False Dichotomy Parenting

May 26, 2011 By: erik Category: Geeky, Offspring, Parenting 434 views

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Dichotomy LogoA false dichotomy is a fallacious rhetorical device that provides an either/or choice in an attempt to force the listener to choose between the two options. The fallacy comes from the fact that the list of options are not really exhaustive, but limited in the speaker’s favor. The standard example is “You’re either with us or you’re against us.” A critical thinker will stop the speaker upon hearing a false dichotomy and say, “Wait a minute! Those aren’t the only two options!” But it works like a charm on a toddler.

Hat (cropped)“If you don’t want anymore chicken, then it’s bath time.”

“You can go cry in the kitchen, or stop crying and stay in the living room with me.”

“You can sit in your stroller and have a cookie, or stay on the ground without one.”

Note that these are fairly sophisticated conditional sentences, but she, even at the age of two, totally understands the two options and usually picks the one I want her to pick, thus being fooled into thinking that she’s autonomous and in control.

I’d love to squeeze another ten years out of this manipulative technique, but I secretly hope she figures it out sooner…in which case I’ll simply have to fall back on the old classic: Because I said so!

  • I don’t see that as a false dichotomy. Given the context, I’d take your meaning to be that there are two choices that you, as autocratic ruler, will accept. You’re free to limit the universe of choices that will be tolerated to two (or fewer!).