Renowned child psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of Lost at School and The Explosive Child explains how to cultivate a better parent-child relationship while also nurturing empathy, honesty, resilience, and independence.
Parents have an important task: figure out who their child is—his or her skills, preferences, beliefs, values, personality traits, goals, and direction—get comfortable with it, and then help them pursue and live a life according to it. Yet parents also want their kids to be independent, but not if they are going to make bad choices. They want to avoid being too overbearing, but not if an apathetic kid is what they have to show for it. They want to have a good relationship with their kids, but not if that means being a pushover. They don’t want to scream, but they do want to be heard. Good parenting is about striking the balance between a child’s characteristics and a parent’s desire to have influence.
Dr. Ross Greene “makes a powerful case for rethinking typical approaches to parenting and disciplining children” (The Atlantic). Through his well-known model of solving problems collaboratively, parents can forgo timeout and sticker charts; stop badgering, berating, threatening, and punishing; allow their kids to feel heard and validated; and have influence.
From homework to hygiene, curfews, to screen time, Dr. Greene “arms parents with guidelines that are clear, doable, and sure to empower both parents and their children” (Adele Faber, coauthor of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen). Raising Human Beings is “inspirational…a game-changer for parents, teachers, and other caregivers. Its advice is reasonable and empathetic, and readers will feel ready to start creating a better relationship with the children in their lives” (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
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About the Author
Dr. Ross W. Greene is the author of Raising Human Beings, Lost and Found, Lost at School, and The Explosive Child. Dr. Greene was on the faculty at Harvard Medical School for over twenty years, and is now founding director of the nonprofit organization Lives in the Balance (LivesintheBalance.org), through which he disseminates the model of care—now called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions—described in his books. Dr. Greene’s research has been funded by the US Department of Education, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Stanley Medical Research Institute, and the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. He speaks widely throughout the world.
Read an Excerpt
Raising Human Beings - Chapter 1 -
It seems like it’s always been this way. Adults telling kids what to do and making them do it. Might makes right. Father knows best. Spare the rod and spoil the child. Do as I say, not as I do. Children should be seen and not heard.
And yet, along with some other historically subjugated groups—women, people of color—children have come a long way. Not so long ago, children were brought into the world to ensure the survival of the species, to help out on the farm, to generate some income, or simply because birth control wasn’t yet in vogue or reliable. Nowadays, with the species more populous than ever and with most kids off the hook (in the Western world, anyway) for tending the flock or contributing income, kids have choices. They’re real people. They matter. And they know it.
Some observers of Western society are not especially enthusiastic about the rise in kids’ status, pointing with alarm at what they perceive as the disrespectful, irreverent character of the modern child (Aristotle, of course, complained about the same thing). They lament the “adultification” of children and look with disdain upon parents who aren’t sufficiently in charge. They long for the good old days, when roles were clear, kids knew their place, and administering a well-deserved thrashing wouldn’t get you reported to the authorities.
On the other hand, there are those who aren’t quite convinced that the good old days were as marvelous as advertised. They’ve come to realize that might and right don’t overlap seamlessly, and that father didn’t always know best. They now recognize that the rod was an unnecessary and even counterproductive teaching tool, that thrashings were a pretty extreme way to make a point, and that there’s more to raising a kid than carrots and sticks. They believe that allowing children to have a voice in their own affairs might actually be good preparation for The Real World.
So, as it relates to how to raise kids, a lot of parents are a little confused about how to proceed these days. They’re mired in that muddy territory that lies between permissiveness and authoritarianism. They want their kid to be independent, but not if he’s going to make bad choices. They want to avoid being harsh and rigid, but not if the result is a noncompliant, disrespectful kid. They want to avoid being too pushy and overbearing, but not if an unmotivated, apathetic kid is what they have to show for it. They want to have a good relationship with their kid, but not if that means being a pushover. They don’t want to scream, but they do want to be heard.
It’s all about balance, but the balance sometimes seems so precarious, so difficult to achieve.
