As a parent and paediatrician, I am in a somewhat unique position to be able to observe other parents and their parenting styles, and reflect on how they might differ to my own. Despite the best of intentions, I’d be lying if I said I practiced what I preached 100% of the time when it comes to managing children’s behaviour and development.
Everyone has their own ideas about what is best for their child, and everyone else has an opinion on whether that is right or wrong. For the most part, I don’t lose much sleep over someone raising their child in a different way to what I may think to be more appropriate. Unless of course it truly harms the child, which thankfully it rarely does.
But in my job every day, I’m often asked my opinion on a particular behavioural/parenting approach or idea. Some parents are naturals, some are completely hopeless, and then there’s the rest of us in between who battle on doing the best we can. And in that regard, I think there is a very underrated skill to develop as a parent – learning to ignore your child.
Yes, you heard me correctly. And yes, I can hear the gasps of horror at the thought of such a cruel concept. But I’ve have always thought that there was a lot to be said for ignoring your own children. Part of this comes from seeing children in my practice every day who are over-indulged, dependent and needy. Ignore them at your peril! They’ll make you pay for it with attention-seeking, egocentric tantrums. They have never been given the opportunity to just “be”. There is usually a parent constantly hovering over them as if they are the most important person in existence. (Another topic for another time – when did kids suddenly become the most important people in the world? I wonder how many marriages break down because the kids sucked the life out of the parental relationship?)
My parents were very dedicated to their children, but a generation ago, they weren’t in our faces all the time. We were playing with friends, chasing the dog, playing by ourselves (shock horror). We learnt to think independently, make decisions, conquer challenges, deal with disappointment. Important skills for the real world.
I think today’s parents are too worried that if they don’t give their child 100% of their attention they’ll somehow end up behind their peers. So kids don’t learn that mum can’t always be there; kids don’t realise that dad is going to put them to bed tonight because mum is out for dinner. Kids don’t have the flexibility to manoeuver within changing routines. So when the routine does change, all hell breaks loose because as a child I’ve become so dependent on not having to deal with that change myself.
In practical terms, the art of ignoring means that instead of being the entertainment director for your child all day, you actually go and be an adult for a while. Whether that be sitting in the backyard with a cup of coffee, lying in front of the TV (without Play School on), or going out with friends, it doesn’t really matter – whatever rocks your boat. But you might be surprised how well your child can function without you, and for that short period of time will actually thrive both emotionally and developmentally. It won’t mean that they don’t need you. Of course all kids need their parents, but it will mean that they can grow to be individuals and not be dependent. There’s a big difference.
It might also help parents as well in regaining some of their adult life that many of us, consciously or not, have let slowly fade.
So for me it’s a win-win. Kids undoubtedly do better. Parents function better as parents, and over the longer-term, leave their over-indulgent, insecure, “my child won’t cope without me” families in their wake. Kids need their parents, but not all the time. Try it – you might be surprised how effective it can be.