There are a few pillars (as I see it) of child-centered parenting that help to keep things in perspective when we are tempted to put our needs as parents before the needs of our children. Before I go on, that sentence is so loaded that I feel I need to break it apart a little to make sure I am being clear about what I mean.
When we use frameworks or blueprints of any kind for anything in life (such as for parenting as I wrote about in posts like “A Framework for Child-Friendly Parenting,” “Child-Friendly Parenting in One Sentence,” and “Reflections on Healthy Family Dynamics” or for happy living as I discussed in Living a Joyful Life as a Mom and Wife and The Joyful Life: Enjoying the Journey of Living or for teaching/classroom management/cooperative learning as I touched upon in Thoughts for Effective Teaching: Maintaining Perspective and Remaining Reflective While in the Trenches of Teaching), there are usually a handful of guidelines that go with it so that the framework can be placed anywhere and work relatively well – because that’s the nature and beauty of frameworks: they work wherever. Because they work. And they are the most right. And they are the most helpful. And they are the most effective. This is why I embrace framework living and working because there is both structure (for order and positive control) and space (for growth and adaptability).
When it comes to parenting, there are so many variables that it’s completely mind-boggling, but that doesn’t mean that frameworks need to be rejected (they are, admittedly, rather time consuming to master—it’s far easier to just do whatever you feel like doing and hope for the best). Frameworks in parenting need to be embraced all the more in our pursuit to be effective, well-developed, and well-functioning because they provide the aforementioned structure (for order and positive control) and space (for growth and adaptability) that healthy families thrive on.
If we can boil down an approach (to something, anything) to a handful of ideas (or pillars as mentioned above), then we can build rather confidently upon those ideas as we seek to fine tune how we do things (with something, anything). The idea of child-centered parenting is something I got from the idea of child-centered teaching or the idea of having/creating a child-centered classroom. This sort of thing is particularly radical in some geographic/demographic areas, but it is enormously worth the effort to put kids first and their interests and abilities and personalities and needs first instead of putting “the teacher” or “the curriculum” or “the school” first. We (as teachers) teach people, not content. So that’s a huge paradigm shift. This sort of shift in thinking gives way to cooperative learning (such as teams-based learning and roles-based assignments), project-based learning, and a general but highly rewarding enjoyment-based learning that still maintains high expectations, rigorous standards, and exceptional learning output.
Transferring all of this to the parenting world, when we put our children first (instead of ourselves as The Parent), we reap all sorts of benefits. It’s harder up-front because it seems to go against the grain of much of the way parenting was done (and unquestioningly accepted) not too long ago. Parents were afraid to give children too much “power” because the children might usurp it from the parents (or something like that). The perception was that kids would become “spoiled” if their childish nature wasn’t kept down (and, in some circles, beaten out of them). Some if not all of this was done in the name of God, too, which is an outright atrocity. Because when Jesus says to let the little children come to him, he’s demonstrating that he accepts children as they are, meets them where they are, and loves them as who they are. We should do the same as the human stewards (in form of the parents that we are) of these innocent and beautiful children God created and gave to us as a loan from him. Yes, it’s our job to guide our children onto good and right paths. But we accomplish that with love, compassion, grace, mercy, patience, and consistency (as God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit does with us as his children)—not force or coercion or manipulation or deliberate shaming or any of the other tactics that some parents use to “make” their children do what they say.
It’s all a tall order. But keeping things in perspective helps us to take more productive steps in the direction of where we want to go.
So some of the pillars of child-centered parenting I referred to above are some main ideas (main messages, if you will) that we can seek to drive home (no pun intended) with our children as they grow up under our loving watch and care. (I generally prefer to use the term child-friendly parenting instead of child-centered parenting because it connotes more of the gist of what I’m going for in my family and in my relationships with my children, but the terms mean the same thing to me—when I was a classroom teacher, having a student-centered classroom and teaching approach, and calling it such, made all the difference in my effectiveness and confidence levels as the teacher I was (though, admittedly, not at first!) and wanted to continue becoming, and similarly so, as a parent, having a child-friendly home and parenting approach, and calling it that, has made all the difference in my effectiveness and confidence levels as the parent I am (though, admittedly, it hasn’t been easy and is still not easy on some days!) and want to continue becoming.)
Some of the pillars/main messages of child-friendly parenting as I see it are the following:
- You can always be yourself.
- You can always tell the truth.
- You can always talk to us.
- You can always call us.
- You can always come home.
Some givens would be that the main messages above would be true without judgment, criticism, hostility, retaliation, or withdrawal of love. What we are going for here is a non-adversarial, non-punitive, and non-fracturing approach to parenting, guiding, teaching, reaching, protecting, and loving our children. It may seem like an impossible feat, especially if you’ve grown up under starkly different conditions. But this is the most effective way to build a healthy, well-functioning, long-term, trusting, and two-way relationship with our children instead of relying (needlessly so) on the power divide of “I am the parent; therefore, you will unquestioningly do as I say because I am the parent and you are the child.”
We can build trust (true trust) with our children without resorting all of the time to attitudes like this, where we are wielding our position as Parent over our children. Sometimes it might very well be called for. It depends on the situation and the context of things. But in general, the better way to build trust is through growing our relationship with our children. And that happens one day at a time, one moment at a time, one conversation at a time, one word at a time, one interaction at a time.