Colorado Srpings, CO
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Now that the smoke has cleared from Chua's extreme-parenting firestorm, most parents are left smoldering with uncertainty: Is there really a best parenting approach for all kids? "No, because the approach is not the first parenting consideration. Parents must first consider their child's mental health needs," answers Gary M. Unruh, MSW, LCSW, a veteran child psychotherapist. "Only when the child's needs are thoroughly considered can the best parenting approach be chosen for a child."
Unruh drives home his point: "It's what's inside something that really counts." A certain food may taste and look good, but if it contains too many calories or too much bad fat most people will refuse it; there's too much inside damage. Chua's hard-work regime got great outside results—who wouldn't want a child who's a Carnegie Hall performer?—but her shame approach will damage the inside of most children.
Chua made some good points about the merits of hard work, children learning from failure, and how much strength children really have. Unruh warns, however, "There's a problem with her execution tactics. Shaming and repressing feelings diminish a child's mental health."
Five fundamental mental health needs require careful parental attention according to Unruh's award-winning Unleashing Parental Love program.
Children need firm, consistent limits. Developmentally, children have a strong "it's all about me" orientation, especially during the preschool and teen years. Too much coddling or not allowing a child to learn from failures is not a good thing. Holding off on immediate need fulfillment is an essential, learned life skill, and it is taught when parents set consistent and firm limits.
Children need to experience the benefits of achievement. Human potential is almost limitless. Parents do need to help children set expectations to the highest level possible, according to the child's potential, and then provide appropriate support. Unruh cautions, "Do not automatically use Chua's hours of practice routine or other extreme pressure tactics. The jury ruled on this one years ago: Too much stress will damage a child physically."
Children need to be comfortable in their own skin. Don't automatically use Chua's implied mantra: "Who I am and the way I was raised is best for my child." Developmentally, pleasing parents is a primary motivator for children. Don't misuse it. It's damaging to a child for parents to consistently skip affirmation of a child's individuality and go straight to "please me, be like me." Unruh cautions, "Psychotherapists' offices are full of 'mini-mes' who never found their own individuality." Follow this guideline: Always support your child's individuality, and then constructively mix in your contribution.
Children need to be comfortable with feelings. A child's inside comfortableness is essential. Knowing, accepting, and easily verbalizing one's feelings will foster self-confidence. Any parenting approach that consistently stuffs feelings, especially during conflict, is damaging to a child. Unruh's program has an answer: Validate a child's feelings first and then discipline. Unruh elaborates: "This is not over permissive parenting and will not result in a wimpy child. Rather, this approach offers just the opposite result: self-worth will be grounded from within. Establishing self-worth only from outside performance is not good mental health."
Children need to learn empathy. Parents need to teach children to walk in another person's shoes with compassion. This ensures long-lasting, quality relationships, trumping all life successes. Unruh comments, "Over and over again I've seen these understood and accepted children want to live out their parents' teaching by treating others well and empathizing with them."
Unruh concludes, "Avoid the real risk of damaging a child emotionally and physically by first knowing and meeting a child's inside mental health needs. Then find a parenting style that fits these needs. The result will be a fully successful, resilient child."
Colorado Srpings, CO