August 11, 2016


Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child. By Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. Scribner. $26.

     In the sweetness and light of a fully rational and emotionally balanced world, parents with an infinite amount of time and no stressors outside the home will joyously affirm and implement child psychologist Ross W. Greene’s inspirational child-rearing model, Collaborative & Proactive Solutions. Practicality and Pollyanna-ism are at constant war in this extremely well-meaning, very well-written handbook, in which Greene tries to reorient child-rearing for an increasingly collaborative and interconnected future. His basic approach is to simplify methods of raising kids into Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. The first, the traditional method, involves parents’ unilateral imposition  of solutions, and is the one against which Greene has set up Plan B – which is the idea that all people, including children, want to do well and will do well if they are able to and are given the chance. Plan C is not a middle ground but a holding back, the temporary avoidance of an unsolved problem until a better time, and the decision to see whether a child can handle it on his or her own; the problem, if and when it must be dealt with later, is then managed using Plan B.

     Like economists assuming that all economic decisions are inherently rational, Greene assumes that all parent-child interactions inherently involve understanding, mutual respect and a joint desire to do what is best. Communication, constant and at length, is the core of Greene’s Plan B, whose three steps involve empathy, defining adult concerns, and capital-I Invitation, which means mutually agreeing “on a solution that (a) is realistic, meaning both parties can actually do what they’re agreeing to do, and (b) will address the concerns of both parties.” The foundational argument here is that such solutions can always be found.

     Beware of “always.” Greene cogently and intelligently argues that parents should not react to a child’s poor behavior as if it is a problem, because it is in fact a reaction to a problem that parents and children must identify and solve together. This is often true, but not always true. He argues that children, even ones as young as, say, five, can understand collaborative problem-solving and can, when exposed to it, use it beneficially so that they eventually grow into the sorts of human beings parents want them to become. This is often true, but again, not always true. The simple reality is that some adult concerns – notably ones involving safety, a word that does not even appear in this book’s index – are not matters for collaborative, cooperative problem solving, which in fact would abrogate parents’ underlying need to care for children until they are able to care for themselves.

     Greene presents lots of real-life situations and narratives to support his Plan B approach, and his question-and-answer segments, of which there are many, will be very valuable when things progress in real life as he predicts that they will. They often will, but not always. There is so much reasonableness here: “Remember, unsolved problems are shared by you and your kid. Your energy, effort, and persistence alone won’t solve them. You still need your partner.” That is really what Raising Human Beings is all about: the notion of children as partners in a family. Readers who can accept that concept will find a wealth of implementation assistance here. Those who cannot – well, Greene is not always helpful in answering some of the many questions he sprinkles throughout the book. He has a tendency to bend words and evade direct responses. Take the matter of actions having consequences, for example. He provides the question, “So adult-imposed consequences are out of the parenting mix completely?” This invites a “yes,” “no,” or “yes, in one sense, but no, in another,” response. What Greene does, however, is say, “The big question is whether you really need adult-imposed consequences.” A bit later, he moves on to, “Don’t you think it’s important for kids to be held accountable and to take responsibility for their actions?” Again, “yes, but not in the traditional sense of accountability,” or something along those lines, would be a reasonable thing to say. Instead, Greene writes, “Too often, the phrases hold the child accountable and make him take responsibility are really codes for punishment.” Parents who read Greene’s many responses along these lines may be forgiven for wanting to say, “Doggone, answer the question already!”

     At least one hopes parents may be forgiven. There is not much forgiveness in Greene’s formulation for parents who may fall short of the ultra-reasonableness that lies at the core of Plan B. “Maintaining your perspective is crucial to keeping your anxiety under control,” Greene writes, which means that parents having anxiety in trying to handle their children under Plan B are suffering from a failure of perspective. Again and again, Greene indicates that parents who do not follow Plan B are heading for trouble of their own making, since the basis of Plan B is the notion that children are inherently rational and desirous of doing well: “Kids do well if they can – if your kid could do well, he would do well, because doing well is preferable” (italics in the original). Measuring up to Greene’s ultra-rational child-rearing method will be a tall order for many parents, especially ones who head single-parent households, work two jobs to keep food on the table, work long hours under stressful conditions, have adult-to-adult difficulties with partners or work colleagues or other family members, or simply have significant time limitations that make the no-shortcuts approach to every parent-child interaction impossible or, at best, extremely difficult (and, yes, stress-provoking and anxiety-producing). Greene’s Plan B is an admirable concept and an enormously worthy goal, and his attempt to provide specific implementation advice in Raising Human Beings is equally admirable. But there is something utopian about the notion of adults using Plan B throughout the child-rearing years. Just as “Homo Economicus” allegedly has an infinite ability to make rational economic decisions, so Greene’s Plan B parents have infinite patience, time and verbal ability for rational family discussions and decisions. A goal of using Plan B, at least to the extent possible, is a very worthy one. An expectation of using it is a recipe for parental self-doubt and fear of falling far short of the “right” way to raise kids.

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