Parenting is a tough job but a lot of people are doing it. In fact, currently there are 150 million active parents in the United States. The big question these people face is how to do it? How do you love your children without spoiling them? How do you correct their bad behavior without getting angry?
Raising children, it turns out, is as complex as the human beings doing it. There are some general guidelines from psychologists: it's best to be authoritative -- firm but kind -- rather than too permissive or too iron-fisted. But those seeking more specific guidance can choose from a host of offshoots of the traditional parenting methods, some once considered extreme are now increasingly common. Here, we take a look at 10 of them.
Raising a Child as Gender Neutral
Often, society dictates a child's predilection toward "boy stuff" or "girl stuff" even before birth. Attend most any baby shower across the country and you'll find that parents expecting boys are likely to end up with lots of blue clothing and accessories with sports or automotive themes while parents expecting girls are bombarded with pink and yellow clothing and accessories with floral or princess themes.
Some social scientists believe these gender-specific colors and themes can limit a child's imagination and, ultimately, his or her options. You end up with hyper-masculine men and hyper-feminine women who often can't get along, theorizes biologist Lise Eliot, a critic of traditional pink and blue parenting.
She and other gender-neutral advocates suggest that parents toss gender-geared clothes and provide gender-agnostic toys. The approach, they say, expands both girls' and boys' horizons; girls, for example, can practice competitiveness and assertiveness through activities like remote-control-car racing or rough-and-tumble play. Boys, meanwhile, can play with kitchen sets and dolls to hone nurturing and people skills.
Eliot acknowledges that gender-neutral parenting takes effort and can be challenging because we don't live in a gender-free world. Women are still expected to be the primary nurturers. And "feminine-boys" are made fun of in school. The gender-free movement hopes to change all that.
Are you that parent who's always hanging outside the classroom, waiting to ask the teacher about your child's latest grade? If so, you might be a "helicopter parent" -- so named due to a tendency to hover and swoop in to prevent any mishap.
Helicopter parents are forever monitoring their kids, especially when it comes to academic achievement; they are known to constantly call and text teachers to check on their kids' whereabouts, homework or test scores.
Critics of helicopter parents say they're over-involved and aren't letting their kids learn from their mistakes. These parents also pass on their anxiety. "A child growing up with a helicopter parent will likely end up just as nervous as the parent," writes mental health counselor Erika Krull on the Web site PsychCentral. But defenders say they're not helicopters, a somewhat derogatory tag. They say they're involved, caring parents who want the best for their kids.
If you've had enough of stinky diapers, consider getting rid of them and letting your baby go bottomless. Practitioners of elimination communication, also known as diaperless parenting, let babies and toddlers signal when they need to go.
Ingrid Bauer, the author who coined the term, says the method promotes bonding and lets children set the pace, removing pressure and punishment from potty training. Not only is ditching diapers green, say diaper-free devotees, but it speeds up training because children never get dependent on them.
But what about the mess?
The idea is that there won't be any because parents catch the output in a potty, according to the Web site of the nonprofit DiaperFreeBaby. Obviously, this requires intensive time and vigilance, so some parents only do diaper-free part time. The time required also makes diaper free impossible for many working parents, maintains physician and potty training expert T. Berry Brazelton.
This term makes it sound like parents should just disown their kids. However, unparenting actually means turning off the auto-parent button -- the one that makes you lecture and issue mandates. For a better outcome, deprogram yourself and guide from the side, advises the movement's leader, professional coach Nathalie Tucker Miller. Too often parents get caught up in the drama of their children's choices, argues Tucker Miller: They respond angrily or with judgment and prohibition, which usually backfires.
Through unparenting, parents learn to be objective, learning to "abandon assumptions and listen cleanly" to their children, writes Tucker Miller on her Web site, UnParenting.com. Of course, this approach is not popular with the tough-love parenting camp, with its position that youngsters are too immature to make good decisions.
It's natural for parents to worry. But some parents spend their time trying to preserve and protect their kids as if they're fragile teacups. These parents worry at the sound of that first sniffle or flip out when their kids so much as scrape themselves. They are forever consulting doctors and might even monitor their children's daycare and school activities via video.
