Finding a Balance in Child-Centered Parenting

To a parent, their child is the center of the universe. Parents factor their kids into almost every decision they make, big or small. It is important that the best interests, needs and wants of a child are kept in the forefront of every parent's mind, and part of this involves recognizing that a child needs to learn certain life skills like self-discipline, patience and a regard for rules. A child-centered approach to parenting keeps the child and their desires first. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but depending on how it is approached, child-centered parenting can neglect a child's need for consistency and discipline.  When there is a focus more on fulfilling the child's overall best interests and less on giving into all of the child's wants, child-centered parenting can evolve from being overindulgent into a positive, character-building practice. Achieving this requires a balance between giving their child the independence that they crave while also enforcing certain rules and expectations. This balance will help boost your child's self-esteem and confidence in new situations. 

Children are observant and perceptive. They often take what they see and create meaning out of it, whether that meaning is right or wrong. When a household is specifically centered on a child's wants, they may go out into the world thinking that this same rule applies. It won't take long for a child to learn that this isn't the case. Although it is good for a child to feel important, they must understand that they aren't the only one who is important. Compassion and empathy are positive character traits for a child to learn. Having an awareness for the feelings of others is an important social skill that a child will carry with them their entire life. A child who doesn't keep their focus centered on them self may have a better chance of succeeding in environments such as school, sports, and with friends. 

Learning positive social skills plays a large role in shaping a child's personality. Adopting a parenting strategy that is centered on helping a child develop these skills will yield positive results. According to author and clinical psychologist Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, there are three important aspects to navigating social situations: seeing, thinking and doing. "Seeing" means looking for clues that reveal what the appropriate behavior is in a certain situation. For example, this might involve noticing when something that you're doing is annoying the person next to you. "Thinking" means to consider and interpret the meaning behind the behavior of others. An example of this could be understanding whether the person who knocked over your books did so on accident or on purpose. Finally, "doing" means to put your social skills to work by having positive interactions with others. This involves knowing when it's your turn to add to a conversation or when it's okay to to leave a classroom. Dr. Kennedy-Moore also explains that while some children catch on to positive social skills rather quickly, others may have a difficult time with it and need extra support.  As your child grows and has more social interactions, observe their social strengths and weaknesses. You can help a child struggling with social skills by making comments about social clues you observe, talk with your child about different ways they may react in different situations, and practice different social scenarios using role play (1). 

Helping your child to learn positive social skills is just as important as helping them to understand how rules and expectations factor into everyday life. If a child lives in a home where there are too few or no rules, they may grow up believing this to be the same wherever they go. For instance, if a child is not required to pick up their own toys, they might believe this to be the same when they go to a friend's house; or, if a child is allowed to play with their iPad at the dinner table, they may get upset if they're not allowed to do the same at school. When children grow up in an environment that is completely centered around them, they struggle to understand the world outside of that environment and become frustrated when things don't go their way. Having rules and certain expectations for how your child should act promotes self-discipline, which is another positive personality trait for kids to grow up learning. Even though rules may sometimes upset a child, their unhappiness often won't last long. Children who have a better understanding of how rules work will have an easier time in social environments and are less likely to be getting in trouble constantly. This will help boost their self-esteem and confidence in unfamiliar situations. 

Having a child-centered focus in parenting isn't necessarily a negative thing, but it should be done with balance. Giving your child appropriate levels of freedom alongside rules and expectations promotes positive social skills and self-discipline. As a child grows and learns by lots of experience, they'll feel more at ease in whatever situation life brings their way. 

(1) Kennedy-Moore, Eileen, PhD. (2011). "What Are Social Skills?" Psychology Today. Retrieved from