TCS – Taking Children Seriously


TCS – These initials stand for Taking Children Seriously and Non-Coercive Parenting, and these approaches to parenting are enticing to many attachment parenting or gentle minded parents.

They seem to be incredibly respectful of children, and that appeals to parents who start out with the belief that their children are not little adults – but are little people deserving of the respect and care that we offer to all around us.

Loving God and loving our neighbor ,and loving ourselves and loving our children, seems to fit beautifully with the idea of taking children seriously and not coercing them. Unfortunately, these philosophies are insidious with problems, and it is often the results of these approaches to parenting that create homes of permissiveness and the child-centeredness that punitive experts warn against.

What sounds good in theory is greatly lacking in practice and practicality. It doesn’t help matters that the majority of people drawn to these philosophies are parents of one or two very small children or, even more often, non-parents who enjoy the mental exercises of figuring out how to respond to situations without coercion.

One big concern with these philosophies is met upon examining the idea of coercion. This is defined as anything that exerts your will over someone else. Religion is deemed coercive and rejected outright. Any parental authority is rejected because it implies that the parent has the right and responsibility to assert their will in the home.

Instead, all encounters where there is a difference in desired outcomes are to be resolved with the finding of a “common preference”, which is defined as a better idea than what either party wanted before.

Now, this is an idea that those of you familiar with my writings will be familiar with, so let me clarify what the difference is between a “common preference” and “conflict resolution”.

Conflict resolution is the result of problem solving skills that resolves the problem of compromise[where both parties win (get what they want) but also lose (give up something that they want)]. The desired result is a solution to the problem that meets everyone’s needs, and it does often do so in ways that are better than any of the original ideas brought to the table.

Through redefining the problem so that it reflects everyone’s concerns, and then brainstorming solutions that meet everyone’s needs, there is emphasis on relationship and on non-selfish solutions. Creativity and connection is fostered.

Ultimately, though, there may come a point in time where the parent, as the authority, sets a plan in motion for enacting a solution and a time to evaluate its effectiveness. There may be a series of solutions that will be attempted. This is a fluid and ongoing process.

Finding a common preference is very different. It starts out the same, but with a restriction on any and all coercion, the parent has no authority to guide the process or make sure that everyone’s needs are really being met. In fact, in the absence of a common preference that appeals to everyone it is the parent, with more maturity, who is expected to set aside their needs and ensure that the child get their way.

The belief is that by modeling self sacrifice the child will eventually choose it and, no doubt, with some children this is the case. More often, though, children raised with this approach end up with a sense of entitlement and believe that by holding out for their idea they will get their way- and, as this is the case, the reinforcement of this reality cements this belief.

What this may look like in practice is that a toddler who is getting into something the parent doesn’t want them in will be offered a few different redirections, but if they persist at pursuing their original goal they will not be coerced into giving it up.

A toddler who resists the car seat may be allowed to not use one, or the family may give up driving in cars until the child is willing to buckle up. If the child doesn’t want to clean up their toys then the parent cleans them or leaves them out and waits until the child chooses to do it.

Yes, there are practical ideas for creating a common preference for cleaning including organizing things, decluttering, or other practical tips. But should the child not desire to clean there is no coercion to force it.

I have read discussions over how a parent could resolve the problem of needing to use the bathroom when out in public with a child who resisted going into public restrooms. Suggested brainstorming solutions included everything from never going out in public with the child to wearing Depends so that mom could potty without taking the child into the bathroom.

Other discussions I’ve heard about include discussing the reasons why a teen may need to injure animals, and why coercion is wrong even in the case of intervening with a suicidal teen because they have valid reasons for wanting to end their life. I hope you can see why I outright reject these philosophies!

It is very frustrating to me when GBD is confused with TCS/NCP. While I present GBD as a “low coercion” approach to parenting because it is about relationships, and while brainstorming and conflict resolution skills are stressed in order to have everyone’s needs met, the parent is the absolute authority in the home and there is no fear of damaging a child through coercion.

GBD involves boundaries and limits and a standard for success that is set and taught to the child. Grace plays a role in all of this through the parent’s willingness to help the child meet the standard until the child can meet it on their own, but moving them towards that goal is the direction and purpose of parenting.

I hope that you will spend some time in the GBD section of the site to learn some effective tools that are designed to foster relationship while engaging in very real discipline. A parent need not fear their authority or become child centered in order to be respectful of their child and gentle. GBD is the way to accomplish both gentleness and standards as it is both kind and firm.