"Catering" to children

Inspired by the following online comments:

Mom1:Me catering to his fears and whims did not help him.

Mom2:To me, this statement is very dismissive towards children. I hear lots of people claim that respecting a child's boundaries/fears/wishes/desires is catering to them and leads to spoiled children.

I added:

Or misanthropic children - in the sense that you can't "cater" to a "shy" child.

I see this fairly common piece of parenting "wisdom" as stemming from a misunderstanding of how people learn. It comes from the same mindset which begins "Children Have To Learn..." And if they won't learn at the convenience of adults, then they "have to" be coaxed and nudged a bit "for their own good".

This is a nuancy subject because sometimes people do need support and encouragement. And I think that sometimes parents can get confused when support and encouragement seems to "work" in the moment and don't see longer term effects. A very clingy 3yo, for instance, is building up a store of trust and support for the time he decides he's ready for a little adventure - but it's easy for mom to see the offer of an adventure as what "works" and ignore the months of cuddling which led up to it. Humans aren't very far-sighted when it comes to causes and effects, especially where children are concerned.

That all seems kind of vague, so I'll try to give some examples.

Currently, I'm learning to use a table-saw. I have a lot of fears - I see myself as a very fearful person as a rule and some of that has to do with having been a "shy kid". I didn't mind being a "shy kid" but I definitely got the impression that I "had to" be pushed into doing things or I'd balk at darned-near everything and my mom took a lot of credit for pushing me into things. In the longer run, I do none of the things my mom pushed me to do, but a great many things I've chosen to do despite my fears and the table-saw is the latest. I've spent years vowing I would Never Ever use a table-saw. I won't bother with my exhaustive list of defensive reasoning other than to say it was just too darned scary for me. Since changing jobs, I've been faced with the possibility of using one of the things, but reassured myself that I have decades of resistance to back me up, and I'm replete with skills for finding alternative solutions, including getting other people to do things for me. So I've been doing that for months - hey there, big guy, can you rip this sheet of plywood for me? You're so cool. But this week, I started using the table saw. It would be easy to point to the order which needed to go out and say "I had to do it to make a crate for that" - to see one thing as the impetus to try, but in the larger picture I've been building confidence very very slowly - almost geologically slowly! and now... well, there it is. It's not nearly as scary as I thought, now that I've chosen to do it.

Pushing kids to get over sensory issues is related to this and it bugs me on two levels. Firstly, because that's one of the ways I was pushed, but also because Mo has some sensory issues and I've seen her deal with them without "needing" to be coaxed or nudged. The thing is, I don't have my mother's perspective on "dealing with" or "what works" - I don't see Mo meeting some goal as the measure of success. If she finds a way Around doing something which pushes her buttons, then that's success on her terms. The idea of "catering to a child's whims" is dismissive not just toward children, but toward all human beings because it measures people in terms of outward successes. I am not a better person for having learned to use a table-saw than I was for having developed a dozen strategies for Not using one. A child who wants to be reassured for months on end is not less of a person than the sibling who derives more pleasure from jumping headlong into something new. One of the advantages of keeping kids out of school, is that there's no need for them to learn to do specific things at specific times. It may be easier to see that with academic stuff, but it applies just as well to things like separation and independence and security. The benchmark of unschooling "working" isn't children who are independent and adventurous and skillful in obvious ways -there are unschooling kids who co-sleep into their early teens, who need help on the potty at 8, who can't ride bicycles at 10, who don't read until 16. When parents are engaged and supportive, that's not a result of neglect, its the vagaries of human development.

Coming back to this:
Me catering to his fears and whims did not help him.

It's entirely possible it wouldn't have hurt him, either - whereas pushing kids beyond what they're ready for in the moment Does hurt them. Little hurts at first, but they add together and erode self-esteem bit by bit. One of the gifts of unschooling is that its Okay to help people around fears rather than through them and to see whims as desires worthy of consideration.

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