Legacy of Trust: MetaBehaviorism

“Meta” is a curious and rich word.  It is classically defined as a prefix which means after or beyond.  I think its more interesting aspects are self referential like metadata – data about data.  Perhaps a metabag would be a bag full of bags.  My son seems to be becoming a metabehaviorist.  By which i mean a behaviorist employing these practices on himself.  Or perhaps this is autobehaviorism?

But let me begin at the beginning.  Willow’s parents have this approach which most would consider daring.  As much as possible we don’t tell him what to do, we work with him to find out the things he wants to do.  He rarely takes showers or baths. He largely does not clean up his room, but can be convinced sometimes.  We do try to help him make informed decisions.  As early as 5 years old, he suggested and volunteered to stop eating sugar and dairy and to drink tea to help get over his cold at the time.

This is what extraordinary kids look like: Gwen, Willow and Rowan.

This is what extraordinary kids look like: Gwen, Willow and Rowan.

The other day he was working with Hawina on homeschooling and they had decided some time back that he would do homework.  And the system which they came up with (with Willow doing his homework every other day) was not working.  Hawina said, “What do you think we should do?”

Willow replied, “I think i should have a weekly homework deadline, and if it is not finished by the deadline, i don’t get any screen time until i complete it.”  Hawina was surprised by this proposal, but felt like it was a good one and they quickly agreed on it.   [Screen time is the amount of time Willow can spend on his computer, typically playing games or watching Star Trek or Modern Family.]

We hope we can continue this extraordinarily trusting and flexible parenting style.  What increases the chances that this will work is Willow’s own (somewhat odd) selecting behaviorist solutions to be run on himself.

Rat race or self correcting liberation?

Rat race or self correcting liberation?


I’ve been writing about Willow since before he could read.  With most people who i know, i ask them to review blog posts before i post them, if I mention their name in anything other than the most trivial way.  Because i had been doing this for so long with Willow i had, until the last couple of posts i wrote about him, not been consulting with Willow on what i was writing about him.

I’ve now cleaned up my act.  He reviewed this post, pulled out a couple of points i thought were interesting, but he did not want in it.  Future posts mentioning him in any significant way will have his approval before posting.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

9 responses to “Legacy of Trust: MetaBehaviorism”

  1. adelord libitum says :

    This post won my heart. Coercion is not necessary, modeling good behavior is. Self-selecting behaviorist solutions is a common tool-set I see shared by many successful technical professionals, proficient reality operators who thrive in the main currents of our global society. Based on this post alone, I suspect he may “rebel” by being an outstanding corporate officer, haha. Hail Eris!

  2. Seby (aka Twigsy) says :

    I have a question for Willow. After telling Skye (who Willow has played with, but probably doesn’t remember) that he had to clean his room today, Skye argued that he’s basically a ‘slave’ (because slaves have to work hard without being paid – which, by the way, doesn’t really work since Skye DOES get paid for cleaning his room – and because slaves get punished for not doing what they’re told). I refused to argue with Skye and basically just said “Ok, then you’re a slave. Now go clean your room”.

    I do not want to have to get into arguments with Skye about his responsibilities, but I’m not willing to let him just ignore them. I’ve tried that in the past and, for example, his room has gotten REALLY messy so that it took a very long time to clean up. We have a standard in this household, where none of us are allowed to be irresponsible with our things. He ended up having the things he would not clean up put into storage until he earns them back.

    As a person who grew up not having any responsibilities, I don’t feel it’s in Skye’s best interests to be allowed to not follow the same standards of responsibility as the rest of the household.

    What is your opinion on this? Skye will be 7 years old next month, so I think you’re only a few years older than he is.

    Thank you,


    • paxus says :

      i think there is a mix of values and cultures in every house. being responsible for things is a good strong value. Having tremendous personal autonomy and thus implicate responsibility is another approach (sometimes orthogonal to the first). I dont think there is any one true path.

      I think WIllow parents are willing to cede his room as his space and dont need it to be especially clean. There are all manner of reasons this might not work for you. The vast majority of Willows things are hand me downs, and quite some in tough shape. They dont need to be carefully cared for.

      Intelligent people can have very different styles of parenting. If yours works for you, it does not matter if it is very different than mine. At least it does not matter to me.

      • Makia says :

        I agree that different households and culture result in different approaches – and understanding that two approaches (or more) can be correct is so critical. What works for a large farmhouse in the country may not work for a small apartment n the city. All members agreeing on what standard works for a household is so important.

        Baruch Spinza “Do not weep; do not wag indignant. Understand.”

        One of my children has always been, for lack of a kinder word, a slob. She asks for and gets help on organizing her possessions and her work and has over time learned to manage very well for herself – but she will never be (I suspect) as neat as I am. I think this is because she is an artist. Her long desk/work area is covered with different projects in progress and with the materials she collects for her work. Understanding that the reason for her desk to be covered is because this is how she works is crucial to co-habitating with her in a civilized way. She’s not allowed to cover the dining room table with her projects (I like to eat there) but I do not interfere with her collections of work on her desk (unless she requests my assistance)

  3. Milky says :

    Give kids good role models, trust them, and they’ll do so much more than you imagine. I’m also thrilled to hear that you and Willow are working together on what you’re publishing about him, even though it’s a little (a lot) hard for me to accept that he’s this grown up!

  4. Tree Bressen says :

    1. Seby’s question was actually directed to Willow rather than Paxus, and i for one would be interested to hear Willow’s reply if he’s interested.

    2. http://groupworksdeck.org/patterns/Go_Meta

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