Fortunately, it’s not mud that lies between the Dictatorial Kingdom and the Pushover Provinces. It’s a partnership, and one in which collaboration, rather than power, is the key ingredient. A partnership that will help you and your kid work together as allies—as teammates—rather than as adversaries. A partnership that will help you forge a relationship that works for both of you, that gives you both room to grow, that provides your child with the solid foundation he needs to someday spread his wings and fly.
We seem to be moving pretty fast here. A collaborative partnership? With my kid? For real?
For real. You may not be aware of it, but you started collaborating with your kid the instant he came into this world. When he cried, you tried to figure out what was the matter. Then you tried to do something about it. Then, based on his feedback, if it became apparent that your intuition or your intervention wasn’t spot-on, you adjusted. So you’ve had a collaborative partnership with your kid for quite some time.
Will I still be an authority figure in a collaborative partnership?
Yes, very much so. Not an “old school” authority figure, but an authority figure nonetheless.
It turns out that what you’re mostly looking for, as a parent, is influence. Not control. And there is more than one way to get that influence. One path involves power and coercion, but there’s another path, one that enhances communication, improves relationships, and better prepares kids for a lot of what actually lies ahead in The Real World. This book, as you might have guessed, is about the second path.
The good news is that, by mere virtue of your position as parent, you already have influence. The bad news is that you don’t have as much influence as you thought and that if you use your influence in the wrong way, you’ll have even less.
Now some more good news: your child wants influence too.
That’s good news?
Yes, that’s very good news. For your child to do well in The Real World, he’ll need to know what he wants. Of course, it wouldn’t be ideal for you to give him everything he wants just because he wants it. So he’ll also need to know how to pursue what he wants adaptively and in a way that takes others’ needs and concerns into account. As a pretty influential guy named Hillel once wrote, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?” The problem, of course, is that Hillel didn’t give us the recipe for balancing those two considerations. Nonetheless, you’re on the hook for helping your child do it.
Creating a collaborative partnership with a child is unfamiliar territory for many parents, and we adults often aren’t very enthusiastic about treading into unfamiliar territory. If we’re going to err, it’s often going to be in the direction of authoritarianism and rigidity, and we can easily find support for this position, perhaps from parenting experts (depending on who we follow), perhaps in scripture (if we’re selective about where we look). But working toward a collaborative partnership has the potential to make parenting far more rewarding and to have you someday looking in the rearview mirror with great satisfaction.
We humans have come so far in so many realms. We have electricity and iPods and smartphones and the Internet. We can communicate instantaneously with people anywhere in the world. We’ve mastered flight. We’ve landed people on the moon and explored planets. We can transplant hearts and livers and faces and replace limbs. We can prevent and cure diseases. We can make babies without need of intercourse . . . and help them survive if they’re born many months before term.
But we’re still overreliant on power and control to solve problems. In that very important respect, we haven’t come far enough. And it begins with how we raise our children.
Completing the quote from Hillel, “If not now, when?”
• • • • •
As you read in the introduction, there are several stories that run throughout the book. Each focuses on a different family. These families’ situations will help elucidate the themes and strategies you’ll learn about. Let’s meet our first family now.
Denise was in her early-morning single-mom frazzle. Three kids to get out the door to school, a job to get to (preferably on time), and a boss who tried to be understanding but didn’t take kindly to late-arriving employees.
“Hank, get down here and eat your breakfast! Nick, stop doing your homework and go get dressed for school—you should’ve finished it last night, anyway! Charlotte, please turn off the TV and get your backpack ready. You’re going to miss the bus! I’ve told you a million times not to watch TV in the morning before school! And the dog still hasn’t been fed!”
Charlotte, the youngest of Denise’s kids, meandered into the kitchen. “Can’t somebody else be the one who feeds the dog in the morning? There’s too much for me to do.”
“Fine, I’ll feed the dog,” said Denise, pouring milk into a bowl of cereal for Hank. “Just get out of here so you don’t miss your bus! I don’t have time to drive you to school again!”
“I like when you drive me to school,” said Charlotte, sitting down on a kitchen chair.
“Charlotte, don’t sit down!” said Denise. “I like driving you to school, too, but not when I’m this late. Go!”
Charlotte got up from the chair, just in time for her older brother, Hank, to flick her ear as he sat down for breakfast.
