And now a word from the experts

National Post

The National Post's nine-part series on How to Raise a Child, written by seasoned parents, concluded on Monday. Yesterday we published feedback from our readers, all parents. Today we turn to three experts who address the thorny questions relating to child-rearing.


Rosalind Kindler is a child psychotherapist in private practice in Toronto and the president of the Canadian Association of Psychoanalytic Child Therapists. She is a faculty member of the Toronto Child Psychoanalytic Program. (

Joe Rich is a social worker, family-life educator, and guest therapist and parenting expert on Citytv's Cityline. He is the author of Parenting: The Long Journey. (

Dr. Ellen Gee is a sociologist and the chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. She has taught on the sociology of families and conducted research on youth transitions in living arrangements.

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ROSALIND KINDLER If we could come up with one magic trick for making things work in parenting, we would all be blessed with perfectly content, well-balanced children; we would all be stress-free parents, and I'd be out of a job.

The harsh reality is that there is no easy answer to what is effective in parenting. After acknowledging the basic rules of consistency and mutual respect, each family has to find what works for them and their children. What worked so well for the Joneses may not work for the Smiths. In the search for answers, many parents struggle daily with questions like,"Should I let him do that?" "Am I being too hard on her?" "What's wrong with him?" and of course the ubiquitous "It must be my fault." These excruciating thoughts and questions hammer away inside our heads and batter our souls. But the answers are always elusive, because so much depends on each child's particular needs, skills and developmental level as well as temperamental fit within the family.

However, there are some key factors that can make a difference and help us get out of the "Who's to blame?" game, with its toxic notions of "bad parent" or "bad child."

Like everyone else, parents and children operate within a relationship. Call it "bonding," "attachment" or simply "connection," the nature of the relationship between parent and child is the most significant factor in parenting. Parents who are able to recognize this find themselves ahead in the parenting game.

Rather than focusing solely on the behaviour of the child, recognition of the problems that can occur within the parent-child relationship can pave the way to finding solutions. But how does this work in practice?

Let's consider an everyday example: Joanne is upset because Freddie came home with a bad school report. Freddie feels ashamed because he did so badly and feels he let his parents down. He's begun to complain of stomach pains and doesn't want go to school.

Joanne is wracked with feelings of guilt and self-blame. When Joanne is freed up to reflect upon her relationship with Freddie instead of putting herself in a box marked "bad mother," some important changes may occur in that relationship. She may be able to recognize and acknowledge her own disappointment in her son, as well as Freddie's need for support and reassurance from her. Thinking about this event as an expression of the difficulties in their relationship rather than in terms of good or bad parent or child can allow Joanne and Freddie to begin to make changes. Of course, every parent knows there are plenty of times when it is important to put aside the microscope, when it is time to say, "Enough. Go to your room!"

The daily rigours of living together leave many parents struggling with the ongoing dialogue of limit-setting, arguments, disagreements and negotiations that mark our day-to-day interactions with our children. The parent who feels no pangs of guilt when setting reasonable limits, who has the confidence to know when to say "no," is working within a parent-child relationship that is strong, reliable and mutually satisfying.

JOE RICH Lots of things work in child-rearing. First, select a role for yourself that encourages you to teach, guide, mentor, coach, assist and encourage. Stay clear of being "boss" and "friend," or you'll find yourself outside the parenting role and into some unnecessary struggles.

Make sure you remain the expert on your own family. Professional advice (including this!), family interference (however well meaning!) and friendly suggestions are worth listening to, but the decisions to create change in your family are down to you. Know where you are at and who you are taking advice from before you adopt or adapt anything. Remember, the events that take place in and around your family will need to be considered and that only you will understand them best. Avoid the pressure of others.

Aim for "better," not "perfect." Perfect is a moving target; you'll never hit it. Better, no matter what the situation, is really worth shooting for.

Say "yes" and "no" and mean it. Set limits as a way of creating safety for yourself and your children -- both physical and emotional safety. This one bit of advice when practised regularly and consistently tends to solve and resolve a great deal.

Remember that you're raising adults, not children. This will help you see why the children need to start doing laundry, making beds, cooking, cleaning, saving money and lots more.

And always keep in mind that parenting is still primarily about the day-to-day issues of laundry, homework, curfews, toilet training, allowance, dishwashing, phone time, TV time, Internet time, sibling rivalry and chores.

When you hit the less humorous moments of child-rearing, remind yourself that after all is said and done most of this is just going to be a "great story." Really. It makes it easier to get through things.

Don't underestimate the impact and the influence of the rest of the world on you and your children, whether peers, family, teachers or events. Build a safe place called "family" for you and your children to process these events. They are not in your control, but you can still help.

Sometimes, what you hear is much more important than what you say (especially the third, fourth and fifth time). Learn to listen. If necessary, get a book on listening and try out some of the ideas. You'll be surprised at what you hear!

