In 1979, a proclamation was signed to declare that year as the International Year of the Child. The motivation was to draw attention to the problems that affected children around the world. While this motivation is very admirable, there has been a swing since then to focus on the needs of the child above the needs of the family as a whole. This has created more families that are child-centered, which is not necessarily a good thing.
At that time, I was at Iowa State University studying Child Development. I loved children, and had focused so much during my formative years on caring for and teaching siblings, neighbors, and other children at child care centers. So why would I not agree with centering so much attention on children as a whole?
The danger lies in the fact that a child is a part of a family. Which came first—the child or the family? A child is a welcome addition to an already established unit. The definition of addition is “anything joined to something previously existing.” And that is the key—the structure or family unit was already there—even when the family unit consists of just a husband and wife. Anything that comes after that is subsidiary to it.
But what has taken place over the years since the Year of the Child is a slow move in families where almost everything in the family is centered around the child or children. Rather than children fitting into the already established flow of family life, they become the directors of the family’s every move.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that having a child—especially a baby—in the family, necessitates some alteration in plans. Finances must be redirected. Activities may have to be shortened due to nap times. Time as a couple may need to be shuffled around a bit. I’ll be the first one to admit that it was hard sometimes to prioritize the relationship with my husband once we added children to the mix.
But as a child grows up, he needs to begin to learn that he is part of a whole. Part of something bigger than himself. And he needs to learn that not everything will spin around his desires. If we continue to let a child get his way as he begins to grow up, he will turn into nothing more than an adult baby, expecting his needs and desires to be met to the exclusion of all others around him.
How will that work on the job? Or in a marriage? At some point, he needs to realize that thinking about others instead of himself will actually cause him to win in life.
Here are some hints to help this operate within the family:
- Make decisions as a family, allowing each child to have some input as appropriate. This does not mean EVERY decision is to be made by the entire clan, but ones where there can be some flex. In the end, the decision will be made by mom and dad, and it will be made with everyone’s input being considered.
Explain family decisions. Each child needs to understand and appreciate the value of considering others’ needs as well as his own. There is an ebb and flow in the family, sometimes things go our way and sometimes they don’t, but understanding helps us get through the disappointments.
Mom and Dad must be respected on all decisions whether the child agrees or not. It’s OK to be disappointed, but there is no room for complaining or arguing in the family unit. One technique we used in our home when a decision was not understood by one of the children was to give them an opportunity to appeal. This was particularly helpful in the teen years. A child could come to either Mom or Dad and respectfully ask for “permission to speak freely.” Often, the child might offer some new information that may have caused us to alter our decision. But if not, at least the child knew that he had been heard.
Each family member must have a part in helping the household to run smoothly. From a young age, children need to be included in basic chores. This will produce active, contributing members of a team who are able to contribute to the good of the group rather than doing only the activities that are for self gratification.
Spend time having fun as a family! I can’t stress this enough. The family that plays together, stays together. And the family that works together has more fun playing together! Whether that be weekly Family Nights, vacations, overnight camping trips, or art projects, things you do together will build that sense of commitment to the family.
Family life is a training ground for life in general. If we allow our children to be self-centered during their formative years, they will not be prepared for a world that that does always cater to their individual wants and needs. Instead, if we train our children to consider the needs of others and learn to get along, we can equip them to be healthy, happy, valuable members of society.
Question: How do prevent your home from becoming too child-centered? Share your answer in the comments below.