What distinguishes the NAP parenting paradigm from other parenting styles?
All of these concepts are rooted in the non-aggression principle; with respect for the person and property first. We’ll expand on these points in more detail in other posts.
Private Property: Everything in the home is privately owned, and that ownership is unambiguous. Things are only shared when we explicitly agree to share them. If the default is that everything is commonly owned, on the other hand, who determines how it is used? Vague boundaries around shared property in the home give rise to shaming or coercion.
Effect: It’s wrong to smear toothpaste on the mirror because it’s my toothpaste and my mirror, and I didn’t give permission for them to be used that way. It’s wrong to waste food because it’s my food. Don’t put your feet on my pillow.
We can not confiscate property from the children if it belongs to them, unless they’re using it as a weapon, for example. This is in defense of property and person rights.
Aggression is clearly defined and addressed: The rules created by the NAP are simple and clear. Resolutions of disputes are consistent, and many are codified.
Effect: We get to the bottom of accusations of aggression, even if they seem small. If you closely follow “due process” with every “crime”, those crimes will diminish. It might feel silly or beneath you to spend 20 minutes resolving “He took my marble!” with a couple of 3-5 year olds, but your care, consistency and pursuit of justice and fairness will be rewarded. The victim will feel safer and the aggressor will feel remorseful, which is essential to justice and peace. To ignore aggression is to enable it.
Rewards: The use of rewards is as important in the parent/child relationship as it is in the employer/employee relationship. Every day is filled with rewards for the children. Both parties should feel like they are profiting from the relationships and their interactions.
Effect: The children work everyday, happily. Common phrases heard around the home are “What can I offer you for xyz”, or “Do you have any jobs for me now?”. We pay for chores, with our token economy, and that money can be spent at the “store” we operate. The kids request what they’d like to have in the store. Everything from a single sparkler or eraser, to a pricey new game, scooter, or a special trip to their favorite restaurant are available. We’re always seeking more efficient uses of our time and labor, there are always opportunities to take advantage of, boredom is very rare.
Experimentation is encouraged: We want the home to reflect the environments that the children will live and work in as adults. Hopefully they work in very free markets, and with people that understand the power of a liberated, creative work force.
Effect: We allow the kids to make their choices freely, but we also incentivize and dis-incentivize different choices. This is precisely how markets guide our actions. You want to do extra chores, schoolwork, and play nicely today? You’ll get extra rewards. Skip the chores, hit your sister, throw tantrums, and you won’t be rewarded or invited to participate in much. And although we create negative consequences for certain behaviors, we respect our children’s right to make the occasional poor decision (unlike ‘helicopter’ parents), and celebrate their experimental nature.
Negotiation: Virtually everything is negotiable. The children choose most of their daily activities. We strive to “find a way” to give our kids everything they want, and we help them decide what costs they’re willing to incur to earn them. This isn’t to say that they must always pay for what they want, rather that what they want is almost always an option we can put on the table.
Effect: The kids are entrepreneurial. They suggest novel and exciting ideas for family activities, and then help plan the activity. Most importantly we all outline the tasks each person should complete to be ready for and deserving of the activity. The whole family working together and helping each other to achieve a new, fun, agreed-upon goal… it’s parenting bliss!
Universality: The NAP is all about universal standards. The adults are not above them. It is wrong for anyone to hit anyone else, or violate anyone else’s property.
Effect: A common thought experiment is “would I talk to my wife or mother this way?” If any one of us is being unreasonable, or aggressive, we are expected to apologize and make amends. And we take those apologies seriously. When an adult screws up, we will usually write an apology letter, apologize in person, often more than once, and do whatever it takes to make the situation right again, which is decided by the victim of the aggressive or unreasonable behavior. There is also no mandate for accepting (or giving) apologies or amends. This is an especially important step for parents discovering NAP parenting after some years of parenting by less peaceful methods.
Ostracism: This is the umbrella term for the negative consequences employed. Despite the negative connotation “ostracism” and “punishment” have to most progressive parents, both are bound by the NAP in our household; neither are nasty or aggressive. Ostracism just means “not engaging” and punishing just means creating a consequence that reduces the behavior (such as denying dessert to someone who skips dinner). Forcing a kid in to time-out is an act of aggression, but taking a time-out from engaging with the child is not.
Effect: Ostracism can be as light as “you didn’t finish your veggies so I’m not sharing my dessert with you” or “I didn’t like the way you yelled at me earlier, so I’m going to work alone now instead of playing that game with you”. Work and chores are so satisfying for the kids in our home, that refusing to work with them is one of the strongest punishments available.
Commitment to truth, reason, and rationality: We do not lie to children. We expect reasonable and rational behavior from everyone in the home, guests included. When someone is being unreasonable or irrational, we take the time to gently point it out.
Effect: We don’t lie about Santa or the tooth fairy or try to convince them of a any other magic that we have no evidence for. We don’t lie to them about our relationships or the world they’re growing up in. We would never “trick” them into a trip to grandma’s, or threaten them with abandonment if they don’t hurry up.
Free play: Play is the child’s work. Homeschooling should not be completely hands-off. Refusing to offer any direction or boundaries at all is neglect, but actively encouraging free play on a daily basis is important. Free play doesn’t mean “go sit in front of a tv”, but instead is an active engagement with friends, nature, hands-on games and crafts.
Effect: The children can focus on their work, knowing play time is always right around the corner. Commonly heard phrases are: “Go outside and play!”, and, “I’ll pack you a picnic if you accompany your brother to the creek”. And good exercise begets good sleep.
Respecting choices and feelings: We seek feedback and input daily. We validate emotions when they come up. If the child doesn’t want to go somewhere, we do not force them, barring some medical emergency. (Under the principle of protection of life). Of course, there may be other negative consequences for them if they are breaking a deal or being unreasonable.
Effect: The children feel free to discuss their thoughts and feelings with us. And it’s a two-way street, we’re paid back by their genuine respect for our thoughts and feelings.
Commitment to learning/growth: Parenting is one of the most important jobs in the world, so it should be treated as such. If you were building and sailing a ship across the sea, you’d do your homework! There are no excuses for a failure to prepare, and to continue preparing for the next steps. Parents should be well-read and practiced in the art and science of joyful and healthful parenting. We strive to increase our knowledge, and we embrace conversation with other parents. We need great minds coming together to push the limits of extraordinary parenting, so we seek them out.
Effect: Besides the benefit of being well-cared for, the children see where we spend our time and energy. We are modeling the attitude of “If it’s important, you work at it. This job, and these relationships are very important.” We want to always be a resource of new and challenging ideas for them. And we are regularly re-examining our systems to check that we are in alignment with our principles and current research.
Respecting the body: Best practices should be followed in regards to health. No circumcision, the baby should be breastfed, a loving adult should always be available to them, they must brush their teeth and take their medicine, a proper diet, informed by science, not superstition. No spanking, no psychological or verbal abuse. No toxic environments, whether it’s smoke in a car, music too loud, or being subject to aggression from other adults and children. These things aren’t negotiable. But more than just avoiding harm, we must also respect the autonomy of the child’s body. That means don’t just pick up a child without their permission, anymore than you would with a petite co-worker!
Effect: The children recognize that their bodies are their temples, and internalize the careful decision-making that goes into keeping them healthy.