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    Other Thoughts

    Socratic Mothering

    February 15, 2012 by Brandy Vencel

    Who told thee that thou wast naked?
    Hast thou eaten of the tree,
    whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

    Genesis 3:11

    [dropcap]A[/dropcap] while back, a friend of mine pointed out the above verse in Genesis and mentioned that she was “trying this” on her children. She explained her reasoning, and I thought: What have I got to lose? On the one hand, I could possibly have some good conversations with my children. On the other hand, it could prove a fruitless endeavor.

    I’ve had my share of fruitless endeavors, and I’m no not much worse for the wear.


    Socratic Mothering

    So I’ve been trying this, too. After all, God was facing the first sin, and His response was to engage His people in conversation. The Bible doesn’t set this up as the Most Ultimate Magic Mothering Trick Ever, but it also doesn’t say Thou Shalt Not Do This.

    So I did it.

    Tt went pretty well, so I did it again.

    It’s been so interesting, almost like an intellectual exercise, and now I kick myself whenever I don’t remember to do this.

    Let’s give an example. Son A {hypothetical child} does something Really Stupid and Also Previously Forbidden. Instead of jumping on his case {my usual wisdom cough} I get to play with his head a little. So: “Have you just done the Stupid Thing Previously Forbidden?”

    Uncomfortable silence follows.

    Along with Blaming, which is interesting, because that is what his father Adam did as well.

    And then we get to talk. And sometimes actual, real conviction follows. And sometimes I get a glimpse of what he was thinking. And sometimes I learn not to take it all so seriously. And sometimes he learns to Stop Doing Stupid Things Previously Forbidden. Sometimes I let him guess why it was Previously Forbidden.

    I’m not saying I’d do this with a two-year-old. With toddlers, I don’t get into mind games. They are too smart for me. But I can’t help but think that this was what made Socrates so effective.

    Then again, he died a tragic death, so the jury is still out on what will happen here. Consider yourselves warned.


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  • Reply Jennifer February 20, 2016 at 6:15 am

    I appreciate your caution not to try this with young children. And, depending on the personality with even an older child, asking “Did you do thus and such” could invite a child to lie (“great! She doesn’t know for sure if I did or not…”). But thank you for the reminder that often, conversations are where the learning takes place (on both sides!)

  • Reply Phyllis February 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    “With toddlers, I don’t get into mind games. They are too smart for me.” Hah! Yes. But this intrigues me for the older one. Thank you.

  • Reply Mystie February 17, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Now that my oldest is 8 I am getting this inkling that things are changing and I need to learn some new tactics besides my handy toddler tactics. 🙂

    I’ve come to realize that our previous policy of “no excuses” was interpreted by my oldest to mean he can’t say what he was thinking when he did Foolish Thing. So we’re having to back peddle on that one and delve into conversation.

  • Reply ...they call me mommy... February 17, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Very interesting!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    Jenn, I am so glad to know that you think this opens the lines of communication! It is nice to have a voice of experience weigh in on this. That was what I was hoping it would do. I really want to build a habit of *hearing* now that my oldest is getting older, but I get so tired sometimes that my tendency is to just lay down the law without much interaction. I think there is a place for that, but I know I do it too much, and I know that you are right–as they become teens especially this becomes important! I cannot treat an older child like a toddler.

    I have prayed for you on and off since you had to send the boys to school because I can only imagine how hard it has been. I am so glad that God is blessing them {and you!} in the place that they are at. 🙂

  • Reply Jenn February 17, 2012 at 10:15 am


    This is a technique I’ve been using since my boys became teens, and I have found it works really well. In the past, I might have jumped on their case right away, handing out punishments that I later regret because I didn’t know the whole story. This is so much more effective and actually strengthens our relationship and their respect for my authority!

    BTW, you had previously encouraged me when I had to allow my boys against my will to go to public school after homeschooling them for 3 years. I still want them home again ASAP but through prayer and God’s grace they have been doing well. Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 16, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Well, now you know what happened to me if I go missing. It was simply that the whole thing backfired. 🙂

  • Reply sara February 16, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Well, don’t drink the hemlock and let us know how it goes down the line. I’m truly interested.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    I always like your essays, Sara. 🙂

    I can definitely see what you mean. I think I am the other end of the spectrum in that I tend to be overly direct, which doesn’t give my children enough opportunity to think for themselves if I’m not careful. Plus, I have at least one child whose “disobedience” is usually more having-head-in-clouds rather than direct rebellion. This brings instruction to memory and helps the child become more thoughtful. Or, at least, I hope this will be the long-term outcome. 🙂

    I think that is what appeals to me about CM, too–it pushes me to make sure that *they* get to do the mental work.

    In other words: I’m direct, and sometimes I talk too much. 🙂

    I am glad you said this, though, because I can watch and make sure that I don’t let it turn into that. I can definitely see how it could easily slide into that.

  • Reply sara February 16, 2012 at 3:02 am

    I do this kind of thing sort of naturally and I have actually been wondering if I should stop because maybe it’s manipulative…?

    I mean that if what I mean to say is, “You know you’re not supposed to do that and you did it anyway,” then it’s somehow worse (berating maybe?) to ask “Why oh why would you do a thing like that… again?” I know, I know there are better ways to ask that question and I’m sure you phrase it much better than I do.

    I know that this is totally my hang-up brought on by the fact that I have found myself guilty in the past of trying to say what I mean by asking questions instead of being forthright AND I probably value directness in speech more highly than most people. I have a problem with tact and insincere promises to “do lunch.” I’m a little dense too, so subtlety is often lost on me.

    All that out of the way, I do try to have conversations with my kids about what they’ve done wrong and did they know they shouldn’t have done it and yada yada. (My oldest is having a hard time understanding conscience… books usually describe it as an “inner voice” and I think he’s too literal to really get that.)

    Sorry for the essay.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 15, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Just don’t let them hear you muttering. He he. 😉

  • Reply Kathy February 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    Hmmm. But I’d have to train myself not to yell or mutter sarcastic comments first, wouldn’t I?

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