One of the great things about being a parent right now is that information is everywhere. Many newspapers run a daily (or at least weekly) column with a parenting expert, bookstores are stocked with countless titles, there are several parenting magazines on the market, and one quick Google search for “parenting advice” yields 76,500,000 results. Information is everywhere.
The downside of all of this information is that everyone is an expert. Everyone knows the best way to handle every single parenting issue. I’ll save you the suspense; according to many of these “experts” you are probably not doing it right.
I have a lot of training. I have years of education, practice, continuing education, and more practice under my belt. And I’m NOT talking about the past four years of parenting two kids, although it’s always nice to use some strategies with them before sharing them with others. And you know what? Even after all of my education, practice, continuing education, and more practice…I still know that there is no such thing as “one size fits all” parenting.
Yes, there are basics that tend to work across the board. Children crave, and function better with, structure. Sleep is essential (for your children AND you). Healthy eating really does make a difference. Adequate exercise is important to both physical and emotional development. Stress affects children physically, emotionally, and academically. Positive reinforcement works. All children need to be loved, praised, and cherished.
How you choose to meet those basic standards should be based on what works for your children. Even within your own family unit, what works for one child might not work for another. No two families are exactly the same. But no two kids are exactly the same either.
My children are actually the perfect example. Although they share some interests, play well together (most of the time), and function equally well within the existing structure in our home, they are actually very different.
My daughter is social, athletic, artistic, and prone to getting her feelings hurt. Like her mother, assertiveness will probably come later in life (although we are already working on it now). At times, she’s a worrier. She eats everything. She considers sleep some sort of necessary evil. She’ll do it if she has to, but she won’t enjoy it. She enjoys parties, playgroups, and needs A LOT of physical activity.
My son is a mellow soul (like father like son). He loves cars, puzzles, quiet time, and racing around like a madman on his plasma car. He, too, needs a lot of physical activity, but in a different way. He enjoys the park, but he likes long walks with mommy or daddy better. He eats very few things, and hesitates to try anything new (although he’s getting better day by day). He is a much better sleeper. He always has been. He NEEDS his sleep. He’s fearless.
When it comes to implementing specific parenting strategies, I have to pick and choose based on what works best for each of them.
Forcing my son to sit at the table and eat after he’s checked out will only cause stress sure to result in a meltdown. So I offer him new foods but I am always sure to have something on hand that he really enjoys. My daughter, on the other hand, only needs a book read to her during a meal to keep her eating.
When correcting a behavior, my son needs a very soft approach (he’s very sensitive) and he likes to review the list of rules. My daughter responds well to counting. They both do really well with positive reinforcement (because it works).
When the advice starts pouring in from the “experts” (i.e. “you really should use that cookbook where you sneak vegetables in to get him eating”) I just smile and nod and vent to my husband later. I know they mean well, but they don’t really know what’s right for my son.
When I was first sleep-training my daughter years ago I took a very slow approach. She had a dairy allergy that caused projectile vomiting for 7 months straight AND acid reflux. Those were some long nights. Before I knew it, people were practically at my door with the sleep “Bible” and various other sleep training manuals. You know what she really needed? A little more time and reducing one night feeding at a time. Cold turkey isn’t for everyone. Her baby brother sleep-trained in two nights.
The fact remains: They are different. All families are different. All children are different.
While the books, articles, magazines, and blogs (mine included) are wonderful educational tools (it can be a lonely world when you’re struggling with a parenting issue that you didn’t see coming), there is no such thing as “one size fits all” parenting.
Knowledge is always helpful. I still read most new parenting books and subscribe to many magazines because it never hurts to learn something new. The important thing is to soak up what you think will work for your children based on their personalities and patterns of behavior, and let the rest slip away. And ask questions. Always ask questions (but maybe not from the know-it-alls who only believe in one method or another). Chances are, someone right next to you is going through the exact same thing.
How do you feel when people give you unsolicited parenting advice?
Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA. She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at http://practicalkatie.com/and can also be found on Twitter.