Living with Children: Are kids like slot machines?


Some parents, I have discovered, believe in the parenting slot machine theory. They hold fast to the notion that some parents are simply lucky, meaning that chance, and chance alone, determines whether one has easy children or difficult children. This parenting slot machine supposedly pays some parents and cheats others.

With rare exception, parents with well-behaved kids tend to put no stock in said machine. They believe their children are well-behaved because they discipline them properly.

Parents with problem children are likely to believe in chance. They believe their children carried baggage of some sort — bad genes, bad biochemistry, bad brains — into the world. When these kids unpack this baggage, demons are loosed. Thus, the parents in question are victims of forces beyond their control.

Naturally, people have asked where I stand concerning said debate. With some hesitance, I throw my lot in with the School of No Such Luck.

The hesitance has to do with the fact that I know some children are initially easy and some are initially difficult. Some, as infants, are calm and cheerful. Others come into the world bristling for a fight. Then again, I’ve seen “easy” become “difficult” by early childhood and vice versa.

I’ve also noticed that by the time a child is of school age, if he is well behaved he has parents who obviously know how to discipline. They give instructions properly, don’t explain themselves, and are consistent when it comes to misbehavior.

Conversely, those children who are generally ill-behaved always have parents who do not seem to grasp the basics of effective discipline. They plead, nag, and scream at their children, feel obliged to explain themselves, and threaten far more than they punish. This is hardly coincidence; therefore, it is anything but evidence of “luck.”

Researchers have failed to find any behavioral trait that is fixed, permanent, immutable. Children who are initially shy usually learn to be outgoing. Children who lack self-confidence learn to take chances. Defiant children grow up to be good citizens, and compliant, responsible children sometimes grow up to be criminals. And so on.

A fellow recently told me that training children is a lot like training dogs. I had to silently chuckle, for there is no comparison. A dog comes into the world wanting to please, and a child comes into the world wanting to be pleased. A dog comes into the world wanting to obey, and a child comes into the world wanting to be obeyed. Let’s get real!

Then there’s the matter of free will. Nothing compares to the power of choice that a child obtains during his second year of life. One choice can free a child from the restraints of his nature or plunge the child headlong into the depravity of it. One choice can make a mockery of bio-genetic theories.

None of this has anything in common with slot machines.

[Family psychologist John Rosemond: Copyright 2022, John K. Rosemond]