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Are Kids our Adversaries?

In our work with families, as well as the various other settings (such as schools) that we consult to, we’re routinely struck by the loving dedication adults show to a population of kids that can be very demanding to care for and support.  (Privately, some of us wonder at times if we could do half as good a job as the parents, educators, etc. we’re working within our “expert” role!)

All that said, a sadly undeniable aspect of our culture is a tendency to see children as adversaries, who, if not kept in line or motivated out of their own nefarious agendas via rewards and (especially) consequences, will run roughshod over us.  This tendency—present in all of us—was recently highlighted for us by an encounter with the work of Brandeis University sociologist Gordon Fellman.  His book, “Rambo and the Dalai Lama: The
Compulsion to Win and Its Threat to Human Survival,” proposes that most human encounters are regrettably organized so that the point of them is to overcome the other.  He notes that this “is true for the most part of relations between men and women, parents and children, whites and non-whites, leaders and publics, rich and poor, labor and management, athletic teams, business firms, advanced societies and developing societies, straight and gay, tall and short, well and ill, and so on,” and has termed it the “adversary paradigm.”

Take a look at your encounters with kids, whether your own or those you work with, and see if you can’t notice this tendency and viewpoint
influencing your thoughts and actions. And then think about the alternative paradigm that Fellman discusses: “mutuality.”  In our view, there’s no better way toward a feeling of mutuality (a relationship marked by empathy, recognition of the full humanness of the other, caring, nurturing, support, and love) in our relatioship with children than what we call Plan B.  If you don’t know what that’s all about, read more at!

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