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Why it isn’t all about the kids

Posted on 09 April 2018

When was the last time you put your needs over that of your children? Do you spend your free time pursuing interests that keep you happy, healthy and sane or is that time spent largely on your child, driving them from one activity to the next, overseeing homework, managing their social life, endlessly consulting their opinion or negotiating tasks?

Family therapists call this style of parenting “child-centred”.  While this might sound like a good thing; an antidote to the authoritarian style experienced by previous generations, child development experts warn, giving a child control over the choices of the entire family and setting them in the place of the “leader” of the family harms both the child and the family.

As loving parents we are happy for the most part to sacrifice our time to support our children’s happiness but how do we know whether we are getting the balance right?  And if we’re not what impact is this having on our children and the wider family?

The unintended consequences of child-centred parenting

Far from making our children happy it stymies social development producing children that haven’t learned to respect the needs of others, who feel entitled and get easily frustrated by setbacks since they expect everything to go their way. 

Outside the home future spouses, friends and employers of our children won’t be so accommodating of poor social skills as we are.

Telltale signs you’ve got a problem

To help work out whether you’ve got the balance right parenting expert Amy McCready offers the following checklist; does your child expect bribes or rewards for good behaviour, rarely lift a finger to help, is more concerned about themselves than others, blames others when things go wrong, is unable to handle disappointment, expects to be rescued from mistakes, believes the rules do not apply to them and always negotiates for more?  If you answered yes more frequently than no fear not help is at hand.

Tools to dethrone a monarch

No parent sets out to raise an entitled child.  The cult of parenting gurus has pushed out well-intentioned but flawed messages that too much parental direction can undermine a child’s autonomy, initiative and creativity and to avoid doing so we should adopt a less directive role.

This is nonsense, says McCready.  Parents need to be both directive and supportive in order to meet the two most basic psychological needs a child has from birth, to belong and to feel that they are significant.

To belong, children need to feel emotionally connected to other family members and know their place in the family and how they fit in.  To feel significant they need to feel capable of making meaningful contributions to the family and have some level of influence over what happens to them.

Experts offer the following tools to “gently dethrone all the little monarchs in our homes without a military coup.”

Family contributions

Help your children to function within the family unit by giving them responsibility for every day household jobs appropriate to their age. Empathise with grumbles saying you know emptying the dishwasher is a boring job because you dislike it too but it has to be done.  This puts you on the same team and avoids a power struggle.

Give each child 1:1 time 15 minutes a day

The more we give to a child on an emotional level the less likely they are to demand our attention and display entitled, negative attention seeking attitudes.

When - then routine

Help your child feel they have some control over family contributions with the “when/then” routine.   For example “when you have tidied your room then you can watch TV.”

No rescue policy for frequent forgetters

Help older children develop a sense of responsibility for remembering to take their homework / sports kit to school. Make it clear after the first infringement that you are not going to rescue them again by driving homework / kit to school.  Frequent forgetters may need some help developing systems to remember.

Offer encouragement over praise.

Try to give specific feedback on actions you’d like to see your child repeat.  This helps them to apply those actions in another situation. For example instead of saying, “you’re the best big sister ever”, it’s more helpful to say “You were so patient with your sister when you helped her to get dressed”.

Parents don’t need to sacrifice their needs for the sake of their children. They should be able to make decisions based on what is good for the family including themselves as individuals. Parenting our children to feel they belong and matter within the family will create a solid foundation for their future lives.