There is tremendous pressure on parents these days to raise their kids the right way. So, many follow the latest fads and compare notes with other parents to determine if their child is progressing as rapidly as their friends. But, some experts are encouraging parents to bypass the one-size-fits-all approach and instead, discover each child's unique strengths and traits.
Parenting expert Michael Gurian has been advising parents for more than 20 years. Through his practice, he says, he realized that parents today are more anxious and stressed out than ever. He says many parents push and over-schedule their children, yet feel they are still not doing enough.
"We are constantly in competition with other parents and with the whole society," he says, "to make our kids become whatever our idea was, 20 years ago when they were born, of what a success would be." As a result, Gurian says, parents spend their days stressed out, chauffering their kids to activities, getting them into the best pre-school. "They believe that if their child's self esteem isn't high, she won't succeed. If he doesn't compete well, he won't succeed."
Gurian says there is nothing wrong with offering opportunities for kids to find their passion and skills in a variety of areas, but not all at the same time.
"I'm a parent of a 17- and a 14-year old. Both my wife and I are professionals," he says. "We actually had to make a conscience decision when our kids were young. They were in soccer. They were doing this and that. We said, 'Wait a minute. We need to pause and see who are these kids? And what are the 2 or 3 activities that they need?'"
In his book, Nurture the Nature: Understanding and Supporting Your Child's Unique Core Personality, Gurian encourages parents to focus not on what other kids are doing, but on their own child's unique and individual nature.
"Figure out what are the four or five strengths of this child," he says. "What are the vulnerabilities of this child? Then you get a sense who this child is, like, 'Okay, this child is an observer and appears to go through stages of not fitting in, so he just needs one activity to find friends in.' Or another would be 'My child is incredibly athletic but not as good in reading.'"
To adopt this individualized approach to raising kids, Gurian says parents have to be aware of parenting myths, what he calls "social trends" in parenting.
"A lot of them, I'd say, are rooted in the industrial society," he says. "The Industrial Revolution tried to educate and raise millions and millions of kids and tried to create uniformity for kids so that they would fit into factories or fit into workplaces."
In his book, Michael Gurian debunks a number of parenting myths such as "Children should learn to read as early as possible."
Gurian says another myth tells parents to "praise kids — don't criticize them — to build up their self-esteem." But he says over-emphasizing praise leads parents to believe "that somehow, if you just keep praising kids, they are going to succeed. And a lot of this is just not true."
Psychologist Jim Taylor is a child development expert and author of Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child. He believes that self-esteem is the most misunderstood, misused developmental factor of the last 30 years. "Parents were told by parenting experts that the way to build self-esteem is to always praise your kid and always make sure they feel good about themselves," he explains. "Yes, of course, children need to feel loved and valued, but they also need to feel competent and capable, that their actions matter. If they do good things, good things happen; if they do bad things bad things happen; and importantly, if they do nothing, nothing happens. But, unfortunately, these days, parents are taking on that responsibility for their children."
Taylor says parents shouldn't be afraid of criticizing their kids or even allowing them to fail.
"Parents need to understand that the way you build self-esteem, competence and maturity is to allow kids to fail and learn from those mistakes, to struggle, to have difficulties and to develop skills necessary to overcome those challenges," he adds.
Focusing on kids all the time, Taylor warns, is another parenting trend that can hurt kids in the long run.
"These days, unfortunately, parents are told it's got to be all about the kids, all about the kids," he says. "That creates kids who are spoiled and narcissistic and don't understand that they are part of something much larger: a family, a neighborhood, a community, a country and a world."
Parenting books and expert advice can provide guidance, Jim Taylor says, but adds, parents should trust their instincts and choose what's best for their kids according to their needs and abilities.