Remember, getting kids into trouble is second only to getting kids out of trouble. Out of trouble really helps. Make this your focus.

ELLEN GEE There are no firm rules about what makes a good parent. Cross-cultural variation about what makes a good parent is tremendous. For example, some cultures favour strict disciplinary measures; some (matrilineal) societies prefer maternal uncles to assume the role of father; some societies have (by Western standards) very lax parenting vis-a-vis sexuality. In other words, humans societies are very creative in their approach to child-rearing.

So, one thing that works is to realize that there are any number of parenting practices that can be taken on -- and not to feel guilty that you are not being a "proper parent."

That takes off a lot of pressure, for starters. Of course, we are parents in Canadian society at this time in history, and it is not the case that anything goes. But we do have more leeway than we think we have.

It also helps to realize that family socialization is more important, when all is said and done, than media and peers. But we know that the media and peers play important roles. Parenting that incorporates media and peers works well. That is, use the media as a means of discussing important issues with your children; same with peers.

In other words, it is not helpful to make the media and peers into "enemies" -- use them in parenting.

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KINDLER Here are three key areas where parents can go wrong:

"One size fits all."

One of the most pernicious myths in child-rearing is the notion that a particular solution to a problem works for all children. For example "Time-outs" to manage temper tantrums will work wonderfully for many children, but they can be downright traumatic for the child whose separation difficulties render this punishment an unbearable experience. Time-outs need to be used with careful consideration of the context and the emotional state of the child.

No one solution fits the bill for all children in the same way.

"Let's negotiate and negotiate and negotiate"

Although every child has a right to be heard, there is a point beyond which further discussion and negotiation is completely fruitless for all parties. Once the child's opening argument has been made, parents would do well to either accept the terms as offered or stick to their guns and close the discussion. Protracted negotiations simply wear everyone down.

"Separation is healthy"

Another issue in parenting that is often not well understood is that of separation. "My child has trouble separating" is a common complaint from parents. Successful separation has long been accepted as the holy grail and primary developmental goal for children. The concept is often confused with independence. The child's early steps toward independence and the eventual ability to function separate from the parent take place within the context of a secure and comfortably connected relationship to the parent or primary caregiver. The goal of healthy development is a good capacity for "relatedness" -- that is, the capacity to form strong sustaining relationships in life. Each child will manage this developmental task in his or her own style and time.

RICH Because parenting is a long journey, the things that don't work may take time to not work. In fact, sometimes they may even look like they are working. But trust me, long-term they create relationships that don't work as well as they could have.

Here's my checklist list of what doesn't work.

- Yelling (in the long-run)

- Comparing your children to other's children

- Name-calling

- Saying "yes" when you mean "no"

- Giving in

- Aiming for perfect

- Nagging

- Doing things for your children they could easily do themselves

- Talking instead of listening

- Bribery

GEE We do not "own" our children. They should not be isolated from their extended kin -- cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. They can form a stable unit around a child and give him or her a sense of security. This is especially important if the marriage ends in divorce. Children benefit from kin interaction with lots of people. Thus, do not think and act in ways that insulate your child from his or her relatives. This means that you have to forgo some power over your child.

This, if handled properly, diffuses tension between a child and an all powerful (too powerful?) parent.

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KINDLER The myriad problems, questions, crises and issues that come up in parenting are usually solved without our even quite knowing how. There is within most parents a core of implicit knowledge that happens out of awareness, like driving a car.

But we do it "well enough" so that most of the time we manage to avoid a serious crash. We "know" our children, or at least we work hard to try to "know" and understand them. If we fail to deliver from time to time, that's OK. We're at least working on it.

The best gift we can give our children is an enthusiastic and authentic vote of confidence, and a message that we value them for who they are.

RICH I suggest parents try to develop "policies and procedures" for all the day-to-day issues of parenting. For example, these policies and procedures usually begin with "In our family the children ....." and end with "... sort their laundry and help fold," "... make their own lunch once they're in Grade 7," "... load or unload the dishwasher," "... make their own bed."

Have a plan for each. Then you can make exceptions and special days and all the other things that life throws your way. Without these guidelines for you and the kids, life can be a roller coaster.

GEE Trust your instincts: You know your child better than most others. Don't be a pawn to the latest self-help book from experts.

If there is a severe family problem or behavioural problem, by all means consult with a trained counsellor or therapist. But beware of advice from sources that have had no direct contact with you and your child.

Also beware of research findings casually presented in the media. These studies may have methodological flaws. And they typically present statistical tendencies only. Each child and each family is unique.

Another point: Many parents feel they provide an identical family environment for each child. This is never the case. Being the first-born is different from being the second-born, for example.

Therefore, your children will differ from one another because they have different family environments. Expect that things like birth order matter, and work with the differences.

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