Why this parenting advice should be ignored
In some ways, writing this blog doesn’t sit too well with me because when we started Mellownest it was never our aim to tell you how to parent. If there was one rule we had, it was that.
Instead our aim was to guide you to a different way of thinking about how you raise your child.
A different way of seeing your child.
And a different way of being with your child.
And the thing that threads this all together, the thing that we hold onto in everything we say and do, is the connection between you and your child.
The very essence of your relationship.
I’m going to break that rule today by telling you what (not) to do.
Because there is a lot of parenting advice out there that I believe is not only unhelpful, but potentially harmful – either to your child or to your relationship with them.
Now that might sound overly dramatic, but when you’ve read as much as we have about neuroscience, child development and attachment, it suddenly doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.
So, here are some of the pieces of advice you can freely ditch (and some alternatives to try instead):
1. If she’s having a tantrum just ignore her
We’ve written a fair bit on tantrums, and if you’ve read any of those blogs you’ll understand why this one gets a no from me.
Ignoring your child’s tantrum is rarely a good idea. Because what it essentially does is say to your child that they’re on their own when they have big feelings (and even that it’s not OK to have those feelings).
Which, if you’re reading a blog like this, probably isn’t quite the message you mean to send.
Dealing with tantrums definitely isn’t straightforward, and your chosen method of resolution will depend on a few things.
You’ll want to consider what might have caused the tantrum, your child’s level of distress, where you are – not to mention how you’re feeling.
But if you mix in the key ingredients of connection, empathy and compassion (with a pinch of deep breathing and a sprinkling of self-regulation) you’ll be on the road to calm whichever route you choose to take.
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2. He won’t learn to self-soothe if you don’t leave him to cry
Here’s the thing with this one: babies simply aren’t capable of soothing themselves.
They just aren’t – and that’s pretty much all there is to it!
Worries about babies being ‘spoilt’ or parents ‘making a rod for their own back’ every time they tend to a crying baby are, so the research says, unfounded.
The really simple alternative to this one?
Hold your baby in your arms whenever you are able and for as long as they need you to.
And feel free to ignore anyone who tells you otherwise.
3. If you don’t punish her she won’t learn not to do it again
The reason I don’t buy this one?
Because it reduces behaviour to a reflex – something that is produced in response to a stimulus.
So, in this case, stimulus = punishment for said behaviour; reflex = never behave like that again.
Now if this is a strategy that has truly ever worked for anyone then I would love to hear about it! And what I would say is that while it may appear to ‘eliminate’ a particular behaviour, all it has probably done is fuel the emergence of a new one.
It’s just not as simple as saying that behaviour is a reflex response to a stimulus.
Behaviour is a form of communication.
And when your child behaves in a way that you don’t like, they are trying to tell you that they’re not OK.
Furthermore, as Dr. Laura Markhams says, punishment ALWAYS creates more misbehaviour, because it undermines your relationship with your child and makes him feel like a bad person. Now this might sound counterintuitive if you've tended to rely on punishments (whether or not you think they actually work), but there is a lot of truth in this.
In her brilliant book, Calm Parents, Happy Kids, Dr. Laura not only explains why punishments don't work but she also expertly describes what you can do instead.
For me, in summary, the alternative to this advice fairly obvious:
Listen to what your child is trying to tell you.
Assess the situation: does your child possess the skills to prevent them from behaving the way they did? Do they need your help to make better choices next time?
But above all, think about what it is you want them to learn (hint: it isn’t not to do something) and then teach instead of punish.
Now there might be some of these that you’ve tried, still use, and believe to be effective.
And I’m not saying that they won’t or can’t ever be effective.
Don’t get me wrong, much of the parenting advice out there is given to be helpful. Much of it is conventional wisdom. And much of it is followed by parents because it mirrors how they were parented.
But we don’t subscribe to the ‘that’s just the way we do it’ mode of living here.
And we don’t believe you should either.
We talk about parenting mindfully and parenting with intention because we believe that when you do so, you’re laying the foundations for your relationship with your child and connecting with them in the greatest possible way.
This might mean ignoring advice from your parents and your grandparents (and from Sandra next door who likes to offer her nuggets of wisdom every now and again).
But ignore them knowing that you’re doing so mindfully, intentionally, and for the good of your relationship with your child.