The Argument Against “Child-Rearing”

New and experienced parents frequently search for an answer to the question, “What method is best for raising our kids?”. And, according to renowned psychologist, Alice Miller, the answer to this question is essentially, “no method”. No method.

Consideration of this suggestion is likely much easier if one has read some of Alice Miller’s works, which I highly recommend to everyone, and not just new parents.

The idea here is that children will be best served by parents who hold no ideas about how their children ought to act or be, other than themselves.

And, I understand the shock that such a suggestion might induce in the reader, but, I hope you will let me explain further.

I can hear readers shouting, in their head, “But, what about discipline?”

Any “method” we use on our children will necessarily entail some kind of manipulation. That is, if we start with a goal of having our kids behave a certain way, then, any method we use to achieve this end, will entail manipulation; any method we use, will constitute a training regime, conditioning. And, in most cases, the child will have no idea that he is being manipulated, not as a child, nor in later years.

And, further, we cannot use manipulation in the upbringing of our children, and then expect that this manipulation will have no ill effect, and that only the targeted behaviour will remain.

The suggestion here is not to let your children do whatever they want whenever they want; that would be dangerous and ridiculous. But, consider that the realities of your lives with your children will naturally provide constraints on their behaviour.

I hope you will consider the assertion that humans need no training in order to grow up. That is, parents need no artificial constraints in order to help their children mature.

In her book, For Your Own Good (2002, p. 100), Miller discusses what children do, in fact, need from their parents, and I’d like to simply provide a direct quote:

But an honest rejection of all forms of manipulation and of the idea of setting goals does not mean that one simply leaves children to their own devices. For children need a large measure of emotional and physical support from the adult. This support must include the following elements if they are to develop their full potential:
1. Respect for the child
2. Respect for his rights
3. Tolerance for his feelings
4. Willingness to learn from his behavior:
a. About the nature of the individual child
b. About the child in the parents themselves
c. About the nature of emotional life, which can be observed much more clearly in the child than in the adult because the child can experience his feelings much more intensely and, optimally, more undisguisedly than an adult¹

[¹]: Miller, A. (2002). For Your Own Good [Kindle for Mac, v. 1.30.0]. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Retrieved from