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Terrible Twos or Terrible Parenting? Raising a Child in the New Millennium

Most of us have heard of the terrible twos, or at least acknowledge that toddlers can be quite difficult to manage at times. Temper tantrums, noncompliance, aggression, these are widely accepted as just part of being a kid. It comes with the territory, or does it? When does a toddler have a conduct or disruptive behaviour disorder, and when are they just being a toddler? This was the subject of psychologist Kim Renk’s article, “Disorders of conduct in young children: Developmental considerations, diagnoses, and other considerations.” The toddler years are an extremely important period in a person’s life. Psychologist Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby and The Scientist in the Crib, likens early childhood to a butterfly and adulthood to the caterpillar phase because of humans’ rapid developmental gains in their early years. Gopnik’s work explores how tiny infants develop using processes of learning similar to those of the modern scientist such as experimenting on their environment. Is that why babies and toddlers get so cranky sometimes? Renk says, “Unfortunately for parents, as toddlers are testing their sense of independence, they also exhibit an increase in negativity and oppositionality.” Not surprisingly, conduct disorders are the most common reason why preschoolers are referred to psychologists. Renk argues that mental health professionals need to be aware of the fact that “noncompliance co-occurs with young children’s increasing sense of self and because young children have difficulty understanding adults’ expectations,” not necessarily because they have a conduct disorder. It is only when behaviour impairs functioning that a clinical diagnosis should be considered, cautions Renk. Impaired functioning includes angry defiance, difficulties in the parent-child relationship and/or difficulties with development, all of which are out of the ordinary. Any behaviours that interfere with the development of age-appropriate skills including communication and interpersonal skills are of concern. What should parents or caregivers do with a disruptive, oppositional youngster? Renk says that they should set limits and provide support. Toddlers often give an “automatic no” response that can be frustrating. In response, parents should provide clear explanations and expectations with warmth and lots of positive encouragement. According to researchers, the quality of parenting that children experience is extremely significant for their development, well-being, and life opportunities. This is why psychologist Matthew Sanders recommends a parenting model called “Triple P.” This model aims to prevent severe behavioural, emotional and developmental problems in children and adolescents by enhancing the skills, knowledge and confidence of parents. The model includes a series of interventions and supports for parents at each stage in their child’s development such as parenting seminars and telephone consultations. To learn more about Triple P in Canada visit www9.triplep.net. This brings us to the question: is there such a thing as bad parenting? Except in clear cases of child abuse, this is a hotly debated issue. Authoritarian parenting is one form of parenting that has come under scrutiny recently. This parenting is low in responsiveness and warmth and high in coercive control, using physical punishment and verbal hostility as disciplinary strategies. Academic studies find that it is associated with children’s aggressive and disruptive behaviour at school. At the other end of the parenting spectrum is “helicopter parenting.” Children of helicopter parents, the so-called “Millennials,” were born between 1982 and 1995. They are thought to be the most protected generation in history—they grew up in childproofed homes, wore bike helmets and did highly structured activities. Their parents use cell phones, or “the electronic umbilical cord,” email and social networking sites to perpetually check on them. Helicopter parents are thought to experience separation anxiety when their children leave the family home, and they often micromanage their children’s lives. One 2011 study attempted to isolate the effects of this type of parenting. The authors’ results “suggest that helicopter parenting is negatively related to psychological well-being and positively related to prescription medication use for anxiety/depression and the recreational consumption of pain pills.” However, the authors note that were some limitations to their study and that there needs to be more research on the subject. What is your parenting style? What do you think about authoritarian parenting and/or helicopter parenting? Click here to read a TIME article on helicopter parenting.

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