Friday, April 21, 2006

Eddie and His Father - Stance Towards Authority

From Po:

We continue with our analysis of how two parenting archetypes affect the long-term academic performance of children. In previous posts, we introduced two archetypes - Eddie and Leslie. Eddie is a kid whose parents have more education (college or more); Leslie's parents have less education (completed high school at best).

I've got an Eddie. He turned five a month ago. He loves action figures and watches too many "shows." When he's not tired or in tears, he has excellent pronunciation of multisyllabic words. He tells long stories. He has been in a preschool since he was 4 months old. He can write all his letters and sound out phonics and is memorizing sight words. His imagination is as robust as mine - give him two action figures of any sort, and he can entertain himself for hours.

In most dimensions, I don't worry about him. He's normal, and he is headed in the right direction. That said, there are times he behaves in ways that I simply cannot quite figure what is going on. It feels like the theories I have been provided to interpret this behavior don't quite fit. He exhibits a particular civil disobedience I do not see in other children. I wouldn't call them classic tantrums.

I see the kids throwing tantrums on Dr. Phil every night, and my kid does not look like those kids. He doesn't scream and doesn't make going to bed or turning off the television into a war.

For instance, this winter we signed him up for microsoccer practice. Our Eddie has been running around on the sidelines of his parents' co-ed soccer games since he was 5 months old. Soccer is his family sport. His uncles and aunts play too. On Saturday mornings, we take our Eddie to his practice. The players are gathered around the 2 coaches, standing up when their name is called and giving the coaches high fives. If our Eddie had a friend there, he would run out to the circle, no problem. But Eddie does not know these kids, so he refuses to run out there. He wants a parent to walk out there with him. This I understand - he is a little shy around unfamiliar kids, and he needs an introduction. So Mom walks him out there. He still refuses to participate. He wanders off and falls down in a heap. He knows that he has already embarrassed himself, and this embarrassment-factor triggers a downward cycle.

No amount of positive encouragement from the coaches or the players helps him now. He runs away from anyone who tries to approach him. A perturbed scowl (maybe exaggerated?) is on his face. We walk away, not wanting to give him any option but to join the team. He is silent and evasive and back to being a heap. What does he want? What is he after? Probably, he has just decided this isn't his thing. He doesn't want to be there. We, of course, do not give an inch - Dr. Phil has assured us, no must mean no. If we give in once, he'll use this technique forever. I will leave the field and sit in the car if that's what it takes to make sure he is not using me as a foil. But every week he keeps using it anyway.

Is he just shy? Well, this is the same kid who runs up and down the streets of New York City, knows exactly where the big rocks are in Central Park, and has no hesitation jumping on subways ahead of his parents. On the subway, he will call out to strangers if they are wearing a funny hat or speaking in a language he does not know. (We live 3,000 miles from New York City). Shyness is part of it, but doesn't seem to describe it fully. He says "Remember, Dad, I'm shy." But I think he's trying to use this as leverage. And he seems so self-aware of shyness as a possible excuse - it's too rehearsed. He doesn't grab my leg and hide in safety. He is out there, on stage, an exhibitionist of civil disobedience. I used to be very shy, and my mother assures me I did not act this way. I clung to legs.

This is the other reason shyness doesn't fit entirely. He reproduces this type of behavior when I drop him off at preschool. He runs into the school ahead of his sister. He puts his cuddle-bear in his cubby and signs his own name on the sign-in sheet. He is playful and happy. But when we get to the door to his classroom, he balks. He wants to go to his little sister's class or just play in the younger-toddler class. I open the door to his class, and the teachers - who he is in love with - welcome him in, offering hugs if he steps inside. The class is full of his friends, kids he has known for years. They all like him, but he thinks and fears they secretly like other kids more than him. He is strangely intimidated. And so he balks. No tantrum, and not quite shutting down in a heap. He doesn't attempt to negotiate - he doesn't ask to be bribed. He'll run to the aquarium and talk to the fish. I try not to give an inch. I don't want to let him manipulate this situation. But this has gone on for two years. So I leave him. It works itself out in my absence. When I pick him up at the end of the day, he doesn't want to leave. He loves his preschool, and says he wants to stay there until he is thirteen. He want to marry his teachers. He hugs every one of his friends goodbye before he finally leaves. So why does he do this to start the day?

