Deal Making with children : Impact on Adult Personality

I started this blog around the time Channel 33 had scheduled an interview with me about childrens problems. But it took a while to get it here. 

When I get a feeling of being manipulated, I am deeply resentful. To some others, manipulative behavior may be just a normal, “reasonable” and “logical” way of relating. It even represents decent, civilised behavior for some. For years I have tried to understand the roots of our respective behaviors, our deductions, and our responses to such behaviors, and why it triggers so much angst in me. The article (url provided below) provided a perfect backdrop on why we are the way we are.

Personal Experiences 

While some experiences of interrelating are extremely meaningful and inspiring, some leave me bristled and wounded.  I realize that these are collective issues of unresolved expectations and flawed interaction on either side, they are ways of being in the world, yet I remained curious about why such behaviors happen. Such understanding helps resolve the inner quandry. Hopefully the reader will be guided into being more multiculturally aware. For an ethnic immigrant, these explorations into the psyche may provide an understanding of their why their interaction with their environment may feel distressful.  

The article above provided me with a glimpse into the difference between childrearing practices in various cultures, and how those differences shape adult behavior. Lets explore this by studying two families who have different ways of seeking compliance from their children, and two different ways of rewarding their children. 

Family 1

The first family believes in making deals with their children whenever a desirable behavioral outcome is needed – creating a token economy. Such families also offer financial incentives for  running chores and errands. Token economy is promoted by Cognitive Behavioral  Therapists and is the basis of reward and punishment system in school psychology. This family (or school teacher) will typically say things like

  • “If you eat your broccoli, you can have the dessert.”
  • If you get more than 15 points on your bad behavior chart, you will lose the priviledge of going to the Christmas party”
  • “If you hit your sister (classmate) once again, you will be grounded in your room (detention) for the rest of the day”
  • “If you steal from me, you will lose the priviledges of your music system”
  • “If you are disrespectful to me, I will ground you in your room for a week !”
  • “If you don’t do your chores around the house, then you’ll be grounded and have your priviledges taken away!”
  • I will give you $15 (or $5, or $10) if you help me clean the garage (or mow the lawn).
  • If you behave at the party, you’ll get to go to laserquest tomorrow. 

This family is constrained because they are afraid of being in trouble with the law, the CPS (in US) for any significantly asserive way of dealing with problems the children bring forth. Their hands (and their voices) are tied.

These ways of working with children inform the interactions in the school environments – simply because they are most effortive in enforcing discipline with littlest resources and efforts. However, such discipline comes with a cost of promoting certain undesirable traits that become part of the children’s psyche as they grow up,  a part and aprcel of his adult personality, as we shall explore and discuss.

One of the main reasons such cognitive behavioral methods are promoted is because more assertive ways of managing children may raise eyebrows. More assertive ways of parenting are not available to the parents and teachers in the Western world. Regardless of the fact that the CPS does not punish assertive parenting, limiting only abusive parenting, nevertheless, the grey areas between the two causes uncertainty and realistically speaking, even if parents were confident of their rights and understand that they would be found not guilty if reported, they do not wish to be take a chance of being reported by trigger happy school counselors.

Family 2

Contrast this with another, a second family that does not have these conditions in place, but operates on a collective basis – keeping in mind the wellbeing of the future generation of adults. They have to work a little harder, but the results have a long term impact as the adult they create would be a much more well adjusted and socially conscious person. Instead of the above, such a family would emphasize the following:

