Warning: Child-Centered is not Child Friendly!
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
We make great efforts to raise children well, and to not repeat child rearing styles of past with which we no longer agree – e.g.) children are to ‘be seen and not heard’ or treating our children like they are miniature adults. However, we might have gone overboard with the child-friendly, developmentally-sensitive child rearing style we currently practice. Ironically, our efforts may no longer be so friendly or developmentally sensitive.
I overheard (Ok, eavesdropped on) a family talking in a restaurant the other day. Here’s the scene: A rambunctious four year old we'll call Sammy, crawling around in his seat and not eating his food; his mother performing some combination of disengaged, bored, and irritated; his father, who only looked at the son during the meal, hyper-focused on the child’s needs and wants; the grandmother, also dutifully honed-in on the child’s performances, antics and wants. Grandma even goes to the buffet several times to return with various food options for the boy (all of which are rejected). It gets better. As they talk about how everyone slept the night before, grandmother shares that she finally got a full night of rest after a long bout with insomnia. The father, without skipping a beat, responds: "Sammy slept through the night too, and that’s more important."
Is this an exaggerated example of our modern day family life, or is this scene more of a norm these days? Has our focus become overly skewed toward The Child as the center of the family unit - or universe? What is the impact of this child centered-ness?
We make great efforts to raise children well, and to not repeat child rearing styles of past with which we no longer agree – e.g.) children are to ‘be seen and not heard’ or treating our children like they are miniature adults. However, we might have gone overboard with the child-friendly, developmentally-sensitive child rearing style we currently practice. Ironically, our efforts may no longer be so friendly or developmentally sensitive. The not-so-friendly part: It serves no one well - not parents, not communities and definitely NOT our children - to live our day to day lives as if the child is the center of the universe. Why? Because, in fact, he/she is not the center of the universe. The not-so-developmentally-sensitive part: If children are the center of the universe, we are vulnerable to do the helicopter style of parenting. Infantilizing, over protecting, and not allowing our children to experience risk can stifle the development of life skills that our children need to make it through this challenging and interesting trip called life.
I work with many couples and families who are in crisis and not working well together as a team. The children are involved in enrichment activities and go to good schools. They are adorable and precocious. But often, these kids are also self-centered and bratty. The parents’ relationship is falling apart, or worse yet, non-existent and profoundly neglected. I help these parents and families to develop a much more successful parenting strategy. Part One of this strategy is for the parents to take care of their relationship. Part Two is to shift the focus from the child/children as the center of the group, to a realization that the entire family is what needs support and nurturing. This shift of focus to the family unit is a critically important way to help all members -especially the children -learn how to creatively work as a team together.
This focus on the unit/ the group/ the team allows family members to be more inclusive, loving and close with one another; after all if the camera lens moves from one segment of the family to the whole group, everyone is included in the picture.
Try looking at your family life as a unit to care for, not individual children to care for. Don't separate anyone from the team, so to speak. If the family I was observing at the restaurant practiced this approach, perhaps Sammy could learn to sit and listen to grandmom’s story, and dad could reach out to his wife to ask, "hey, how are you?"
Better yet, we can all practice asking - in whatever unit of relational life we are living - ‘Hey how are WE doing’. Give it a try.