As a parent, I can say it’s very easy to get caught-up in things like “making sure they’re okay,” “nurturing,” and “teaching” and not allowing kids to learn for themselves. While our parents or grandparents weren’t perfect, and there’s lots of areas we can improve upon their parenting, there’s also a lot of things that the current generation of parents have dropped or changed, that they shouldn’t have. Recently, Christine Gross-Loh (author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us) published an article with 6 methods of parenting that fly in the face of many present trends in parenting. She backs them up with studies and data that show that these methods result in better behaved and capable children and adults, and also that even the seemingly dangerous ones, actually result in safer children by helping them to have better judgement to keep themselves safe. I’ll let you read the what, why and data behind each point in her article. Here’s the 6 points from her article, with a few of my thoughts or highlights:
1. We need to let 3-year-olds climb trees and 5-year-olds use knives.
I’m pretty sure my Mom reversed this one and let me use a knife at 3 and climb trees at 5. She grew up on a ranch and has a fear of heights and deep water. The study to back this one up comes from Sweden, where they have the lowest child injury rates in the world. So it’s not a matter of “we have to keep them safe,” it’s a matter of letting them learn how to keep themselves safe. We can’t be there for them all the time.
2. Children can go hungry from time-to-time.
We maybe got 1 snack between breakfast and lunch in my parents house. If you were hungry at times other than mealtimes, you were told “you should’ve eaten more at [insert last meal here].” This is a hard one. My kids get CRANKY when they’re hungry. So the occasional hunger games around our house will be a hard game for my wife and I to play (especially since it means I’ll be hungry and cranky too). Interestingly this one can go very well with #3.
3. Instead of keeping children satisfied, we need to fuel their feelings of frustration.
I don’t necessarily think we need to go out of our way to present children with frustrating situations. But as a parent, it’s okay to not want a child to do something, or want them to stop. It’s also great for their development to have structure and boundaries such as house rules that might go contrary to the children’s inclinations at times. For example, we have a “no yelling/screaming in the house” rule. Our kids are asked to go outside or stop yelling/screaming. If they don’t choose one of those options, they get to go be alone in their bedroom until they’re ready to pick one of those options. After their brief exile is over, we explain that hurts our ears and it’s not nice to make everyone else listen to them at that volume. One of my favorite quotes from the article comes as part of this point: “Anecdotally, we know that children who don’t think they’re the center of the universe are a pleasure to be around.”
4. Children should spend less time in school.
Does anyone who’s ever spent more than 20hrs in school in 1 week really doubt this?
American school children score in the middle of the heap on international measures of achievement, especially in science and mathematics. Finnish children, with their truncated time in school, frequently rank among the best in the world.
5. Thou shalt spoil thy baby.
I’m glad this one is in here, lest people thing this is all about harsh “separation” and “cry it out” methods. No, it’s about what’s best for children. Allowing them to experience frustration doesn’t mean you can’t also “spoil” them in other ways. In fact the research cited here suggests that in order to help them to develop real independence and ability to function socially away from parents, they need to feel confident and grounded in their relationships with their parents (apparently co-sleeping can greatly enhance this) or the adult caregiver(s) in their life. This shows it’s not a battle or choice between one extreme or the other. We don’t have to completely spoil our children giving them everything they want all the time. Nor do we have to completely push them away, letting them “cry it out” from a young age. It’s also not about just finding a “middle ground” either. It’s about throwing away the falsely-constructed ends of the parenting spectrum, and doing the best thing for the children. Balance on the whole, through application of the principles outlines in these points according to the specific situation.
6. Children need to feel obligated.
While I think we can go too far into “shame-based” motivation, it is not a bad thing for children to feel obligated to do things and learn responsibility.
A Few General Thoughts
As my wise Grandfather once taught me: “when we do something for somebody that they should do for them self, it’s not service, it’s a great disservice.” A child who’s never learned to fall and get up, cope with pain, been denied things it wants, etc, will one day have to learn all those things in a very short and painful period of time, when mommy and daddy are no longer around to take care of it. If you love your children, let them learn lessons on their own, teach them self control, give them responsibility, allow and even provide consequences for bad or dangerous behavior, and facilitate experiences that allow them to apply and exercise these skills and abilities as they learn them. But also do all these things in the most loving way: spoil them with your time and attention, and never deny your children physical and emotional contact and nurturing, especially when they ask for it. I think the gospel supports all of this quite well: Heavenly Father lets us make mistakes, get hurt (mentally, emotionally, spiritually), and facilitates learning from all of it so that we can become more like him and his Son. But he, or our Savior is always there for us when we’re ready to repent, learn, and apply the lessons learned. Though withholding their physical presence is required to make mortality the growing process it’s designed to be, they never withhold their love and the presence of the Spirit from us. It’s our choice to partake of those blessings and that love.