The Anxious Parent

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Assuming that parents have done their homework and found good care, the evidence suggests they need not worry. So why do they? For some, the real worry is that the caregiver will harm the child because she is being financially exploited. Parents may find it hard to admit this to themselves, but many of them got a bargain on childcare. I believe they'd stop worrying so much if they acknowledged this and paid the caregiver better, since the facts seem to say that lower pay affects quality. The point: Clarify for yourself what the real issue is and examine the facts; then you can figure out how to resolve the worry.

Q: You say many parents spend too much time researching parenthood. How else can they be sure they're making the right decisions?

A: The problem with overresearching is that experts often don't agree. At some point, parents just have to trust themselves.

Common sense and decades' worth of solid parenting research tell us there are three general rules that parents can use as a guide: First, exercise moderation. Being extremely strict makes children fearful, sneaky, and dependent; extreme permissiveness tends to make children impulsive and immature. Second, be empathetic. That doesn't mean you should cave in to every demand, but it does mean you should listen carefully and acknowledge your child's emotional state. Finally, adjust your style to match your child's temperament. Think about whether your child can meet your demands. You don't need to let him dictate, for instance, when the whole family will eat dinner, but you could be flexible and perhaps feed him an early dinner or let him have a late afternoon snack if you know he can't wait until 6 o'clock.

When parents follow these guidelines, they'll realize that they don't have to spend endless hours on the Internet trying to track down the latest study or reading what the experts have to say. It's ironic, but parenting is one of those things that really works best when you stop trying so hard.

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Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the May 2003 issue of Child magazine.

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