“Hank, leave her be!” hissed Denise. “What did I tell you was going to happen to your Xbox if you keep torturing your sister?”
“What’s for breakfast?” mumbled Hank, still half asleep.
Denise placed the bowl of cereal in front of Hank.
“I don’t want cereal,” grumbled Hank.
“It’s all I have time for today.”
“Then I won’t eat breakfast.”
“There are some frozen waffles in the freezer,” offered Denise. “Does that work?”
“I don’t want breakfast.”
“I don’t want you going to school without breakfast,” said Denise, opening a can of dog food.
“Yeah, well, I’m not hungry. You never have time to make pancakes except on the weekend.”
Hank got up from the table and left the kitchen.
“I can’t make pancakes every day!” called Denise. “And nobody else likes pancakes, anyway. Nick, stop with the homework. Do you want the cereal Hank isn’t eating?”
“Hank probably got his spit in it already,” said Nick.
“That’s right, loser,” called Hank from the hallway. “?’Cuz losers eat my spit.”
“I’m not eating it,” announced Nick.
Denise sighed and dumped the cereal in the sink and poured a new bowl of cereal for Nick.
“I’m not using the same bowl he spit in!”
“Fine. I’ll give you a new bowl.” Denise poured fresh cereal and milk into a different bowl and set the dog food in front of Nick.
“This is disgusting!” Nick protested before Denise noticed her error.
“Oh geez!” Denise replaced the dog food with the bowl of cereal.
“Don’t spill it on my homework!” Nick warned.
“Bye,” Charlotte called from the front hallway.
“Bye, sweetie; I love you!” called Denise.
A minute later, Denise heard Hank leave without saying good-bye. Then she noticed that Nick hadn’t touched his cereal.
“Nick, enough with the freaking homework!”
When Nick had left and Denise was finally on her way to work, a few minutes late as usual, she wondered why every morning had to be just like the last. Would it ever get easier?
Table of Contents
Introduction: Where We're Heading xi
1 Role Confusion 1
2 Incompatibility 9
3 Business as Usual 31
4 Your Options 49
5 Solving Problems Together 81
6 Technical Support 127
7 Parental Angst 157
8 An Enduring Partnership 181
9 The Big Picture 235
10 Raising Human Beings 263
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Raising Human Beings includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
In Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child, renowned child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene helps parents maintain the balance between helping kids figure out who they are—their skills, preferences, beliefs, values, personality traits, goals, and direction—and ensuring that kids benefit from parents’ experience, wisdom, and values. His collaborative, nonpunitive, nonadversarial approach helps parents reduce conflict, enhance parent-child communication, and forge a partnership with their kids. With extensive real-life scenarios, Q & A’s, and step-by-step instructions, Dr. Greene has written an essential and practical guide that arms parents with all the tools they need to raise kids who are confident, self-aware, empathic, and humane.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. In the very beginning of the book, Dr. Greene writes, “These days, the guidance on how to raise kids is so ubiquitous and so incongruous” (page xi). What does he mean? Do you agree? What are some examples to support his statement?
2. Do you agree that the most crucial task of your child’s development is discovering who he or she is (skills, preferences, beliefs, values, personality traits, goals, and direction)? If so, why? If not, what then is the most crucial task?
3. Dr. Greene argues that there are not significant differences between the typical child and the behaviorally challenged child. Why does he make this assertion? Was it surprising to you? Do you agree? Why?
4. What does Dr. Greene mean when he writes about role confusion? Do you think it is as prevalent as Dr. Greene says? How do you see role confusion in your own household?
5. What are the Dictatorial Kingdom and the Pushover Provinces? Do you see your parenting style falling into either category? What are the flaws of each category? How is making these distinctions helpful for parents?
6. Incompatibility is used to describe moments when a child cannot meet the demands and expectations placed upon him. When is incompatibility a good thing? What is the role of the helper when dealing with this concern? How can you recognize when incompatibility may arise?
7. Why does Dr. Greene suggest that tantrums can be a good sign on page 15? In what manner should you respond to incompatibility?
Business as Usual
8. In Chapter 3, Dr. Greene takes parents through a few traditional exhorting and extorting scenarios. Why aren’t they effective? How can punishment interfere with helping kids find their inner voice?
