I have a great job, though sometimes I have to confess to feeling as though I’m swimming up stream. The prevailing parenting style du jour is child-centered. It may sound unusual for a parenting professional to come right out and say that child-centered parenting doesn’t work, but it doesn’t and I’ll tell you why.
Firstly, I recognize that my way of helping parents differs substantially from this predominantly North American parenting philosophy and trend and I’m therefore an oddball. How it differs, we’ll get to later, but one of the elements used to encourage parents to choose this philosophy includes the surreptitious use of fear under the guise of scientific research. Now as parents, we all want to parent with confidence not fear, but let’s start with a wonderful note I got sent by a lady in the US which got me thinking about this very subject. She wrote;
I just stumbled on your blog, and find your advice mirrors my parenting philosophy. I find it hard to relate to many modern parenting blogs because I fundamentally believe not in catering to my children, but to guide them and give them the tools to live, learn, and face life’s challenges (and joys). Thank you for your clear advice how to be a good leader for my household. What refreshing advice, finally!
Child-Centered Parenting may be popular but does it work?
Notwithstanding this was a wonderful note to come back to at the end of a long day, it also mirrored many of the same things I was feeling about why this style of parenting doesn’t work and I wrote back to her saying as much, while thanking her for her support.
However her note got me thinking and I thought I’d write an article this week on the very valid point she brought up, namely that many parenting blogs today all mirror the same kind of advice and that as a result, we can surmise that a very pervasive particular parenting philosophy is at work.
So what is about this child-centered parenting style that doesn’t work? What is the problem with that particular philosophy? Well, from her note we can surmise that the ideology is one that believes in catering to children is the best way to bring up kids. But are they right? Is this the best way? And what are the origins of this philosophy?
Child-Centered Parenting means centering your day around your child.
First of all, child-centered parenting means parenting around the needs and interests of the child instead of those of the parent, making the child’s ‘voice’ the priority. This philosophy has its roots in attachment parenting, which in turns has its roots in the very valuable attachment theory bought to public’s attention by the work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.
However, it was undoubtedly the paediatrician Dr. William Sears and his wife Martha Sears that bought attachment parenting to world wide attention and which later inspired this child-centered approach. It starts with parents adopting practices like baby-wearing, co-sleeping and extended breast feeding, meant to foster the parent-child bond, then grew with the child to include a more generalized child centric approach across their development, revolving life around the new arrival, not only when they are newborn which would be normal, but as they grow.
There is a lot of confusion about why this kind of child-centered parenting doesn’t work but I believe it plays a major roll in the formation of issues that I help parents with. That’s because there’s an element of attachment parenting (child centred parenting) that uses fear to encourage this idea of parenting best practice. This often erodes a parent’s natural confidence rather than builds it up. All parents want to parent with confidence not fear, so when parents lack confidence, their leadership is eroded and other issues quickly follow.
Let’s say you have a toddler and you desperately need them to get a good night’s sleep because they are so cranky during the day. Of course, it doesn’t help if you’re exhausted too. You see other parents who’ve sleep trained their children getting sleep, but you’re having to lie down with your toddler to go to sleep every night, and you can’t even think about leaving the room until they’re completely out, no matter how desperate you are for a moment to yourself.
You’ve read about sleep training, but you know it goes against your parenting philosophy of co-sleeping, and you’ve read all the studies on Dr. Sears’ website about how excessive crying is going to radically alter your child’s brain development, should you even think of giving sleep training a try.
Child-Centered Parenting uses fear to establish compliance.
This is an example of fear based ideology. On his website, Dr. Sears cites 19 studies with regard to his article, “Is excessive crying harmful?” His argument is that during panic and anxiety attacks, the stress hormone cortisol floods the child’s body, causing nerve connection impairment and possibly long-term neurological effects.This is information guaranteed to give any parent a major anxiety attack.
Interestingly enough, as early as 2012, he was taken to task across the media and academia for making this assumption, *including by researchers who had been part of a 2004 German study of 70 babies transitioning to daycare, a study he’d cited where the brain’s reaction to crying had been studied. The researchers involved insisted no such conclusion could be made. While they stated that extreme doses of cortisol can harm brain tissue, they said this was not likely happening in these cases.
Note another particularly troubling example around the tendency for Dr. Sears to merge the circumstances of severely abused or neglected babies with those whose parents merely let them cry occasionally. *
Apparently psychologist Alicia Leiberman of the University of California, San Francisco, whose even earlier 1995 study he also cited to bolster his crying argument, took particular exception, saying, “The papers’ content is not relevant to the argument he makes because my work involves babies and young children whose parents are in the pathological range of neglect and maltreatment… not children with normative, “good enough parenting.”
So does fear motivate parents to adopt this particular ideology? Yes, fear plays a part, and I can certainly attest that this is the case, but attachment parenting has gone far beyond crying babies and parent-child separation to the best ways to discipline a child, all based on similarly, at times, flimsy science. (#2)
Child Centered Parenting can cause behaviour issues in children.
The bottom line is that child-centered parenting doesn’t work, and I believe it is one of the root causes of many of the struggles that parents have today. Children are designed, and have been since the dawn of humankind, to be part of the family and not the focus of it. To plan your day around your child is to place children in the unenviable position of having to make grown up decisions about how you, the adult, spend your time. This is the opposite of kind and loving leadership and reverses the normal adult-to-child flow that is part of our genetic makeup.
So is there a better way to bring up kids? I believe there is, but what I say on this site is applicable to my own personal experience talking to hundreds of people, parents and kids and having the rare and cherished ability to be part of many people’s different lives. I can see when a child is thriving and when one is not, and what the cause is. I can also see where pervasive ideologies coexist with those challenges, as well as how quickly those ideologies start causing problems of their own. I know firsthand the importance of it and the difference it can make if parents parent with confidence, not fear.
Don’t be afraid to let go of something that is not working.
If you’re a parent who’s reading this article and you’ve tried the child-centered parenting method described above and you’re experiencing issues, please don’t feel bad. There are so many parents in the same boat, and there isn’t one parent I’ve met that isn’t trying their best. Feel free to contact me, and we can work through any issues together.
Looking at all the parenting blogs (just like the writer of the letter above), I still feel like I’m swimming upstream, but I take comfort in knowing that won’t be for long. All these things are cyclical, and when one trend’s consequences become apparent, things will swing back the other way. I’m hoping they’ll at least stop at “normal and sensible” before we try another parenting approach that doesn’t work. Until then, at least it’s nice to know I have company on the way.
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