My regular readers know that my answer to almost any question is to look to our pre modern past. So in "business" we look to the artisan working in her community. In health, we look to fitting how we live to our evolutionary design - eating the right food etc. In education, we return to learning by doing and by copying the masters.
So, predictably, I look to traditional ways of parenting as well. If you have travelled to the so called less developed world, you might notice something. The kids are very well behaved. They are not pushing and pushing against their parents.
This is not the story for most of us - me included.
Why is this? What are we missing? What can we learn?
The best source I know for answers of this type is the late Jean Liedloff who wrote a book called the Continuum Concept. In this book she shows us how traditional people raise children. To summarize her findings, she notes that traditional people keep their kids very close physically but they do not put them into the centre of their lives. They show their kids the adult world. In this world the adult is the centre. The child is attached and along for the ride but the hierarchy is clear. Mum's needs and her work comes first. The child witnesses all of this for the child is nearly always present.
Here are her words of advice for Western parents. (More here)
It appears that many parents of toddlers, in their anxiety to be neither negligent nor disrespectful, have gone overboard in what may seem to be the other direction. Like the thankless martyrs of the in-arms stage, they have become centered upon their children instead of being occupied by adult activities that the children can watch, follow, imitate, and assist in as is their natural tendency.
In other words, because a toddler wants to learn what his people do, he expects to be able to center his attention on an adult who is centered on her own business. An adult who stops whatever she is doing and tries to ascertain what her child wants her to do is short-circuiting this expectation. Just as significantly, she appears to the tot not to know how to behave, to be lacking in confidence and, even more alarmingly, looking for guidance from him, a two or three year old who is relying on her to be calm, competent, and sure of herself.
A toddler’s fairly predictable reaction to parental uncertainty is to push his parents even further off-balance, testing for a place where they will stand firm and thus allay his anxiety about who is in charge.
He may continue to draw pictures on the wall after his mother has pleaded with him to desist, in an apologetic voice that lets him know she does not believe he will obey. When she then takes away his markers, all the while showing fear of his wrath, he — as surely as he is a social creature — meets her expectations and flies into a screaming rage.
If misreading his anger, she tries even harder to ascertain what he wants, pleads, explains, and appears ever more desperate to placate him, the child will be impelled to make more outrageous, more unacceptable demands. This he must continue to do until at last she does take over leadership and he can feel that order is restored.
He may still not have a calm, confident, reliable authority figure to learn from, as his mother is now moving from the point of losing her temper to the point at which guilt and doubts about her competence are again rearing their wobbly heads. Nevertheless, he will have the meager reassurance of seeing that when the chips were down, she did relieve him of command and of his panicky feeling that he should somehow know what she should do.
How does this feel to you? There is of course so much more to her work than this statement. If this intrigues you - please go here.