And as their children get older, the fretting doesn't let up -- these parents are always calling their kids or texting them. They push their kids to get into the best colleges and then move nearby.
On the plus side, these parents obviously care deeply for their kids and want to keep them safe. On the minus side, as with helicopter parents, they're not giving their children a chance to find their own way. "How are they going to learn if mom is always watching?" writes pediatrician and Huffington Post blogger Ramon Resa.
A baby's sleeping, emotional and feeding needs always come first with this approach. Popularized by the pediatrician William Sears and derived from psychological research on parent/child attachment, attachment parenting holds that children fare best when they've bonded early and well with a guardian, usually the mother.
Attachment parents abide by eight principles, which, according to Attachment Parenting International's Web site, are:
- Prepare for pregnancy, birth and parenting
- Feed with love and respect
- Respond with sensitivity
- Use nurturing touch
- Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
- Provide consistent and loving care
- Practice positive discipline
- Strive for a balance in personal and family life
Critics say this child-centered approach is too hard on parents and can foster kids who are spoiled and demanding.
Only a few short decades ago, moms used to feel free to send their kids outside in the morning and call them in only for a meal or two and, eventually, bedtime. Cut to the present and rarely does that happen. For one thing, relentless news of child abductions and assaults has parents panicking. For another, kids' free time is often packed with academic and sports activities.
Lenore Skenazy, founder of the Free-range Kids Movement, wants to change all that. She and other free-rangers believe that free play outside is key to kids' development. They get exercise. They learn about their world. They flex their imaginations. Skenazy wants to see kids walking and biking to school in the suburbs and taking the train by themselves in the city.
Of course, the concept is altogether frightening for non-freerangers, who consider this an open invitation to child predators and a means for kids to get in trouble or go missing.
Babies don't come with a how-to manual, a fact cleverly captured in "Operating Instructions," writer Anne Lamott's account of her son's first year.
Enter Baby-wise, with a heavy-on-scheduling approach meant to lessen the guesswork and ease the frustration. Formulated by parenting educator/pastor Garry Ezzo and pediatrician Robert Bucknam, the method sets regular feeding, wake and nap times, so that baby fits in with the parents' lives, not vice versa.
Among the method's key principles are:
- Feedings for newborns are every two and a half to three hours
- Mother and baby should sleep separately for proper attachment
- Babies should not always be picked up at the first sign of complaint and can cry themselves to sleep
Fans say the approach provides needed structure. But critics, like American Academy of Pediatrics pediatrician Matthew Aney, charge that the restrictive feeding times are linked to failure to thrive, dehydration and other serious problems.
Much of traditional parenting relies on imposing conditions: If you pick up that toy, you get a piece of candy. If you don't listen, you get a time out. If you keep pushing your brother, you're going straight to your room.
Alfie Kohn, author of "Unconditional Parenting" and other books, sees problems with this conditional style. And some psychologists agree.
His concern: It sends a message that parents only love their children when they behave in certain ways.
"Manipulating children's behavior -- by means of time-outs, contrived praise, privileges offered and privileges taken away -- can never help them to reflect on the kind of people they want to be," Kohn states on his Web site. "Instead of encouraging kids to take responsibility for their actions, it makes them dependent on rewards and punishments. Rather than promoting generosity and compassion, it leads them to focus on the consequence to themselves of pleasing the adult."
Why won't my kid listen? It's every parent's lament. Well, imagine if you could hypnotize your child to pick up her toys or learn to dress herself. Hypnotherapists say you can.
Hypnosis Motivation Institute instructor Lisa Machenberg teaches parents how to do it. Some of her parenting hypnosis tips include the following:
- Stop, touch your child, and make eye contact when speaking.
- Use statements instead of questions. Rather than, "Can you put on your socks now?" say, "You will put on your socks now."
- Nod encouragingly while giving directions and your child will likely mirror your positive energy and comply.
Machenberg also teaches parents self-calming techniques to keep them from losing their cool.
Of course, hypnosis is often dismissed as a sort of snake oil. But while there is no rigorous research yet to suggest it works with parenting, some well-respected studies indicate it helps people manage pain and quit smoking.
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