from creepy strangers. They’re going to end up developing this skill anyway. Might as well develop it quickly and relatively painlessly.
Do home improvement projects (you know, since you’re financially independent), and get them to help.
Take them camping and leave all the devices at home. Or at least locked in the trunk of the car.
I shouldn’t have to say this but...nature documentaries.
Prepare them to cope with tragedy and loss. That is to say, prepare them for life as it really happens.
Learn a useful foreign language and then use it where they will overhear.
Let them play in non-euclidean virtual reality at a really young age. See if they become a geometry savant.
Maybe train their attention and awareness with meditation?
Don’t let them drink swamp water
Promote their cognitive sovereignty (in the Piperian sense of automatically forming your own opinions without first wondering if you are authorized)
Subscribe to Brilliant Premium and do a problem every day out loud while they watch you. Set them up with their own premium account once they show some intrinsic motivation.
Encourage them to experiment and explore when under low social stakes so that the Intelligent Social Web does not lock them into place so firmly. Live this by example.
Protect them from the harms of social media. Socialize them so well in person that they won’t even want to waste their weekends on social media. Train them to use social media in a responsible and limited way.
Parents who cryocrastinate raise kids who cryocrastinate. Do or Do Not. There is no Later. (Obligatory Wait But Why article.)
Check them for the alcoholism genes. Give them something to do other than drink.
Try to enunciate more clearly, ye mumbling nerds, lest your kid reach adulthood thinking that underappreciation has something to do with a specific kind of rock.
This is one of the rare times I can in good faith use the prefix “as a parent...”, so thank you for the opportunity.
So, as a parent, lots of good ideas here. Some I couldn’t implement in time, some that are very dependent on living conditions (finding space for the trampoline is a bit difficult at the moment), some that are nice reminders (swamp water, bad indeed), some that are too early (because they can’t read yet)...
… but most importantly, some that genuinely blindsided me, because I found myself agreeing with them, and they were outside my thought process! The one-Brilliant-problem a day one, the let-them-eat-more-cookies, mainly.
I appreciate, in particular, the breadth of the ideas. Thanks for sharing, even if you don’t practice what you preach, you’ll be able to get feedback.
Thank you so much! I hesitated before posting, so I’m glad to read your comment :]
The good news is that your partner provides an alternative set of parents to imitate.
I admit this sounds wonderful. But if you have university education, this leaves you maybe 5 years to accumulate the money, so you need to negotiate a $200K+ salary with very little work experience. How realistic is that?
Being able to discuss this topic explicitly is a good start. Heh, my daughter just told me today: “If you take away my computer as a punishment, I already know how to win. I will just imagine I never had one!” Smart girl.
I would even suggest to speak to kids intelligently even if you are not sure they are already capable of understanding it. Worst case: you wasted some time. Best case: they surprise you pleasantly.
Generally, little kids often understand more than it seems. Or rather, their understanding is horribly unbalanced, so sometimes they misunderstand simple things, but then sometimes they understand things that seem difficult.
Here I’d say try many different things, and see which ones are okay. Try them in different forms, e.g. many otherwise unattractive vegetables become acceptable when blended.
For example, broccoli seems to be a popular example of a vegetable kids hate to eat. We make a broccoli soup (cook one broccoli + one potato, blend) and no one objects.
Also we used to have breakfast like “there are four or five different vegetables cut on the plate, take any that you want, as long as you take some”. Better than having a fight over one specific type of vegetable.
OK, now I am confused. What else is there to drink? Water from toilet?
These are pretty good but I think you’re over-weighting waiting to have kids. I think that’s generally a mistake, but especially for the people that are inclined to follow your advice anyways!
I like Bryan Caplan’s parenting advice too.
Would you be open to numbering the ideas, purely for easier reference in comments?
I haven’t read the rest yet, but in regard to your first idea, I stumbled on a similar one – someone needs to be ‘the dictator’. (I like that term better as, historically, there were benevolent dictators, but I believe ‘tyrants’ were always terrible!) This is definitely true, at least sometimes, for children, particularly those younger than teenagers. But it turned out to also be a good rule/framing for nearly any group project – who is both ‘ultimately’ responsible and thus endowed with final executive decision-making abilities? (And also, who should be expected to follow-up with everyone else in the group about their progress on delegated tasks or sub-projects?)
Is this possible? I did 23andme and that wasn’t included.