If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering if there’s even a difference … and there is … a huge one in fact!
Child-focused parenting is when the parents do everything they want (for themselves), for their children. It may sound like the child is at the center of it but actually, they’re not. The parents are making parenting decisions for their children based on what THEY WANT for their children.
Child-centered parenting is when parents do everything that THE CHILD NEEDS based on THE CHILDREN’S unique needs. These parents put a lot of effort into finding out what is best for their children, even though it may not be what the parents had in mind for themselves, or if it didn’t fit into the parents’ expectations.
Mary has a 5-year-old, whom she loves and really wants the best for, and since she grew up poor not having the head start that her friends had, she decided to put her son into a strict regime of pre-school enrichment classes (for Mandarin, Spanish, piano and swimming lessons. She believes that by giving her son everything that she never had and always wanted, she is giving him all those missed opportunities. When I asked her how her son is coping with his routine, she replied, ‘he likes those classes, he’s always happy when he comes home…’
… but my observation told me something else: Mary’s son was always tired when he came to my preschool classroom … he was often grumpy and struggled to be friendly, showing great difficulty sticking to a task.
Here’s another case study …
Ann also has a 5-year-old who was just selected for a singing competition, held by the pre-school that her son attends. They had one week to practice. While the parents of the other contestants were sending their children on crash courses to help them prepare for the singing competition, Ann resisted them because she didn’t want her son to feel stressed out by the changes in routine and all the extra pressure of competing with his friends; and so, she just did a lot of fun singing at home with her son, as they always do.
From these two case studies, can you guess who is child-focused and who is child-centered?
Let’s break this down, shall we?
Mary is giving her son ‘opportunities’ she never had … but what looks like ‘opportunities’ to her, might not be ‘opportunities’ to him. At this point in his life, he might just want a low profile, a relaxed and playful childhood, ‘til he gets to school in a couple of years when he might be able to decide what he wants and how he wants to spend his time …
… but Mary says he enjoys his classes and is happy when he comes home! So it must be good for him, right?
I used to love hanging out with friends who stole from the school tuck shop, and I would shamelessly cheer them on as I watched them get away with it. It made me feel good when they appreciated me cheering them; since I felt good and happy, does it mean that it was good for me? Since my friends made me feel good, does that mean they were good company?
I think the same rationale goes for people who feel good by smoking and drinking excessively. ‘Feeling good’ or ‘looking happy’ isn’t always a good indication that what we are doing is right … the same goes for young children.
In these two case studies, both children need the same thing … the same thing that will ensure they grow up happy, grounded and well-adjusted … it’s what every child needs.
Can you guess what that is?
How about this … every child needs as little exposure to unnecessary anxiety as possible … and that means figuring out what gives them anxiety and trying our best to eliminate those triggers.
“But we can’t totally avoid stress and anxiety!” Yes, that’s true, and some stressors are unavoidable: like when there’s a death in the family when there’s a new addition to the family, when parents get divorced or separated, or when the family has to move.
All of these are stressful times and I think that children are able to handle such stressors that arise, from time to time … but the problem is when they are constant and prolonged, and after a while, they develop into anxiety. Childhood anxiety is the #1 cause for almost all childhood illnesses (except when it’s genetics) and misbehavior (nail biting, hitting, bed wetting, aggression, shouting, tantrums, social isolation, irregular mood swings etc.)
So, let’s look at the case study again …
Between Ann and Mary, who do you think is making decisions that benefit the child, based on what the child needs to be healthy, happy and well adjusted? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that one mum loves her child any less, or is evil; they aren’t. Both are parents of my students and they both love their children to bits, will lay their lives down for their children in a heartbeat. But, one is parenting in a way that is child-centered, in that she is making parenting decisions based on what her child needs to grow and thrive, and the other is making decisions based on what she wants for her child (child-focused) … and sometimes (most times), that isn’t necessarily good for children.
If you want to parent with a more child-centered approach, I suggest you invest time and really put the effort in, to learning about what your children need for healthy growth and development.
Next week, I’m going to be hosting my annual masterclass, entitled: ‘3 Strategies To Raise Your Child’s EQ: teaching children skills to be happy, resilient and to form meaningful relationships’, where I will be discussing how we can increase our children’s emotional intelligence, so that they are less likely to develop childhood anxieties. For more info, click here.