Could You Be TOO Child-Centered?
Are you surprised at how much energy and attention your child requires? Do you sometimes feel exhausted by it?
Are you puzzled at how demanding she is even though you strive so hard to meet all her needs?
That she sometimes doesn’t even seem like a happy child in spite of all you’re doing?
Are you discouraged that even though you model respectful behavior, your child is not respectful, compassionate and at times even pleasant to be around?
This a common issue I notice in many of the parents who come to me.
They are committed peaceful parents.
They’ve put a lot of time and energy in learning how to be the best possible parents to their children.
Many are highly motivated because they don’t want their children to experience the painful childhood they themselves experienced.
Yet they don’t have the child the peaceful parenting books promised. And they’re tired of bending over backwards trying to please their children. They believe somehow that parenting doesn’t have to be that hard, yet they don’t know how to get there.
Does that sound like you too?
Then it’s very possible that the problem is you’re too child centered.
That in an attempt to make sure that your children’s needs are met, you’re too focused on them instead of being the grounded leader they need and giving them the space to have their own life experience.
In order for our children to feel secure, it’s very important that they feel we are in charge, we know what we’re doing, that we have things under control, that they can rely on us.
(For a full discussion on this important topic, read my article The Key to Well-Behaved Children Who Listen to You, While Fully Respecting Them or listen to my interview Why Leadership Is the Missing Link in Conscious Parenting.)
If we turn to them for guidance on how to live our lives, spend of a lot of our days focused on them, looking for their input on most things, they will not have the sense that we’re in charge. They then won’t be able to relax into the safety of knowing that someone has things under control.
They need that knowing to be able to and free to focus on their own lives, their own experiences.
It’s important that we create lives that feel good to us, in which we focus on our own tasks and interests, and our children are on the periphery.
What we do should be compatible with our children, but our lives are not about them and their activities.
Having our children be our entertainment causes a shift from their intrinsic motivation and their own connection to their activities, to an extrinsic motivation where they aim to please us and get validation from us. It cuts off their self-connection.
It leads to children who want a lot of attention, feedback and approval on whatever they do, who can’t just appreciate what they enjoy doing for its own sake but are dependent on the validation of another to enjoy it.
This is often the cause of children who feel very demanding.
This is something that happened a lot with my children when they were young, when we visited my family in Montreal, for a few weeks at a time. We’d just hang out in the family room a lot and everybody would comment and “ooh” and “ah” at everything my children did.
They would as a result of it often be a lot more demanding of attention when we got back home, and it would take some adjustment for them to come back to just doing things of their own motivation.
It’s also very important for children to have space to be, do, learn and explore without any interference. This allows them to discover who they are, what they like, to learn, to grow into themselves.
Showing your children more benign neglect could be a very beneficial thing to their sense of self, and free you up to have more time and space for yourself!
So how do you apply this in your life when you’re often alone at home with them, and that there are limited ways to meet their social needs?
Please know that I’m not saying that you should never play with children or engage in their activities.
However, contrary to popular opinion, it is definitely NOT necessary to play with your children to meet their needs and build a strong connection with them.
Because of the artificial set-up of most of our families, our children are more reliant on us for their social needs than if we lived in ideal tribal or community situations.
It’s perfectly appropriate for us to do things with them, as long as we genuinely enjoy them, but those things need to comprise just one part of our overall enjoyable lives that include a lot of our own interests.
I played countless games of Skip-bo, Rummikub, cards, as well as read books and did puzzles with my girls.
As long as I enjoyed it and didn't make it my job.
What I saw as my job was to ensure that their social needs were met.
While many toddlers are happy being home alone with mom and maybe some siblings, some require more social engagement in order to have their social needs met. And most children 4 and older require regular time with children and adults other than their parents and primary caretakers to feel socially satisfied.
One guideline I have to determine if you're being child-centered or not is to check your energy when engaging with your child.
· Do you feel grounded in yourself or is your energy with your child?
· Are you being condescending and cutesy with your child or engaging from a clean place?
· Are you resenting giving him attention or are you genuinely interested or eager to interact with him?
Because this is a feeling thing, it's a bit tricky to describe, so I encourage you to just notice where your energy is when playing with your children.
HOW CHILD-CENTEREDNESS FEELS
Now I want to give you an experience of what child-centeredness feels like.
Have you ever been in a co-dependent relationship or seen someone close to you in one? This is what child-centeredness is like.
Read the following paragraph. Then close your eyes to feel into what I describe.
Imagine you’re in a romantic partnership with someone who absolutely adores you and/or is afraid of losing you. He makes his whole life about you and is every moment focused on how what he does impacts you. He asks your advice and permission on everything. He doesn’t want to do anything without including you. He's afraid of hurting you. He makes sure that any action he takes will not impact you negatively in any way.
Imagine what this would feel like, beyond the initial enjoyment of having someone’s full attention. Imagine living this way for years....
Once you’ve felt into it, now imagine the following:
You’re married to someone with whom you have a great connection, and you share a deep love for each other. Your spouse is a happy person who isn’t reliant on you for happiness. He also sees you as a whole and competent person. Though he loves spending time with you, participating in shared interests, he’s also happy in his own work, hobbies and other relationships. He deeply revels in your company, not because he needs it, but because of the quality of your connection. If you’re not available to spend time with him because of other activities you’re involved in, he happily finds something else to do. You share a home and a life but are still two independent people.
How does that feel?
Which of those do you most resembles what you have with your children?
If you have elements of co-dependency, what’s something you could do to move towards a healthier relationship with them?
What I propose, instead of being child-centered, is to be what I call ‘family-centeredness.’
The goal of family-centeredness is to find a way of living, and activities that meet everyone’s needs as much as possible.
