I wrote this post as part of the Parenting In America Carnival hosted by Adventures in Mommyhood: Mommy Outnumbered. The Carnival is running from July 3-10, 2011. This is post number two in a series of three. You can find the first post here.
I started babysitting when I was 12 years old. I was a nanny my first two years of college. I worked in a Waldorf preschool. I had a lot of experience with children and thought that I was raised very peacefully by both of my parents. Most of my friends had children before me and it was fascinating to observe all of the different parenting styles and methods. I found it interesting to see what approaches really seemed to work and which ones were bordering on complete failures at times. Of course there were also those approaches that seemed to work sporadically.
I have quite a laundry list of what I do and don't do as a mother, but here are ten parenting approaches that just aren't for me. These are the approaches that I personally believe have been shoved down our throats by “experts.” Please do not assume that I think that by using these methods, you are a bad parent. Quite the contrary. I think that most parents truly try their hardest given the tools available to them. Everyone is on their own personal journey as a parent and as a family and you have to do what you are comfortable with and what works. These approaches might be all you know. My goal here is to hopefully provide you with a perspective different than your own (or the same as the case may be) in an effort to get parents thinking about how they really parent. Darn it! I just want to end this mess of ineffective parenting in America!
And without further ado…my list:
1. I will never spank or hit my daughter. This is a big one for me. As I see it, most parents would not encourage their child(ren) to hit or get physical with another child or adult. However, children all learn through example and imitation. Therefore, if mom or dad hits their child, they are in effect showing them that hitting is acceptable as a form of discipline or punishment for a perceived wrongdoing. How can a parent expect their child to use gentle hands when gentle hands are not used on them?
2. I will not subscribe to a rewards and punishment system. This is another area that I am a big proponent against. I was raised on a mild rewards and punishment system. (I say mild because I was a very well behaved child naturally. My parents very rarely had to use any form of punishment on me). I can say that rewards and restrictions of privileges never had an impact on me. Self motivation and my own morality played a much bigger role. After I read Alfie Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting, I had an even bigger awakening as to why the commonplace rewards and punishment system is ineffective. Offering rewards for “good” behavior and taking away privileges and possessions for “bad” behavior does nothing to address the behavior in question. Why would I want to miss an opportunity to help my daughter understand what is driving a particular behavior and how she might be able to do something better, different, or not-at-all?
3. You will not catch me forcing my daughter to finish everything on her plate. Ugg. Food should never become a power struggle. I was never forced to try something I wasn't keen on, clean my plate, “save myself for dinner,” “eat my vegetables,” or take a bite of X, Y, or Z in order to get dessert. Meal times should be a time for family to come together and enjoy each other's company while nourishing our bodies. It should not become a battle ground over how much your child is or isn't eating. I am not suggesting that parents become short order cooks and cater to every food preference exhibited by the child, but I do feel strongly that at least one food item offered should be something that the child will eat and that any other offerings are left for the child to try or avoid at their discretion. I notice that my daughter is more likely to try items on her plate if I am also eating the same things and doing so with enthusiasm. Encouraging her to “try a bite” usually leads to her refusing the food completely. So we just all sit down to eat and if my daughter is hungry, she will eat. If she is not hungry or not interested in the food then she pushes it away (or throws it, or drops it on the floor, or spits it across the table…which is ok because she is a toddler and does not have the table manners of an adult yet!) She has never starved. Not once. She also understands that mealtimes are about more than just eating and she savors the warmth of family enjoying each other. For more information on toddler eating, see this post HERE.
4. I do not see the need to force my daughter to say please and thank you. If a child is too young to sincerely be thankful or to comprehend why please has become a standard “good manners” verbal gesture, then I see no reason for putting them on auto-pilot and insisting that they say please and thank you. In effect, you are teaching your child to lie. Really. If your child is not truly grateful for something and he or she is forced to say thank you, you are teaching your child that lying is acceptable if it makes someone else feel good. I know that a lot of parents will disagree with me on this and that is fine. I prefer to model good manners and eventually, my daughter will comprehend and embody these manners as well. She now says thank you on occasion. And I know she means it.
5. Sharing and taking turns is not something that I feel I need to prompt in the early years. I babysat my friend's son who is a few weeks older than my daughter. Whenever I interfered and tried to assist the children in sharing or taking turns, it backfired. They both got frustrated, defensive, and territorial. They tended to also ignore me and turn up the heat between each other. My reaction drove and amplified their struggle. When I left the two to work it out on their own, they often times came to a resolution within seconds. The longest power struggle I clocked was 41 seconds. Toddlers and young children should never be forced to share and take turns because they simply do not have the cognitive ability to understand why they “need to.” Young children are egocentric and the world really does revolve around them. If they are happily enjoying a toy, why do they want to let another child play with it before they are done? They don't. And why do I get to decide and enforce who gets what when? I do believe that if things begin to get physical, then gentle guidance by an adult is in order. Something as simple as pointing out to your child that the other child is still playing with the toy and when he or she is done, then your child will be able to enjoy the toy as well can be really effective.
6. I will not push my daughter out of her comfort zone. Children's senses need to be protected at all costs. They need to trust their parents fully. Children must know that the two people in this world who will never cause them distress and discomfort are their parents. It really irks me when I see parents insisting that their young children “just try” to do something that they are clearly not interested in or capable of or more importantly, scared of. Santa Clause is a big annoyance for me in this regard. How many tears stain that poor man's lap because a young child does not want this strange man in a costume to hold them while some other stranger who is waving wildly and making weird faces from behind a camera tries to get them to smile for a picture? Seriously. That is ludicrous to me. Same with activities like swimming. For gosh sakes – let your child observe the scene at the pool and get a feel for the whole idea. Don't just grab your child and plop them in the water. How would you like someone doing that to you?
7. I will not force my daughter to hug or kiss a relative or friend because it is polite and expected. Consider this…as a child, parents often insist on these sort of gestures yet when that same child gets older, we caution them against allowing relatives, friends and strangers from hugging or kissing us if it does not make us comfortable. Anyone else see an oxymoron?
8. I do not think it is healthy to push my daughter into learning new skills or academics before there is a need or before she is ready. I saw a comment from another mom blog that said something to the effect of “just because my son can do something doesn't mean it is my job to ‘teach' him to do it.” I could not agree more. Our society pushes children out of childhood at an earlier and earlier age. The only thing that children should HAVE to do (in my opinion) is enjoy being children and warmly embrace the spontaneity and rawness of being a child. Their responsibility is to play, learn through imitation, and develop physically. A 18 month old who CAN talk does not need to learn the alphabet. A 2 year old who CAN jump doesn't need to be enrolled in competitive gymnastics. Children should guide parents when it comes to what they are ready to learn and do.
9. I will not feed my daughter pre-packaged, processed, sugar laden foods. I hate the fast-food, convenience-food mentality of society today. It sickens me that we have allowed it to take over! Yes, I get that it is really difficult to make a home cooked meal using fresh ingredients seven days a week when both parents work. However, the long term health effects are so detrimental that I cannot fathom why parents would not at least try to work out a solution that would incorporate more fresh, real foods into the family diet. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on Real Foods for Real Children!
10. And finally, I promise to never, ever, ever discourage my child from being who she is simply because it goes against the norm. Individuality and diversity are what makes this planet such an amazing place. Who I am to limit the person my child is supposed to become?
I hope that you enjoyed, were mildly entertained, or perhaps inspired by my pointed not so little list. I always have fun expressing my opinions!