Warning: Child Centered is not Child Friendly!
I recently overheard a family talking in a restaurant. Here's the scene: A rambunctious six year old Sammy crawling around in his seat and not eating his food; his mother disengaged; his father hyper-focused on the child's needs and wants; the grandmother, also dutifully honed-in on the child's performances, antics and wants. 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."
Should The Child be the center of the family unit?
Is this an exaggerated example of our modern day family life, or is this scene more of a norm these days? We make great efforts to raise children well, and to not repeat past child rearing styles that overly marginalized children. Remember the 'children are to be seen and not heard'? However, we might have gone overboard with the child-friendly, developmentally sensitive child rearing styles we currently practice.
Ironically, our efforts may not be so child-friendly or developmentally sensitive
The not-so-friendly part: It does not serve parents, communities or our children well to live our day-to-day lives as if the child is the center of the family. Why? Because, in fact, he/she is not the center of anything, but a part of a group.
The not-so-developmentally-sensitive part: The helicopter style of parenting stunts a child's growth. Infantilizing, over protecting, and not allowing our children to experience risk can stifle the development of life skills that our children need to succeed in life.
From child centered to family centered
So how can we help families work well together as a team? Here are 2 steps to try:
1) Help parents to take care of their relationship. Do they go on dates and have their own adult time? Do they take care of themselves and each other sufficiently?
2) Invite everyone to view his or her family as a team that needs to work well together. This focus allows family members to be more inclusive and loving with one another.
If the family I was observing at the restaurant practiced this approach, perhaps Sammy could learn to sit and listen to grandma's story, and dad could reach out to his wife to ask, "Hey, how are you?"
Better yet, we can all practice this team focus by asking: 'Hey how are WE doing'.