To create a life that everyone enjoys, that has room for everyone’s interests.
Where there’s room for each person’s individuality and wholeness within the context of the loving and supportive family.
Of course, with babies and young children who are still dependent on the parents, some activities may be unavailable to parents for a few years. But it’s still important to create a life for yourself that you enjoy as well, and very possible even while meeting your children’s needs.
You deserve to be happy and have your needs met too. ♥
With much love,
P.S.: For more on this topic, make sure to read the comment section of this article. I've shared some additional ideas and resources, and asked 2 moms who completed my Clean Parenting™ program and mastered this principe to share here their advice after seeing them post it in a Facebook group.
FOR HELP PARENTING in a way that meets your children's needs AND is not child-centered, click the button below to request my FREE report:
The Almost Magical Formula for surprising EASE and HARMONY in your family while fully honoring your children’s spirits.
For support in learning to parent in a way that fully honors yourself as well as your children, check out my Clean Parenting™ Program.
9/3/2015 05:13:37 am
Do you suggest that this can be applied to parents of babies and toddlers? I have a 15 month old and at this age, he really cannot entertain himself for a long period of time. I am unsure of how I would apply your advice to my situation.
9/3/2015 05:40:08 am
That's a great question, Lynne. I have 3 suggestions that come to mind, of things I did with my daughters when they were that age:
9/21/2015 07:50:16 pm
I understand everything this article is saying. I wish it were as cut and dry as it sounds. But having an only child of 6 who is a sensitive intuitive with high needs, and then adding to that that I do not desire to be a full time (homeschooling) mom in the first place (but have not yet found a workable solutionsolution, and) really blurs the lines. I am not a homemaker type whatsoever. The things I am interested in would feel like Tibetan monk activities to my child. Trying to find a balance between doing what we both like, and her not having a playmate, is sometimes more difficult than just giving in. (I do not want to sound super negative. This has not been an easy few months especially, sorry.) On my husband's day off we all discuss what we would like to do and make it both family focused w also alone times for any individual activities. But it still comes w a major struggle. I think my point is that I really want my situation to look like this, and it is a nice goal, but there are special circumstances.
9/21/2015 09:13:59 pm
I totally hear you that it's something to work toward, M. It's not necessarily something that's easy to attain, especially with only children! It can take time to set up the right arrangements and create the right community to get to a place where your child's social needs are met.
9/22/2015 10:45:01 am
Thank you for the encouragement :)
1/4/2016 06:13:39 pm
I just found a wonderful article on playing with children by Peter Gray. Check it out!
1/27/2016 05:00:24 pm
I have recently had a realization about child centered-ness that I would like to share. Looking at my own life experience it seems to me that one reason people can tend to be too child centered it t's actually a defense mechanism. It is a way to focus outward rather than inward. I know this was the case for my mom. She was always very insecure, she had so much childhood trauma and mental illness as a result. My sister and I were her escape in a sense, her way out of herself. She used being a mother as a way to distract herself from...well herself really. My sister also openly admitted to me doing the same, especially with her oldest around the time of our dads death and during his funeral. My niece was less than 1 at the time and she described to me recently how she used her as a buffer/distration to not feel the pain of what was going on. And for me it might be been part of why I felt/feel like I always had to be "okay". I was very sensitive to my moms emotional state and of course I wanted her to be happy. And so I became a pleaser. And so continues the cycle of self-disconnection.... Except I am working my ass off to break this and many other dysfunctional cycles.
1/29/2016 07:45:45 pm
There's a lot of wisdom to this, Lisa, thank you so much for sharing it!
2/26/2016 05:54:40 pm
Hi i love this article and i can relate to the child centeredness more then i like to admit.
8/4/2016 12:44:44 pm
Here is a wonderful testimonial of one mom's journey to becoming less child-centered. Lucy shared this in a Facebook group we're both a part of, in response to a mom asking for guidance on becoming less child-centered.
3/31/2017 01:05:07 pm
Hello :) Your article "Could you be too child-centered" is very interesting and has me wondering about myself. I have a 20 month old. I work all day and cant wait to see my son and give him a big hug when I get home. He's also so excited to see me and he then nurses for about 20 minutes. After that he plays. Sometimes he wants me to play with him and I gladly do so because I feel like I'm connecting with him again and I love spending time with him. I then go about my night doing what needs to be done to get the house in order before bed. There are times when he wants me and I am busy so I ask him to wait until I am finished and then I will be with him. So he usually waits patiently finding something to do and when I'm finished I go over to him. Other times I play with him getting him interested in something and then I walk away to do my own thing. It's just so confusing. I don't want to treat him the way I was treated when I was younger. But I don't think that is my motivation. I am not a patient person, but when it comes to my son, I am so patient. My husband gets frustrated with him, but I just see him not as "why are you acting this way, you know better", but "what is he not getting that he needs. And I gently talk to him instead of getting angry. It's not something I have to work at either. It just comes naturally to me. I'm just so confused. My son is really connected to me. We cosleep, and continue to nurse at 20 months. He has no problem with independent play when he is with other children at tumble time or when he is outside playing. He plays independently inside too. But we are very connected. I even take baths with him, which I think is a normal thing to do up until a certain age. I believe Im on the right track. Are there some words of advice you can offer me?
3/31/2017 01:34:17 pm
Wow, the only advice I have is to keep doing exactly what you're doing! You are spot on in every respect. I just hope everyone who reads this article reads your comment as well for a clear illustration of what it looks like in real life.
8/5/2017 04:16:51 am
Thank you so much for this! I'm so glad I came across this article. My daughter is 10 weeks old and so I have the opportunity to reflect on the boundaries I want to set as she becomes more independent.
8/5/2017 11:23:55 am
You're so welcome, Sara! ♥
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