Not giving in has not helped. The experts say he is testing his limits. They say a child needs to know that yes means yes and no means no. Promises must be kept. According to this theory, when the rules are clear and known to be inflexible, he will abide them. I know this theory well, and it fixed his terrible-2s perfectly. They say when a kid is 4 or 5, his instinct to please will take over and he will abide the fixed rules.

Perhaps he lacks that need to please. I don't sense that he is out to please anyone. This, I admire. I see other kids his age acting polite around their parents and then badly with their siblings, or polite to their teachers and then terrible to their parents. My Eddie is not two-faced and is not manipulative in that style. But sometimes I wish an urge to please would kick in.

Is it me? When he goes into civil disobedience mode, it is not reserved for me at all. He does it to his teachers and his two soccer coaches, too. Not with total strangers, but with any known authority-figure he doesn't hesitate to balk if he feels like the urge. And in that, I now see a clue.

When Ashley and I began reading the sociological studies on how parenting differences explain the future academic performance of children, the authors of the studies kept making a point. It wasn't just the vocbulary-enriched childhoods these Eddies were experiencing that helped them develop. It was a stance towards authority they were learning. What seems like defiance, when young, later turns into a confidence that you are free to demand changes from institutions and authorities when they are not serving you well. You don't distrust institutions - you trust that if you speak up, they will make accomodations and meet your needs.

Somewhere between kindergarten and high school, the Eddies and the Leslies do an apparent flip-flop. Many of the Leslies switch from deferential to disobedient. The Eddies might be unhappy too, but they manage to work within the system. The Eddies understand that if a teacher is unfairly singling you out, you can tell your parents and your advisor and it will be addressed. The Eddies understand that if they fall behind, they can ask teachers for special help. The Eddies understand that if the class is proceeding too slow, they can ask for extra credit work. When they grow up, they will believe that unfair laws must be changed, that police can't discriminate, that they deserve equal pay to those around them, and that misguided politicians must be voted out.

When I read about the Eddies in high school, I was given a new theory to describe my Eddie's civil disobedience. Right now, his sense of fairness/unfairness is childishly skewed. But he feels like this whole childhood thing (as we've constructed it) has to work for him. It has to meet his needs. So he'll do his reading and writing work, but he deserves to watch a television show now and then. Not in payment - (not a trade) - just that an occasional show needs to be part of the package. And he'll go to school every day, but he has needs. He needs to sneak in some tiny Lego figures in his lunchbox pocket. He needs his favorite teacher to come out of his classroom and come squeeze him with love meant just for him. He will go to soccer practice, but he needs us to convince one of his good friends to sign up for practice too, so he's not alone out there with a bunch of strangers. He's not trying to fight back just to test his limits. He's trying to make it work for him.

I have to say, he never seems to ask for anything unreasonable. He doesn't push his luck, following a successful negotiation with another request.

For a moment, at least this week - with these theories bright in my mind - his behavior seems understandable. I'm seeing the genesis of a stance towards authority that will serve him later.

But I'm skipping taking him to soccer tomorrow. I've got a game of my own.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Po, thank you for sharing your story.

I was curious about something. I seem to remember when baby signs became popular about ten years ago.

Did you and your wife use baby signs with your children before they learned how to talk with their voices?

Your story brought back memories for me. I lost my hearing at the age of 2, so when I recovered, I had to learn everything again - how to walk, etc. I have no idea if this affected my personality.

Before and after my illness, I loved people! My parents are shy. As a child, I remember saying that I can dress myself. A day care teacher remembers that I was a leader at the age of 5.

For some reason, there were times when I felt very shy, especially around adults who always looked angry.

Thanks again for a great read!

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Claire said...

This comment I started from Po’s previous post but have added to it so will post it here.

I agree that parenting styles can be taught but I feel you are both holding the Eddie style as the pinnacle to which all should aspire. I believe that for academic achievement the 'fine details' are great but it could be at the expense of other equally important things we still need to teach our children – how to get along with others, how to respect others and accept differences, how to see the bigger picture, how to respect, have empathy and understanding. Basically to develop emotional intelligence as another reader commented.

