Newton’s Three Laws of Parenting

Isaac Newton

While the rules of physics define the physical relationship between objects, I find them particularly relevant when studying the psychological relationship between human beings. Take Newton in regards to parenting:

Law 1: Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

Every child on a chosen path with remain on that path unless an external force intervenes. Watching your son or daughter turn to the dark side? Do not trust in time to cure all evils; you may need to step in. Watching your son or daughter struggle to meet their goals? Friends, laws, cash flow, distractions, and many other “external forces” will slow your child down. Be involved and give him or her an extra push when necessary. Obvious, no?

Law 2: Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass of the object being accelerated, the greater the amount of force needed to accelerate the object.

The greater the pressure exerted on a child, the more likely he or she will “accelerate.” Having trouble waking your child for school in the morning? Getting him or her to do homework? Stop playing video games? Avoid hard drugs? Come home before curfew? You can push harder and harder on your child to get the results you expect, but the hounding may have consequences we will explore in Law #3.

How about peer pressure? The more friends goad or tempt your child, the more likely your child will go along with it. Or what about motivation? Some children need a brighter spark to inspire them. Why would some children need a bigger nudge? Physics would tell us it’s because they have greater “mass.” Nothing to do with obesity, I think the “mass” in this equation has a lot to do with your child’s individuality. If he or she is true to him or herself – a defined individual with defined interests and characteristics – then he or she will be much less swayed by you or others. Some children may be stubborn and defiant, others down to earth and cultured. In either case, children with richer individuality are much more difficult to sell.

Law 3: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

My favorite rule of the three, and the one I think baby boomers overlooked the most: if you act on your child, expect a reaction. Discipline is difficult for every parent. Depending on how you do it, you can make things much worse. Without justifying your demands in terms your child can appreciate, be prepared for him or her to fight back or deviate further. The more force you exert on the situation (screaming, violence, etc.), the greater the reaction you should expect. Explicitly forbidding your children from doing things may be a recipe for disaster.

I have seen it a handful of times: alocoholic parents punishing their children for drinking underage. The result? The children lose respect for their parents and drink harder. For punishment to be effective, you need to hold credibility with your child. Personal experiences, stories, and statistics all help your case better than “go to your room” or “give me your car keys.”

Children usually know when they make mistakes and punishment is usually superfluous. Teaching consequence is important, but make sure consequences are related to the infraction. Eating a cookie before dinner has nothing to do with watching television. When children do not believe they did anything wrong, it is senseless to yell and accuse them of it – they will just villainize you for it and refuse to see your point of view. Find a more clever way to make your point. Or expect an equal and opposite reaction. Physics, baby.