People are often surprised to learn, that although I advocate for gentle, peaceful and natural parenting, I do not advocate for child centred parenting.
Child centred parenting is the phenomenon of primarily filling your time with activities specifically for the child, along with asking them for direction and allowing them to choose what the whole family should do.
Perhaps confusingly, I do believe fully that a child has the right to freedom of choice, but the key difference I see in child centred parenting is that the scales are tipped in a vastly unbalanced way, often giving the child the control over the choices of the entire family and setting them in the place of the “leader” of the family.
This is another major difference between Continuum families and Attachment parents, and although I consider myself both, child centred parenting is something I see far more of in the AP world.
So what is the harm in child centred parenting?
Well, as Jean Liedloff famously wrote in The Continuum Concept:
“…his main business is to witness the actions, interactions and surroundings of his caretaker adults or children. This information prepares babies to take their place among their people by having understood what they do. To thwart this powerful urge by looking inquiringly, so to speak, at a baby who is looking inquiringly at you, creates profound frustration: it manacles his mind. The baby’s expectation of a strong, busy, central figure, to whom he can be peripheral, is undermined by an emotionally needy, servile person who is seeking his acceptance or approval. The baby will increasingly signal, but it will not be for more attention: it will actually be a demand for inclusion in adult-centred experience.”
To be child centred is not a natural way to parent. Traditionally, children have grown up surrounded by productive adults, role models for life. They have observed the work we as adults do, imitating and joining in, as and when they choose. The adults have not been child centred – to do so would be disastrous for their survival, they simply did not have time to forego the work they needed to do, in favour of child centred activities.
For parents who have always struggled at the modern, child centred parenting groups, feeling inauthentic and squashed by sitting in a circle, watching their child play and feeling the need to commentate on their every movement, there is a good reason you feel this way and it is not because you are no good at this parenting thing! It is because child centred parenting is not natural.
It always confuses me to hear of parents “needing” to use the TV as a babysitter so they can do the housework or cook some dinner. The very activities the child would get the most out of being a part of are done when they are not around to see them. Instead, parents throw themselves into the role of chief entertainer, taking them to child centred groups, asking constantly what the child wants to do, and playing with them, becoming involved in all their games all day long. It is no wonder they have no time to do the tasks they really need to do and end up utilising the TV to be able to cook dinner.
Meanwhile, the children, ill equipped to deal with this level of attention and focus directed on their every action, demonstrate their discomfort in a variety of ways. They become dissatisfied with everything, never impressed or engaged for long. They demand more and more, desperate to learn where the limit lies, how far the parent will go. They become unable to entertain themselves and struggle to play independently. The situation is stressful and unfulfilling for everyone involved.
What children really crave is to observe and be free to become involved in real life activities. This is not to say that playing with your children in itself is harmful. Not at all – It’s about balance and it is about the way play is approached. Are you doing it for fun, to build a connection and enjoy each others company, or are you doing it out of a sense of duty, resenting the feeling of being controlled by your child and worrying about all the things you still have to get done? There is a big difference, and if you feel it, believe me when I say, they can feel it too.
Don’t be afraid to step back, to ask them to do it alone and most importantly, to include your children in real life activities that will benefit them the most. Don’t be afraid to be the role model for life that they need you to be.
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