Raising Self-Reliant Children Review

Raising Self-Reliant Children
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I first discovered this book by Dr. Stephen Glenn and Dr. Jane Nelsen just before my son was born in 1988, when my daughter was three. I was very impressed with their ideas and have consistently used them ever since, with excellent results.
Glenn & Nelsen state that self-reliance and self-responsibility will never stop being crucial, in any society, at any time in history. But, unfortunately for parents today, we receive very little help from the society at large (especially the public schools) in teaching these values to our children. This means that modern parenting is far more complicated than simply enjoying and loving our children. There are essential attitudes and skills they need to know in order to grow into decent, self-reliant adults which no one is likely to teach them if we don't. But in order to do this, we first need to know what these attitudes and skills are and what techniques work for teaching them, and then apply those techniques regularly by spending frequent one-on-one time with our children.
I believe that though many parents will find the ideas in this book inspiring, a big barrier stands in the way of them actually following its advice--they are already strongly established in the convenient, no-thinking-required, typical tradition of parenting in the U.S.: (1) eating dinner together as a family group as many nights a week as possible; (2) nagging the kids daily to clean their rooms, do their homework and chores; (3) going on family outings, such as a fast food place or a movie, several times a month; (4) telling the kids if they complain about bullying from siblings or schoolmates to "stop tattling and work it out yourselves;" (5) ignoring each other the rest of the time as much as possible.
When parents are used to an uncomplicated pattern like this, implementing Glenn & Nelsen's time-consuming and thought-involving ideas will require a huge lifestyle change, which may be very uncomfortable. Here are some examples of these ideas, which I have found extremely helpful, but are anything but simple or easy to apply: (1) Stay calm. When you get upset at the kids, Glenn & Nelsen suggest getting out your anger and frustration by yelling, privately, at the mirror in the bathroom, and after the worst is over and you are not so upset, only then go talk with your child and discuss what went wrong and what can be done differently next time. (2) Treating children with dignity and respect. Philosophically, many people these days believe it's a good idea to treat all human beings with dignity and respect, but in practice, even people to whom these beliefs are sacred frequently instinctively speak disrespectfully to family members, especially their children. When people hold no such belief, then the odds are it is only an accident of a fleeting good mood that will cause them to speak with respect to their children. (3) Planning ahead. Glenn & Nelsen suggest discussing important situations in the child's life ahead of time and coming up with an agreement that spells out meaningful consequences if the child does not live up to the agreement.
Glenn & Nelsen openly admit in this book that positive, assertive (vs. oppressive or permissive) parenting is top-heavy on the work involved when you are first starting it, because it is never easy to learn new habits. However, without this effort, early on and consistently, our children all too often drift away from us over the years, some to the point of becoming almost totally emotionally disconnected during the dangerous teen years. At that point, to start the work of positive, assertive parenting can be a nightmare of endless, painfully frustrating work, with no guaranteed outcome, no matter how hard we try. For this reason, I recommend this book most strongly to people who are expecting their first child, or to parents with small children. These ideas will still work for parents of teenagers, but it is far better to head off future bad outcomes by preventing them.
Update 8/06: I first posted this review 11/01, and my kids are now grown, my son 18 and my daughter 21. I am delighted at how they have turned out, and I am convinced that the valuable parenting skills I learned from this book, and used consistently through their whole childhood, contributed massively to them becoming productive, emotionally healthy, financially independent adults. I see both of them frequently, and we have become very close friends, in large part, in my opinion, due to the mutual respect and emotional intimacy that the parenting skills this book teaches have promoted between us. In my experience, every investment you make following the wisdom of Drs. Glenn and Nelsen pays off a thousandfold in your children's lives--and in the richly rewarding relationship you are able to enjoy with them as adults.

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