In part one, we started to debunk statements that keep getting bounced about. Roll up your sleeves, w’ve got three more parenting lies to tackle!
Parenting lie #5: Child-led parenting is lazy parenting that’ll result in spoilt children
First off, let’s be clear on what child-led parenting is and what it isn’t. Child-led parenting is based on focusing on where your child is at now and supporting them in their development and learning. It isn’t letting children do whatever they want. Letting children do whatever they want is permissive parenting, and studies show that this type of parenting leads to children who struggle to manage their emotions and behaviour.
In child-led parenting, parents have expectations about their children’s behaviour, but they’re based on the age and stage of their children. This means that what parents expect of their children may look different from child to child, and from family to family, but the expectations are realistic for that particular child. Rules and boundaries exist, but they take into consideration the realistic expectations.
In permissive parenting, parents place low demands on their children and do not offer very much support to their children’s learning of new skills. In child-led parenting, parents keep their long-term parenting goals in mind and teach their children socially accepted behaviour in small age-appropriate steps.
So for example, a child-led parent wouldn’t force their toddler to share because that isn’t a skill a child that age has. To be able to share willingly (and this is what we want, we want children and adults who share because it feels good to share, not because they have to), you need empathy and impulse control. Both tend to start developing between the ages of 5 and 7, with some children developing these skills earlier and other children developing these skills later. So to encourage the development of sharing, child-led parents would model how to share, protect their child’s right to play with a toy until they’re done with it, and empathise with their child if someone won’t share with them.
What we should be saying instead:
“By respecting what a child is realistically able to do, we can support them to develop the skills they need to be a successful adult.”
Humans are social animals. Therefore it makes sense that we should be using what we’ve learnt from social learning theory to raise our children. If we want children who are kind and empathetic, then we need to show them kindness and empathy when they’re struggling.
If we want children who can regulate their emotions and behaviour and who can problem-solve on their own, then we need to be doing all of this ourselves so our children can learn how to do it when they can do it. We also have to coach them in how to do all of this, rather than expect them to magically wake up with a bunch of sophisticated skills.
Parenting lie #6: I was raised this way, and it didn’t do me any harm
One of my favourite articles disputing this statement appeared in the New York Times last year. The author, Justin Coulson, an Australian Parenting Expert, made a fair point: “You didn’t use seatbelts when you were growing up and you lived to tell about it? That doesn’t make it a good parenting strategy.”
Why doesn’t it make a good parenting strategy? For one, we know so much more about car safety and the risks of not using seatbelts. The same can be said about the role of parenting on brain development, well-being and mental health.
In the Science of Parenting, Margot Sunderland highlights how in a country of only 53 million people, “over 57 million medicinal items [were] dispensed in the UK for depressive illness and anxiety disorders” in 2014. We now know that positive parenting strategies based on understanding, empathy, and gentle teaching can protect against physical and mental health difficulties in adult life. It doesn’t make sense to carry on using outdated parenting strategies when there is another way.
Another reason why “I turned out okay” isn’t helpful is that the world we live in isn’t the same as how the world was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. So if we go back to the seatbelt example, there are many more cars on the road now compared to 15-20 years ago. That’s a very different situation than in our day or our parents’ day.
This means that it’s very likely that we’re raising our children for a world that will be very different from the one we were raised in. We need children who are emotionally resilient, resourceful, can think outside the box, demonstrate self-efficacy, and show empathy. That means we need to let go of traditional fear-based parenting strategies, and as Sarah Ockwell-Smith states, “Research has shown that this style of parenting can damage the child’s confidence, happiness, intelligence and can often lead to more problematic behaviour as the child ages.” This is the opposite of what we want for our children.
What we should be saying instead:
“My child’s future is going to be different than mine, how can I best prepare her?”
Spend some time thinking about what kind of adults you want your children to be, and take stock of what traits they have already. How can you nurture these while at the same time teach them skills they need to be successful in the world? Focus on your role as your child’s teacher, rather than what he’s done wrong, and you’ll be well on your way to raising an adult who will shine whatever the future throws at him.
Parenting lie #7: Parenting is hard, you just need to accept it
There’s probably nothing that’s going to challenge you more than raising children. Whether it’s one child, two, four or more, the whole parenting experience will push you to levels of exhaustion, frustration, confusion and overwhelm that no other experience will. No one can deny that.
As I mentioned earlier, parenting is a relationship between two living, breathing humans. There’s no denying that humans are complex beings. We have free will, emotions, wants and needs. We have past experiences, dreams, and the list goes on. Things we say and do always affects another human, and when we’re trying to help a tiny human learn how to become a fully grown human, things will always be a mixture of enjoyment and struggle.
It’s hard for us to remember just how much tiny (and even our not so tiny teenagers) humans have to learn, and that they can’t skip stages to get to where you, the adult parent, are today.
Acceptance that parenting will be hard at times is a positive thing. Because with acceptance, you can learn and grow.
What isn’t helpful is the attitude that parenting is hard and that we just need to accept it. Each stage of development brings with it challenging moments, but they also bring fun, joy, and a sense of wonderment and excitement.
When we keep telling parents that parenting is hard and they just need to accept it, we focus on the wrong part of parenting. No one becomes a parent to live a constant struggle.
And the thing is, while parenting is hard, it doesn’t have to be a struggle.
What we should be saying instead:
“There will be times where parenting is hard, but it’s okay to ask for help.”
Raising children used to be done in communities, but nowadays, a lot of parents are raising children in isolation, with no family nearby for support. While older children learned how to become parents by helping out with the younger ones, raising children tends to be a role saved for parents and childcare providers. For most of us, our first experience of changing nappies happened when we had our first born. Many of us have never seen a baby being breastfed, especially not well into the toddler years, so our own infant feeding journey can be stressful.
No one is taught how to become a parent, and there’s a good reason for it. All children are different, so a one-size fits all ‘this is how you do it’ approach isn’t appropriate. What parents should have access to is parenting support throughout their parenting journey, starting even before their baby is born.
We should be supporting parents with all that comes with raising children, whether that’s feeding support, weaning support, babywearing support, and/or parenting support. We should be making sure that parents don’t feel their struggling on their own.
We should be telling parents that everyone struggles and that asking for help isn’t admitting weakness or failure, but quite the opposite. It takes a strong person to admit that they’re struggling and can’t do it by themselves.
No parent should have to do this on their own. We’re all in this together.