why some parenting advice is more useful than others

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Parenting advice from strangers is a bit like being told “go three blocks and turn left” by someone who knows where they want you to get but not where you are to begin with. It’s not exactly going to work.

There’s a post over at Homeschooling Hatters about the blogger realizing she should have taken another safety precaution, one she didn’t because she assumed her child was too old to need it, but as the author says “Remember, with children like this?  There is no minimum age for disaster… but there isn’t a maximum, either.” She has some simple, very concrete advice to people: anchor bookcases and dressers to the ground. Simple and concrete, it varies from all the vague ways people talk about keeping children safe.

Online there’s so much crazy talk about parents being overprotective, and others being neglectful. Some people talk as though the potential for freak totally unpreventable accidents is justification for not bothering to take any precautions, or as though every safety precaution is as silly as taking away kids soccer balls at recess for fear of accidents. Others make it sound as though people are doing something wrong in taking simple precautions as though doing so was preventing the child from learning to deal with reality, like we should teach a child to know what is safe or not and trust the child rather than try to make the environment safe. Read too much online and people can start to wonder whether they are keeping their child wrapped up in bubble wrap or risking their child needlessly, all without any clue of what would really constitute either of those two possibilities.

Over at The Gift of Home there’s a post about about someone recommending Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting and the fear that provoked:

So, I guess now I am genuinely not sure if I am simply a horrible parent who is destroying my child’s sense of well-being and self-worth….or supporting my gifted child as she excels in a variety of difficult areas.

Now I loved reading about unconditional parenting when my children were young, but all those books led me to worry, worry and worry more. They made it seem like the children were so incredibly delicate with the potential of their innocent self esteem being crushed or inflated until they would be nothing but praise-seeking maniacs. They made parenting sound like an incredibly delicate balancing act that I just can’t do. I see the same problem with unschooling resources, where they make it sound like a child’s love of learning will be forever squelched if you insist the child learn anything at all.

But of course its easy to say that “oh, unconditional parenting isn’t really like that” or “unschooling isn’t really like that.” Parenting styles like unconditional parenting can be a fleeting ghost you can’t really pin down, with any problems with the philosophy being the responsibility of the parent who imperfectly implemented. (Note to anyone thinking of adopting a parenting style: if your parenting style requires perfection in order for it to hold any benefits, drop it now. You’ll never be perfect and that has to be alright.)

The terms and labels are hard to define and people, being at different places themselves in their lives, with different backgrounds, hear a word and think something different than what the other person thinks. Concrete suggestions – like fastening dressers to walls – are harder to misinterpret than vague suggestions of being more or less protective, or more or less conditional.

parenting advice

There’s other reasons too, why parenting advice can be useless, and one good post on a different but related topic is over at Life with Intensity. It is about how some kids just don’t fit the molds of the parenting guides written for “normal” kids and the gold standard for reading parenting books should be whether the book helps you understand your own child better or not.

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