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Teach, don't train

Just a little rant today.

I'm sick and tired of hearing or reading about people training their kids. Are your children dogs?

Really, stop and think about it for a minute. Is obedience what you are striving for? If the grandest and best thing you can wish for is to have an obedient child, then maybe training is the way to go about it. But I don't think that is an appropriate goal for a human being. When you train people to obey, you train them listen to their superiors rather than to their instincts. They lose (or never gain) the ability to use common sense or rational thinking to make decisions and instead they rely entirely on instructions or advice from others to decide what to do. You train them to be people pleasers, to be reliant on others for their own sense of self-worth.

History has taught us that unquestioning obedience is a dangerous thing. So don't train your children. Teach them instead.

Teach them through your own example. Take phrases like "do as I say, not as I do" and throw them out the window. Instead, model the type of behaviour you would like to see from your children and explain your beliefs and reasons for doing things a certain way. If you are a good leader, they will follow in your footsteps because they look up to you and respect you, not because they fear you.

Teach them by problem solving with them. Don't tell your child what to do to solve a problem. Instead, ask questions and help your child to come to a solution on his own.

Teach them by involving them. Let them help you with the cooking and the housework. Get them to pay attention to the route you take to the supermarket and ask them to give you directions next time (yes, this means not having a DVD player in the back of the car or if you do, only using it for some parts of very long trips). Ask them their opinion when making family decisions (maybe you choose what car to buy, but let your child choose the colour).

Our society needs leaders. We need idea people. We need researchers and inventors. We need people willing to go the extra mile. We don't get those types of people by training our children. We get those types of people by teaching them and empowering them to become independent thinkers.

If you want something to train, please get a dog. Don't have a child.

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Reader Comments (19)

Great post. The VERY least we owe our children is to teach them and show them through our behavior the type of person we hope they will be.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLu

I completely agree. I don't understand people who continue to live their own lives entirely separate from their children. My MIL can't understand why we insist on eating early with our LO at the table, for example - to set a good example of what dinner time is all about, duh! This is also why I hate child-specific places and activities, like "adult table and kids table" at a meal, or parks where you dump your kids in one area and the adults go to another area. I'm not an attachment parent by any means, but if your child never gets to see how you act, interact, and react, how are they supposed to magically learn their own social norms? Oh right. By training them. Agreed - my child is not a puppy.

August 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJuli

dvd's in the back of the car are one of my serious pet peeves

theres a book out there about potty learning and that is what my family is calling it...i see it more as a process that happens over time...not one day we put away diapers and are trained

Learning is messy, noisy, and often not pretty but they end result is knowing that you are capable!

August 31, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterchaos

[...] September 18, 2008 by phdinparenting As you may have gathered from my other posts, my goal for my children is not obedience. My goal is for them to be smart, to learn, and to make logical decisions on their own.  I want to teach them, not train them or tell them what to do. [...]

I believe in teaching and training. If my child happens upon a snake in the yard and I say "Stop, don't move!", I want them to be obedient. Their first instinct is going to be "why" and keep moving. Then, their own instinct may get them hurt. The teaching part will come after I have killed the snake. You can teach both and not ruin your children for life.

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterG

[...] the time to teach your child and consider how what you are about to say will help your child (and don’t say it if it [...]

December 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPatient parenting « PhD

[...] to learn. When transitions are necessary, make them gently, be patient, take the opportunity to teach and to explain.  Be sure to communicate, come up with solutions that will work for everyone, give [...]

December 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAbrupt « PhD in Parentin

[...] the time to teach your child and consider how what you are about to say will help your child (and don’t say it if it [...]

[...] the time to teach your child and consider how what you are about to say will help your child (and don’t say it if it [...]

[...] can take some of the burden off of us, but it requires a good dose of patience and a focus on teaching, not training our children. It requires confidence in our [...]


September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

@Melissa, no, not semantics. A very important distinction. Must be nice to be able to diss someone's hard work and thoughtful post with a single word.

Anyway, off the hijack. Annie, I think this is a great post. We are doing a bit of casual elimination communication with our 1 year old (basically he just gets chances to sit on the potty now and then, when he's giving signals of impending poop or when it's convenient, e.g. before a bath). I sent my mom a photo of him reading on the potty and she replied something to the effect that she was pleased we were starting potty training early. I took the time to say that, no, we're not potty training him, he's learning how to use the potty. Two different things. There's no regimented schedule, no force, no bribes or rewards, just introduction, opportunity and enjoyment. If he rejects the potty, we take him off and do something else. To me, that's the essence of learning rather than training.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlushka

I fully agree with training, I would not even train my dog, never mind my children. If I had a dog I would look to a behaviorist (someone like Caesar - The Dog Whisperer, I love him), not a trainer. We are both animals and we both deserve respect. Like you said training takes instinct away. We are born with it, we need it.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOur Sentiments

I totally agree! I hear too much about sleep training (crate training) and teaching behaviours (potty use, etc.) using rewards (standard strategies in animal training, and many types of autism intervention (IBI anyone?). I get why these techniques are used - behavioural conditioning works when trying to elicit desired behaviours quickly - but as you point out, kids don't often learn to solve problems when those strategies are used and sometimes those skills that are trained don't even generalize to other situations.

Our kids deserve more "respect" than training gives them.

Oh, and a little rant here, but I even know several people who wouldn't think twice about letting their dogs sleep with them, but gasp in horror when I mention that my daughter often shares our bed.

August 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Two great mean talked on power and how to obtain it. Very famous is Niccolo Machiavelli (where the term "Machiavellian" came from): "I would rather you love me, but if not love, fear will do."
Machiavelli is famous for cunning tactics through deceit. Getting the job done without pesky ethics in the way.

Next we have possibly even more famous, Monhandas Gandhi: "Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment."

Both agree that love is preferable, but Gandhi points out that fear is not only worse, but ineffective and temporary.

"Training" relies on fear and anticipation. Fear of punishment and anticipation of rewards.

On a previous comment--if I shout, "Danger!" my untrained children stop. They understand that it is an immediate need and they stop and wait for me to identify the danger, possibly even returning to me if they themselves identify it first. They don't question "Why?" because I didn't say, "Stop!" I was specific in my warning/instruction. No 'training' needed. I am their teacher and they trust me.

Of course with that particular scenario, I wouldn't just be standing there, shouting, I would be hauling my ass and more likely shouting, "Danger! Snake!" and you can darn well bet that my kid is going to stop and wait for rescue!

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather


I love the idea of saying "Danger" instead of "No" or "Stop".

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Yes, what I was thinking exactly. I'm not sure the author of this post entirely understands what "training" means to those parents who do it. I train and teach my children, and I definitely don't think of them as dogs, nor do they feel like dogs. They learn while working and playing right along with me, and they learn to obey me even when they don't understand why, because sometimes I do know better.

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChrissie

So help me out then, Chrissie. What does training mean to you?

August 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

It started as just an instinct--I said it suddenly when our then 8-month-old reached for the African Grey's cage and she froze and looked at me. I'm sure it was largely the tone of panic in my voice, lol, but it continued to work. Rarely had to use it and when I do, the reaction is basically instant, although I sometimes say it twice in quick succession, but that's probably the sci-fi nerd in me ;)

August 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather

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