Why have behaviors traditionally viewed as completely unacceptable in a civilized society (i.e., looting, bullying, violence, willful destruction of property) become commonplace? Where did we go wrong? Were there signs that would indicate that so many would grow into adults whose world revolves around a self-serving agenda lacking in empathy/sympathy for others? Though many societal issues impact human behavior, the fact that such behaviors have steadily worsened over the past 40+ years coincides with a pivotal shift in child-rearing philosophies.
In the late 1960s, new, progressive, avant-garde parenting philosophies emerged. Many of the ideas refuted traditional "child-rearing" practices employed successfully for generations. One result has been an alarming decline in the mental health of children and youth. Though the recent pandemic exacerbated mental health issues, in the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness, as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors, increased by 40% among young people.* To be clear, child-rearing practices are not the sole determinant of future adult behavior. Free will is a powerful component of the human condition. However, to dismiss the impact child-rearing practices have on child development is short-sighted.
Unlike past generations, child-rearing practices today revolve heavily around children’s feelings. While it is important for parents to reflectively note their children’s emotions, overfocusing on children’s feelings may be counterproductive. Emotions can be fleeting, particularly in children. When adults become overly involved in attempting to placate children’s feelings, they rob them of learning to effectively self-manage. The ability to successfully manage one’s feelings is critical to being able to successfully manage one’s life.
Barring extenuating circumstances, a two-year-old is able to walk, run, self-feed, complete simple tasks, and respond to others receptively and expressively. “No” and “I do it myself” are expressions used by many toddlers as they evolve in their ability to navigate the world around them. Their desire to gain independence and maintain their position at the center of the family can result in bold resistance to parent directives. The good news is that within the span of one-year (age 2-3) children are capable of making quite a remarkable transformation. The manner in which parents manage this transition period sets the tone for how children will come to view their parent’s place in the family as well as their own.
By age 3, children need to arrive at the understanding that it is their parents who rightfully hold the position at the center of the family circle. To accept this about-face, it is vital that children continue to feel unconditional love (the cornerstone of their security) from their parents. Effective parental guidance and modeling during this period allows children to grow in their ability to manage age-appropriate responsibilities and increase confidence, both of which promote a healthy sense of self.
Many parents fail to see the importance of removing children from the throne rightfully occupied during the first 24 months of life. They have bought into the message that children’s feelings should be the driving force behind child-rearing practices. Teaching children that they will experience a wide range of emotions throughout life and that humans have the ability to choose how they respond to their emotions is the more powerful message, while giving as little attention as possible to unnecessary whining, tantrums, crying fits, etc. If such behaviors persist, consequences meaningful to the child are in order. Coddling, kowtowing, and appeasing children to get negative behavior to cease is a temporary fix at best.
Children aged 3 and beyond (teens included) who whine, throw tantrums, are non-compliant, and/or lack age-appropriate self-control are examples of children who continue to sit on the throne. Only when parents unequivocally establish themselves as the loving, trustworthy, definitive leaders of the family will they, and ultimately their children, experience the benefits of ‘dethroning.’
*Source: CDC YRBS Data Summary Report: 2009-2019
© Sharon Knapp Lamberth, December 2023