    • “Broccoli is healthy way of living, and it will ensure good bone structure in you. I wish someone had told me this when I was a kid, I would have a much healthier body right now!”
    • “When you behave disrespectfully towards me, I don’t feel like talking to you. Are my feelings, and our relationship that unimportant to you?”
    • “When you hit your sister, you alienate her. There is one less person who loves you and cares for you. Is that what you’re really trying so hard to do?”
    • “It doesn’t really affect me much if you steal from me, because I can protect my stuff the next time. However, if you learn to steal, you will keep stealing for the rest of your life. People will trust you less. You will lose friends, and even family. Is that the kind of person that you want to be? Is that the kind of future you want for yourself ? If not, then let me help you become a better adult.”
    • “In being disrespectful to me, you are practicing being disrespectful to your future partner husband/wife/children. The way you treat us, is the way you will treat your own family. You will be gone from my home as an adult, so your disrespectful behavior is transitory in my life. But your wife and your children will not tolerate this learned disrespect and may leave you. It would be better if you learn and practice to be respectful at home, so you can be successful in life and in your relationships.”
    • If you choose not to help me, I can only spend much less time with you. Also, you will be learning how to avoid responsibility – which is going to affect your own adult relationships with your wife/husband! It may be better if you use me as a guinea pig and this as a learning opportunity to practice how to be a responsible adult. You’ll have a better life ahead!”
    • “Garage (or the lawn) needs cleaning (mowing) and I can’t do it alone. Can you please help me do this so we can all enjoy this home ? In any case, your allowance isn’t linked to the chores you do around the house. Your allowance is for your personal spending, which have nothing to do with how this house is organized or run. The chores need to be done so we can all enjoy this home because the home belongs to everyone, not just me! I want you to be proud of your home, just the way I am proud of our home, and of your sense of responsibility”

Pavlovian Training of the First Family

When the first family makes these deals, the psyche falls into a reaction that the famous Pavlovian dogs fell into. Subsequent to such training, every time someone asks this child for a behavioral change, or when the child is asked to do something around the house, the child will be stimulated into a deal making mind. “What do I get in return for my effort?” “Whats in it for me?” “How can I best extract the most out of this situation?” These questions may not be conscious, but the process of dealmaking becomes the dominent strategic template in the psyche. Nothing is done because it needs to be done, or because there is higher emotions like love, empathy, forgiveness, compassion involved. Everything is done if, and only if, there is a material payoff.  The child’s psyche gets rigorously trained into an exchange mechanism that is materialistic in nature. This must definitely delay – or even suspend – the development of an internal moral compass where one thinks in terms of ethics, altruism, and a higher level of consciousness.

In real life, it is very common to see parents complaining about how their children turn a deaf ear to their pleas for help. Parents blame the children for being unhelpful, selfish, self centred, rebellious, but what they don’t realize is the child’s personal conscious is a tabula rasa, it is developed as a consequence of his or her interaction with the earliest caregivers. In later childhood, and adolescence, it is still amorphous and malleable and will be shaped in response to the intention of the parental behavior. If the intention is to force the kid into carrying the burdens of adulthood, and the burdens of parental failures, well, they are and will remain ill equipped to carry them. The survival instinct of any child that is hurried thru childhood, will take over and the child will most likely refuse to comply with parental requests. So the rebellion is often not aimed at the parent, but the parental actions of pushing the child into early adulthood. 

If children are also burdened and contrained by imposition of adult behavioral norms in early childhood – when their psyche is not really ready for adult behaviors. When a child’s psyche is allowed to unfold in accordance with its developmental needs, a sense of respect,  compassion, morality,  personal ethics and responsibility unfolds automatically.  It is a developmental necessity and does not have to be taught, or even disciplined into existence. Even a slightly higer level of discipline than is stage appropriate, attentuates the developmental process by causing an arrest in some parts of the psyche. Such adults – that have been forced to grow up early in certain areas of functioning – will generally struggle with an underdeveloped innate moral and ethical compass. They will be more manipulative, because the have learnt early that the only way they can get their own needs met is not thru direct engagement with an adult, but thru circumlocular deal-making.

The Alternate Solution

One can readily see the advantage in working like the second family. A false sense is prevented from developing, and the child will slowly begin to associates his self in relation to the other. Chores are needed to be done, or errands are run because there is a collective advantage in completing a task, or because it is the ethical, moral or the responsible thing to do, or because it is a learning opportunity presented for a successful adult life. A sense of autonomy and responsibility unfolds quicker, and financial correlate is disregarded. Altruism is encouraged, selfish behavior does not develop. It isn’t difficult to see how children in such a family will be less driven by greed, materialism, deal-making and materialistic and/or manipulative behavior. Such interaction makes for more mature and responsible children, and later adults.