How do you teach respect? Is it a Leslie way of thinking to say that sometimes you should just take a person at their word? For example, my 7 year old son was climbing on the top of his playhouse which is against the rail on our deck. Not only that, the deck is the 2nd floor from the ground. I told him to get down immediately and he started to ‘reason’ with me that it was ok, he was ok. Obviously I explained that it was dangerous, and why, and he had a reply for every point I made. It came down to the fact that there was a ‘risk’ of him accidentally falling, but in his 100% confidence and belief in his climbing abilities he could not really accept that. So he has to respect the fact that I know better and stay off the damn house!

I do believe children need to be taught to respect that the adults who care for them and other people in authority have knowledge that they don’t yet have. My experience of hard core Eddies is that they ‘humor’ these adults but never truly take on board the chance they have to learn from these people, as they are so intent on challenging them. Children are not developmentally able to be reasoned with. I don’t know what age that changes and I am sure it is different for every child. My seven year old still displays shockingly impulsive, egocentric, behavior and I would be foolish to assume he can really process all of the implications of the many decisions I make on his behalf.

My other experience of Eddie children (and sometimes the parents) is they have elevated self importance (which is plain old arrogance in adulthood). You state that in high school the Leslie’s switch from being deferential to disobedient and that the original respect came from fear of authority only. The definition of respect in my Oxford Dictionary is ‘deferential esteem’ and ‘heed, regard’. As a verb, ‘regard with deference and esteem’ and ‘treat with consideration.’ Could it be that this change is a development stage which is appropriate for their age when they have more knowledge on which to challenge those in authority? It seems that Eddie children, from an early age, are taught that respect is only given when proved worthy in their own eyes. They do not heed or regard unless they are satisfied with the reasons behind it. As an adult this works, for a child I don’t see how.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Claire said...

Post No. 2! (I won't be offended if you cut out parts of my posts - they do get rather long!)

Overall, I am enjoying this analysis of education and parenting style but find that it is confirming judgments and prejudices that I feel from society as a whole. I became conscious of my lack of college education when I moved to America. Suddenly I wasn’t defined by what job I did or the person I was, I was categorized by my educational attainment, the house I lived in, our annual income and the car I drove, oh and my marital status. This is both in an official sense and a social sense.

To illustrate this point, my son is being evaluated for learning difficulties at school. I am very much part of this process and see it only as a positive thing. However, as part of the evaluation, a social background it obtained. They wanted to know all of what I listed above to build up a ‘picture’. Luckily for me I scored top points in annual income and marital status which compensated for my educational attainment. I am being a bit sarcastic here but I feel judgments and conclusions are reached far too quickly based on these factors. Say I was divorced, overnight my picture would be different; high school educated, low annual income, single mother. My intelligence won’t be any different, or the way I parent my half Eddie child, but other’s perception of me and my child would be influenced from the outset.

To identify HOW Leslie parents can incorporate certain ‘fine details’ into parenting, to promote academic achieve, is great. But I think there is a whole issue here which is not as simple as parenting style based on parent’s educational attainment. The Leslie school experience is vastly different to that of Eddie, but their whole life is vastly different. Even if the parents were as involved in the education process, they would still be teaching different values and with the back drop of economic hardship.

8:07 PM  
Blogger emily_d said...

I think you are right on in the observation about your little Eddie trying to get his needs met by his rebellious behavior. And I think it is really good how you are thinking about his behavior in context of how you are a foil to him. Here's an article I read recently, that really goes along with what you are saying. I like most of what this woman has to say about raising/educating kiddos.
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Ain't Misbehavin'

Children don't misbehave, says Dr. Thomas Gordon, author of the best-selling book, Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T).

Wait a second, you say. Whoa! Everywhere you look there are children misbehaving.

Dr. Gordon says that children's actions are judged as misbehaviors when those behaviors come into conflict with the desires of parents and other adults. What we judge or perceive to be misbehaviors are actually a child's efforts to have his or her needs met.

For example, three-year-old Stephanie enters her 14-year-old sister Lisa's room and pours out all of Lisa's make-up and cologne into Lisa's underwear drawer while applying a new face. Big mess. Big perceived misbehavior. Especially by Lisa.

Human beings have many needs, and trying to meet these needs makes us human. We will gain insight into Stephanie's actions when we look at how Stephanie was trying to meet her needs.

Stephanie's parents, Jim and Linda, analyzed Stephanie's behavior by asking how Stephanie's needs were satisfied by disorganizing Lisa's room. Jim and Linda looked at the following needs: activity, exploration, orientation, order, becoming, belonging, repetition, precision, exactness, communication and imagination. Let's take a closer view at these needs.

