The Art of Nurturing... Not Smothering or Controlling

The Art of Nurturing... Not Smothering

Nurturing is not to be confused with smothering. Nurturing helps a child blossom, while smothering leads to behavioral problems. When a parent suffocates a child, the parent's objective is to control. For the smothering and controlling parent, the underlying agenda is criticism and judgment of the child. The parent presumes the child is a piece of property to be molded. This type of parent makes all the decisions for the child, and essentially takes away the child's voice.

Typical acts of smothering include continually watching and commenting on the child's behavior. The parent anticipates every move the child makes, and then prevents the child from initiating action. The child is reprimanded in front of other people and is never allowed to disagree with the parent. When individuating begins, the parent feels betrayed, and makes the child feel guilty for asserting independence. Guilt is a major factor in imposing control of the child. A child raised in this environment will become very secretive and hypersensitive to the motives of other people. 

A suffocating parent may say "No, no, Simon, don't eat that dirt," and then run off to change him the minute his clothes become soiled. It is hard for the suffocating parent to understand that there is nothing wrong with a child eating dirt, and getting dirty. In fact, these acts of experimentation and play are important rites of passage. All children need to discover bow unpalatable, tasteless, and gritty dirt is. Or how squishy and marvelously slimy dirt becomes when water is applied! In this case, the smothering parent is bothered by children's fascination with dirt because it interferes with their desire for cleanliness, tidiness, and perfection in their child at all times. 

Need for Perfection and Control Issues

Generally, smothering parents do not trace their need for perfection back to their own control issues. In another instance, the smothering/controlling parent might say, "Natasha, you will wear this dress because mommy likes it, and you like it too." If Natasha rebels, then mommy says "Yes, it is a pretty dress, and if you don't wear it, mommy will have wasted a lot of money. You don't want me to waste money, do you?" 

Once again, this mother projects her will and control onto her daughter, and then imposes guilt when her daughter offers a different opinion. Additionally, the little girl is then made to feel bad for being responsible for wasting her mother's money! 

Smothering parents stifle the child so that the child grows up without knowing who he/she really is. The child is unable to cultivate the tools needed to adequately blossom and reach his/her full potential.

Parenting with Trust, Love, and Honor

The Art of Nurturing... Not SmotheringOn the other hand, a nurturing parent is one who employs trust when parenting. This parent loves, protects, teaches, honors, and listens to the spirit of the child. A nurturing parent does not inhibit the will of the child by anticipating or stifling every move. This parent allows the child to be inquisitive and to learn naturally from his or her own mistakes, understanding that there are natural consequences to everything. 


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A nurturing parent teaches, allowing the child to self-monitor and therefore self-correct. When guidance is imposed instead of punishment through discipline, the child is not embarrassed or shamed when corrected. For example, if a child throws a tantrum, a nurturing parent does not yell a command demanding that the child stop. Instead, the parent attempts to soothe the child by employing a calm manner and by using words that are constructive and understanding. The child feels the parent is listening and therefore becomes quiet. 

Conversely if a parent fights a tantrum, the resistances causes the tantrum to continue because the child does not feel validated. Tantrums frequently arise in the supermarket because it is an environment that easily fuels a battle of wills between the parent and toddler. For instance, the young child observes mom or dad filling up the cart and the child wants to do as he/she sees. The child who is a natural study wants to do just what the parent is doing. But, the items the child is picking and putting into the basket are to his/her liking and may not suit the parent. If the parent abruptly removes the child's selections, the child will feel disrespected and a fight will most certainly arise. 

Working With the Child, Not Against

It would be more constructive for the parent to ask the child before entering the supermarket what he/she would like to do and then create a game or activity so that the child could feet involved and the parent could extend praise when the child participates. The parent could also solicit help from the child by giving he/she a choice when selecting a multiple brand item. Children love to feel helpful and their self-esteem is boosted when they are asked to participate and are given a choice. 

If the child is hungry, feed the child while shopping, because hunger is something that won't wait and an empty tummy will most certainly create an agitated child. Offer a wholesome snack such as fruit, potato salad from the deli section, or a slice of cheese. Snacking is a wonderful redirection tool to occupy an inquisitive child who would otherwise be running through the isles.

When the parent makes a point of listening to the needs of the child, the child develops a sense of trust so that when a tantrum does arise the parent can easily calm the child. The willful child trusts the parent, feels respected, and responds more quickly to the voice and the words of the parent. Meltdowns are less likely to occur because the child feels the parent is listening and responding. 

Sharing: From the Perspective of the Child

In another instance, it is not uncommon for a child to be unwilling when asked to share a toy. A nurturing parent recognizes that from a child's perspective sharing is often internalized as an invasion. A young child commonly reacts negatively when asked to share because he/she is not yet able to completely integrate the concept. A tantrum ensues when the child fights for what he/she is losing. 

The adult can appreciate how a child feels when required to share by imagining what it would be like to have a visiting friend riffle through a closet, personal effects, or even take the keys to the car and then drive away. To a child, the experience of sharing often equates to a personal violation. The nurturing parent can help to teach a child to have a change of heart and understand the nature of sharing by saying, "Alex, Noah really likes your truck. Let's show it to him together. Noah wants to play with it and wouldn't it be fun if you both could play with the truck together." In this way the nurturing parent engages the two unwilling boys to play. Through the parent's example, the boys observe that sharing does not threaten them in any way, and in fact playing with a friend can be fun!

Teaching and Guiding to Understand Right and Wrong:

Teaching and guiding help the child to understand and measure what is right and wrong. The child is able to follow the natural course of cause and effect. The important thing is to teach and set appropriate boundaries, and then have the child understand those boundaries. A nurturing parent realizes that control does not prevent a child from getting hurt, and that you cannot "make" a child be good. In fact when a child learns to impose his or her own control, there is less likelihood of harm coming to him, because he is able to self-monitor. The child understands the consequences of actions based on first hand experience. 

The principle works the same with a chained dog. If you control a dog by keeping him chained constantly, when you remove the hold, he will assuredly run away, and keep on running until he is lost. Controlled children are the same. Once given a moment of freedom, they get into the worst kind of mischief you can imagine. 

Nurturing parents understand that when they allow their child to learn from consequences, once the children grow to become adults, they will be more inclined to initiate activity and be creative. A nurturing mother lets her twelve-month-old son unravel an entire roll of toilet paper, or encourages him as he attempts to climb up the down side of the slide. Or even allows him to play with the switch on the CD-ROM, turning it off and on again and again knowing that the short term inconvenience will have long term benefits.


Recommended book:

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn and Jon Kabat-Zinn.In the rush, rush, rush of too-much-to-do-and-no-time-to-do-it, the all-important, nurturing aspects of parenthood can easily disappear. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and his wife, Myla Kabat-Zinn, have collaborated on Everyday Blessings, a book that approaches parenting from the Zen Buddhist position of moment-to-moment awareness. It's a beautiful presentation and a thoughtful approach to mindful meditation that will help you slow down, enrich your life as a parent, and nourish the internal life of your children.

Info/Order this book on Amazon.


About The Author

Francesca Cappucci Fordyce

Francesca Cappucci Fordyce is a journalist who has worked in television, radio, and print mediums. She worked as an on-air reporter for 10 years with ABC News in Los Angeles. She is now a stay-at-home mom. Being a "broken child" who grew into a "broken person", she made it a priority to heal her pain because she did not want her child to inherit her negative traits. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

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