Some parents bring their children into therapy because they want them to be “fixed” – either by behavioral interventions, or through prescription medications. One should always remain aware that the children are the silent carriers of  the issues that the adults in the family are dealing with. To use behavioral interventions, or prescription medication on the child who is such a carrier will be eventually ineffective. The problem will continue – both side will up the ante and sooner or later the child will win – either thru rebellion and aggression, or therough depression and self destruction, which is anger turned inwards.

So if you have an errant child, and believe that your child is essentially flawed and should shape up; think again. A collaborative effort, in the best interest of the child, is needed. 

I always love working with parents who may not understand why their child is rebellious and aggressive, or how to get them back on track, but are fully committed to the process of working through the insights and consequential awareness of the flawed parent child dynamics,  emerging as a tightly integrated and emotionally bonded family unit.

4 responses to “Deal Making with children : Impact on Adult Personality”

  1. Hi Madhu,

    I strongly resonate with the views expressed in your post. What is repeatedly clear to me in my work is how adults in organisations continue to embody the behaviours learned as childrenin their families, and how this creates Parent-Child cultures which can never become Adult as long as these paradigms, beliefs, and associated behaviours persist. While the language is all around the models in Family 2, the underlying beliefs, feelings and behaviours are all Family 1 – so there is dissonance, sometimes leading to cynicism. People’s experience on the ground is as if they are in Family 1, but they hear many of their leaders talking the language of Family 2. They go on training courses or facilitated events or have coaching (with people such as me!) exploring how to live in a 2 way, but they struggle to put it into practice and are even sometimes punished if they do so because they live in a 1 world. Thanks for writing this.


    1. Karin,

      I’m glad you liked this. To be honest, it is easier to practice the CBT approach. The children can be quickly disciplined. But linking allowances to chores, and good behavior is, like I said, the pits. Then, allowing little kids to become financially savvy at a young age (“use your allowance to buy your stuff”) is even worse. Money assumes such an importance in the little psyche! The longing for money to get the desired toy, etc, is immense, and the kids learns not to part with money under all conditions, and save and scrimp and beg, borrow and steal to get the desired object. I know it is appropriate to “work for your goodies” but that is an adult philosophy. The children need to be cherished, and not burdened with these harsh facts of life. Eventually all children grow up into adults who understand the harsh realities of life, but if their childhood is protected, then they develop the desired traits that are associated with normal, age appropriate development. If they are made to work for everything they have, then, along with the ability to work for their own living, it is evident that they will also develop a sadistic aspect of personality where anyone less able is denigrated. A harshness in the character evolves, the softness has been eroded by the burdens that their parents prematurely imposed on them. This must cause a derision for weakness, which in turn reduces empathy, altruism, kindness towards less fortunate in this world.

      …..Which is pretty much where a lot of our adults are. We see examples of such adults in everyday life. You tell them your weaknesses and they’ll turn around and throw that weakness back at you, making a mincemeat out of you. One learns to trust less in a world of such adults.

      Its amazing how a small thing like linking allowances to chores can create a series of behaviors that one would never think of linking back……

      1. Hi
        Not so amazing really when you think about it…I cringe when I hear the stuff mothers (usually) are saying to their children and I have a flashforward of what that will mean later in life. But would I be any better? Probably not. What is so difficult is how when you try the Family 2 approach with adults you think ‘should know better’ (ie they give signs of having evolved into awareness), you so often get back a reaction that shows how they’re deeply embedded in Family 1. Our memories and histories have far-reaching roots… That quote Rajni put up – ‘tell someone a lie and you make them angry, tell them the truth and you make them livid – often resonates for me in this context!

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