Human beings have a need for activity. Stephanie needed an interesting activity to occupy her. What is that saying about idle hands?

People have a need to explore, orient and order our environment. Stephanie had a desire to explore her sister's off-limits room. Stephanie had watched Lisa open bottles and put them back into the drawer, but Stephanie didn't understand the order of the process. Stephanie had a need to orient herself to this grown-up activity.

Humans have a need to become, to have a sense of growth. Stephanie had watched her sister and mother put on make-up. We also have a need to belong. Stephanie wanted to put on make-up due to a need to become and to belong as a female in her family.

People have a need for repetition, exactness and perfection. Lisa should be careful. Because Stephanie didn't get the make-up activity right the first time, Stephanie may have a need to try again, and again.

Stephanie also had a need to communicate that she was a ''big girl'' since there was such an age spread between her and Lisa. Stephanie needed to use her imagination to create that ''big girl'' image.

Children's misbehavior occurs when children's actions to meet their needs conflict with adult's needs. To meet everyone's needs, both children's and adults', Dr. Gordon recommends that we step out of our roles as parents and focus on being a person, a human being who has needs and who is trying to help another younger, smaller person meet his or her needs. It's about finding a solution where everyone wins.

Jim and Linda made it clear to Stephanie that Lisa's room was off-limits, but they also designed some activities that helped to meet Stephanie's needs. Lisa put together a basket of small colored bottles that Stephanie could open and close. Linda made Stephanie a mirrored make-up kit of lotions. Lisa kept her door locked but also spent time with Stephanie, letting her put make-up on Lisa.

By considering Stephanie's behavior as needs-driven, Jim, Linda and Lisa found a way to direct Stephanie's activities so that both Stephanie's needs and their adult needs for order (and sanity) could be met.

For more information about Parent Effectiveness Training, visit

Next week: The Indefatigable Spirit of a Child

Kids Talk™ is a column dealing with early childhood development issues written by Maren Stark Schmidt. Mrs. Schmidt founded a Montessori school and holds a Masters of Education from Loyola College in Maryland.

She has over 20 years experience working with young children and holds teaching credentials from the Association Montessori Internationale. She is also Creative Director for a video-based reading series for children ages three to six, The Shining Light Reading Series. Contact her via e-mail at

9:18 PM  
Blogger emily_d said...

Ok...I was going to post this on another spot, but I saw Claire's 2nd comment went along with this, so hope it's ok.

In a way, lifting the “entrenched” underclass is only laterally related to education. If more of the underclass were well educated they may have more know-how to work the system in their favor, but that does not change the economics of it. Making it about their lack of education avoids taking personal responsibility for their situation.

We put our money where we put our value. And in capitalist America, we value the bottom line. We don’t want to pay a living wage to grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, construction workers or daycare providers. We prefer to buy our goods “made in China, Mexico, Bangladesh, etc.”, meaning we get our toys and furniture and clothing at practically slave labor prices. Our economy is way out of balance, and we are comfortable with that.

It reminds me of the pre-civil war South, with it’s affluence and power created on the backs of slaves. Except now we don’t see the people who live across the tracks, on the East side of town, or across national borders. We just go to Wal-mart, where they are driving down costs.

All people should be paid a fair wage for an honest day of work, regardless of education. We as a society put a dollar sign attached to education; we make education into a bottom line. We dishonor service positions, calling them “non-professional” and “menial labor”.

I’ve just recently been thinking about this, because we just bought a new desk for the office, and one of the salesman was talking about the manager of the store visiting the plant in China, where they had built a sort of work camp for the laborers in the plant. I don’t know if they had their families with them or not, but that seem kind of crazy to me. Also, a friend of mine has recently been transitioning and is working at Central Market, a favorite foodie grocery store of mine. But the pay is shitty and she can’t get her manager to give her a straight answer on health insurance. The woman has a college degree, and she can’t make enough to cover expenses for a single person – she doesn’t have any kids to provide for, just herself. That’s messed up. Anyway, I think maybe I’ll start looking at my manufacturing labels a little closer, and ponder ways that I can put my money where my mouth is on this issue.

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was certainly interesting for me to read that blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more soon.

5:31 PM  

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