9. Discuss the four goals for solving problems collaboratively: identify unmet expectations, evaluate your child’s ability to meet expectations, prioritize, and solve the problem. What are the differences between Plans A, B, and C in the problem-solving goal? What is appealing about this framework? How can you incorporate it into your own parenting?
Solving Problems Together
10. What is the Empathy step of Plan B? How important is empathy when solving problems collaboratively? How can you teach empathy to children?
11. What are some things you should avoid doing to keep Plan B from going off the rails? Are these things that you often find yourself resorting to? Are there any other things you would add to the list? How can you avoid doing them?
12. What are the signs that your parental anxiety is over the top? What are your most common sources of anxiety? How can you reduce it?
An Enduring Partnership
13. Discuss the different expectations kids struggle with at various age points. How does this breakdown of expectations help you prepare for an enduring partnership with your child? Were there any major expectations you didn’t see listed? If so, discuss where they might best fit and how you can approach them.
The Big Picture
14. Throughout the book, you met three different families struggling with various problems. How were these families helpful when trying to figure out how to use collaboration? What did you learn from the different families? In what ways were they similar to your family?
Enhance your Book Club
1. Practice Plan B in your group. Take turns role-playing situations you are currently dealing with at home and apply Plan B to solving these problems.
2. How can you apply Dr. Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS) method to problems outside the realm of parenting? Discuss ways in which this method can be used with friends, coworkers, and other adults in your life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
As a long time devotee of Greene's CPS approach I can say without remorse this is more of the same. It's as if he re-writes his theory over and over in each book for a unique audience. In the Explosive Child it's the parents of special needs kids, Lost at School - it's the teachers, and here he's trying to reach ALL parents. While that's a truly noble cause it's beginning to be border on bait 'n switch as if he's got something original to say after 20 years of books. If you've read any of his prior books you can skip this one - if not, enjoy!
I highly recommend this book. It would make a great gift for parents with children of any age – but the younger the better. It’s easier to instill a sound pattern of parenting when the kids are young; although, this book does offer excellent examples of changing parental styles even when the kids are teenagers. Over the years, I’ve read quite a few parenting books, and one of the things I’ve learned is: you do not have to agree with every single bit of advice offered within the pages. Take what works for you and apply it to your situation. Ross W. Greene, PhD, has taken experiences from his twenty-five years of being a clinical psychologist and organized his advice in a very easy-to-read format. Instead of compiling pages and pages of never-ending advice and examples all in the same font and line spacing, the author (and editor and publisher, I assume) diversified the text. There are paragraphs where straight information is delivered, there are case studies presented in stories, there are Q&A sections, and there are plenty of subtitles to help keep you engaged with the book. While most of the writing is excellent, Greene does like to start sentences with the word “but” and he loves his creative dialogue tags such as hissed, mumbled, grumbled, and protested. None of which actually took away from the overall content, but it was distracting to me. While I loved and agreed with much of Greene’s advice, I will tell you that I let my babies cry themselves to sleep in their cribs. After reading this book, if I had to do all over again, I would still let my babies cry themselves to sleep. And yet, I am certainly one to advocate parents considering alternatives to figure out what works best for them. Greene’s straight-forward method of “Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child” is one that will foster kinder human beings who are able to problem solve with empathy not only while growing up but also as adults. Some of my favorite ideas and lines from the book: “Identity achievement refers to a person who has both undergone the identity exploration process and has also developed a well-defined self-concept and identity. She know who she is, what she believes, and where she’s going” (page 24). “What’s best for him is likely to involve more ‘listening’ than ‘lessoning’” (page 35). “Your child would prefer to be doing well” (page 39). “But there’s another reason solving problems collaboratively is hard: many adults haven’t had much practice at it, having been raised by parents who were probably highly skilled at demanding and insisting” (page 81). “I’ve worked with three-year-olds who had an easier time participating verbally than some seventeen-year-olds” (page 190). “We live in the information age, and we are saturated with demands for empathy … sadly, that fatigue sometimes causes us to respond with less compassion and empathy in our interactions with our children…” (page 240).