July 20, 2019

The Many Shades of Fear-Based Parenting

“I have long been advocating, on this blog and elsewhere, for what I refer to as trustful parenting. Trustful parents allow their children as much freedom as reasonably possible to make their own decisions. They trust their children’s instincts, judgments, and ability to learn from mistakes. Trustful parents do not try to guide their children’s development; they trust their children to guide their own development. They support, rather than guide, by helping children achieve their own goals when such help is requested and needed.

Trustful parenting is the most natural and least stressful form of parenting, for both parent and child. Ethnologists have found this style of parenting to be universal in hunter-gatherer cultures (here and here). Many families in our culture now, especially those in the Self-Directed Education movement, have adopted this style of parenting and written about its pleasures and benefits. My own research on young people who grew up with trustful parents bears this out (e.g. here and here). Trustful parents are not afraid of life, and they are not irrationally afraid for their children’s lives. Trustful parents have faith in their children’s capacities, and that faith becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As I wrote nearly ten years ago (here), trustful parenting sends the following messages to children: “You are competent. You have eyes and a brain and can figure things out. You know your abilities and limitations. Through your self-directed play and exploration you will learn what you need to know. Your needs are valued. Your opinions count. You are responsible for your own mistakes and can be trusted to learn from them. Social life is not the pitting of will against will, but the helping of one another so all can have what they need and most desire. We are with you, not against you.” I add now these additional messages: Your life is yours, not mine, and life is to be enjoyed.”

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