Ha! Now that I’ve attracted your interest with an unrealistically grandiose title, let me take you on a little tour of the planet Parenthood. There is no shortage of parenting experts. There are as many modalities as there are sleepless nights and spilled dinners. But now that I’m three years into mommyhood, I’m starting to wonder what I should have been aware of…the users manuals I could have read. The occassional references to parental modalities have started to collect in my head. So, whether you’re a parent, or whether you’re just interested in telling parents what to do, here are the five modern pop movements to be aware of.
Positive Parenting concentrates on a parent’s ability to self-regulate their own emotions and evaluate a child’s difficult behaviour. There are three proposed reasons for misbehaviour: The child doesn’t know what is expected of her, The child does know but can’t control herself or The child does know but doesn’t care. In the first instance, teaching is in order, with clear communication, and with you helping them label and understand their emotions. In the second instance, the goal is to help the child become aware of a competing motivation. For instance, an adult might think, ‘I’d like to stay up and bingewatch a favourite show on netflix, but if I don’t get sleep tonight I’ll be an animal tomorrow morning.” And the virtuous adult gets some sleep. (Ha!) A child might think, “I’d rather play outside than do homework, but I want a good grade.” In the third instance, the fact that your child is misbehaving and doesn’t care means that there’s something wrong with your relationship that needs fixing, so that she does care. And fixing your relationship means that they need your full attention, to spend quality time with you, that they need you to listen to them and ask questions, to hear their stories.
You can teach good behaviour through role-modeling and play, social interactions (and then discussing them later), and talking through problems. When there’s a problem, it’s important to rolemodel the behavour you want to see, to use natural consequences (or logical consequences of the natural ones aren’t immediate enough), to be kind, and to separate the behaviour from the child (there is such a thing as bad behaviour, but not such a thing as a bad person). It also means putting the focus on good behaviour, savoring it and calling attention to it, rather than living from bad moment to bad moment.
(Researcher’s personal aside: This movement’s websites had the most corporate, hard-sell approaches of all the movements I surveyed.)
According to Attachment Parenting International, Attachment Parenting “encourages responsiveness to children’s emotional needs, enabling children to develop trust that their needs will be met. As a result, this strong attachment helps children develop the capacity for secure, empathic, peaceful, and enduring relationships that follow them into adulthood. – See more at: That organization set eight principles for attachment parenting and each principle below is linked to a different resource for that particular principle:
- Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting (emotionally and physically prepare for birth and parenthood, and educate yourself about appropriately paced child development)
- Feed with Love and Respect (Breastfeeding, or bottle nursing techniques, to deepen bonds of attachment).
- Respond with Sensitivity (Tune into your child, what she’s feeling, what he’s trying to tell you).
- Use Nurturing Touch (skin-to-skin contact, bathing, massage, babywearing…loving contact).
- Ensure Safe Sleep Physically and Emotionally (safe co-sleeping instead of sleep training).
- Provide Consistent and Loving Care (minimize number of caregivers, and maximize caregiver attachment with any caregiver you use)
- Practice Positive Discipline (Prevention, distraction, substituion, collaborative problem-solving, natural consequences, nonviolent communication, etc, instead of traditional discipline).
This shouldn’t be confused with attachment theory, which was first proposed by Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby in the mid-20th century, whose work may fairly be summarized by the maxim, “Fruit spoils, babies don’t” but whose work did not necessarily imply all of those eight principles I just outlined. While attachment parenting proposes a stay-at-home parent, and implies a stay at home mother, Mary Ainsworth told The Atlantic, “People who focus primarily on the welfare of children tend to ignore what suits the mother. But it’s really a matter of how do we adjust these two things. Had I myself had the children I longed for, I like to believe I could have arrived at some satisfactory combination of mothering and a career, but I do not believe that there is any universal, easy, ready-made solution.”
Slow Parenting is a movement based in the work of Carl Honoré (author of The Power of Slow: Finding Balance and Fulfillment Beyond the Cult of Speed and Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children From the Cult of Hyper-Parenting). It was created in reaction to the, sometimes glorified, surreally hectic pace of modern parenting. What does busy mean? According to this article in Time, “Children have half the free time they did 30 years ago, so kids are busier. Half of Americans bring work home regularly, and working mothers spend 40% of their time multitasking.” In the same article, the interviewed author, Susan Sachs Lipman writes, “My daughter did peewee soccer when she was 3 or 4. At 5 or 6, soccer required a few practices a week and there was some travel. I thought it seemed a little serious for that age child. She didn’t like soccer that much so we didn’t pursue it. On Saturday morning when the other kids were playing soccer, it left time to take hikes and play tag in the park and make clay beads in the kitchen — fun, low-key family stuff. When she entered high school, she became a serious athlete and is now on three teams — water polo, lacrosse and the mountain-bike team. She was able to get involved in sports at a later age when it seemed more appropriate because it was of her choosing. And as a bonus, we got all that time when she was younger to really bond as a family.”
Instead of rushing children from activity to errand to appointment to playdate, slow parenting urges you to pick a few activities to do well, with lots of downtime, and together time, in between. One leader of the movement, Carrie Contey, writes, “In early development, kids are still wiring. They need to have moments of doing and moments of being for integration to happen…If they don’t take space for integration that leads to meltdowns and overtiredness. Kids then think they’re not good at school or a certain sport, when that’s not the fact but the byproduct of being overdone.”
Carl Honoré writes, “Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves, but that does not mean childhood should be a race…Parents of both genders are having kids older, or after many years in the workplace. As a result, we end up importing the office ethos into the home.”
Here’s Two Things You Can Try:
- Take a moment, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and watch you child. Take in everything, with love. Notice everything you can about them in that moment. Don’t multitask in that moment. Don’t do a chore or check and email. Just see your child, entirely.
- And from Carrie Contey’s blog: A child brain takes decades to develop, and that’s important to keep in mind as you evaluate your child’s behavior. One easy way to categorize it: Your child is in a Human Brain State if they are speaking rationally, listening, cooperating, creating, thinking, playing, reasoning, or loving. And that means they’re teachable in this moment! Your child is in a Mammal Brain State if they are whining, clinging, not listening, resisting, cuddly, ordering you around, speeding up, nervously laughing, crying or paying baby. And that means you need to observe, reflect, connect and play. But don’t teach. They’re not in their higher functioning brain. Your child is in Reptile Brain State if they are fighting, kicking, biting, screaming, hitting, spitting, melting down, running away, or shutting down (in fight or flight mode basically). In this instance, you slow down, you stop and soothe, you calm and comfort.
Unconditional Parenting is a parenting mode put forward by educator Alfie Kohn in his book Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason. Like most of parenting advice, it is controversial, but seems to sit at the heart of the contest between the disciplinarian/permissive extremes. Kohn posits that punishments and rewards, coming from the authority figure of the parent, can too easily make love look conditional, and recommends instead a more collaborative, problem-solving approach is more respectful of the child and healthier for their relationship with their parent(s). Many questions arose as to what that might look like. Among Kohn’s suggestions are: reconsider requests (maybe some requests are unreasonable, or maybe you’re saying no when it’s not that important to), look at the situation from the child’s point of view (which he says will have you modeling the “cornerstone of morality”), do less talking and ask more questions, allow children to make the choices unless there’s a compelling reason not to. By having a top-down approach to expectations, Kohn writes, “Kids may come to feel their job is to keep their parents happy, to reassure them, to make them feel capable.”
Bottom line? Be loving, be kind, keep control of yourself, listen to your child and give them all of your attention.