Growing popularity of Slow Parenting

A social response to helicopter parents who micro-manage children’s lives by organising a host of structured activities including academic tuitions and after-school music/sports classes, slow parenting encourages children to learn, live and grow at their own pace in non-stressful environments. Aka simplicity parenting, it is increasingly finding favour with educationists, psychologists and parents worldwide – Jayalakshmi Vaidhyanathan, Cynthia John & Mini P.

The Slow Movement aka SloMo is the new mantra of 21st century living. This movement, which advocates a lifestyle shift in favour of slowing things down, is gaining popularity worldwide with adults and children worn-out and exhausted by the dominant YOLO (you only live once) culture. Around the world, families are rediscovering slow tourism (which prefers greater immersion into new environments to manic sightseeing), slow food (preference for local produce and traditional cooking) and slow, conscious, mindful living.

To this lengthening list add slow parenting, aka simplicity parenting, which is increasingly finding favour with educationists, psychologists and parents worldwide. A social response to helicopter parents who micro-manage children’s lives by organising a host of structured activities including academic tuitions and after-school music/sports classes, slow parenting encourages children to learn, live and grow at their own pace in non-stressful environments. The phrase ‘slow parenting’ was first used by Canadian journalist Carl Honore in his best-selling book In Praise of Slow (2004) and later explained in extenso in his second oeuvre Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting (2008).

“Slow parenting is about bringing balance into the home. Children need to strive and struggle and stretch themselves, but that does not mean childhood should be a race. Slow parents give their children plenty of time and space to explore the world on their own terms. They keep the family schedule under control so that everyone has enough downtime to rest, reflect and just hang out together. They accept that bending over backwards to give children the best of everything may not always be the best policy. Slow parenting means allowing our children to work out who they are rather than what we want them to be. Slow parents understand that childrearing should not be a cross between a competitive sport and product-development. It is not a project; it’s a journey,” writes Honore in Under Pressure, described by the global best-selling Time magazine as “the gospel of slow parenting”.

With intensifying competition defining every aspect of life from academics to workplace success, well-intentioned parents wanting the best for their progeny, are unwittingly pushing children into a whirlwind of dawn-to-dusk activities — from school, music, dance, sports classes to personality development programmes and supplementary academic tuitions. The result is that a growing number of children worldwide are experiencing incremental difficulties in coping with action-packed daily schedules, burden of parental expectations and peer pressure, which is driving hundreds of youth to depression and often, suicide. According to latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, a student commits suicide every hour in India. In 2015, 8,934 student suicides were reported countrywide.

“Most millennials are hyper parents who want to organise and control every area of their children’s lives. They need to switch to slow parenting which is not as much about slowing the pace of activities as it is about changing attitudes. Parents need to learn to desist from hounding and micromanaging every activity of their children. Allow your children and yourself opportunities to be playful, mindful, and savour every experience rather than mindlessly rushing through myriad development activities. When children are freed from the stress and pressure to meet unrealistic parental expectations, they will develop the courage and confidence to take risks and realise their potential,” advises Aarti C. Rajaratnam, a well-known Salem/Chennai-based adolescent and child psychologist and columnist of ParentsWorld.

Maya Thiagarajan, founder and education-director of TREE, a Chennai-based teacher recruitment and training company, and author of Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age (2016), believes resetting lifestyle priorities will benefit children and parents. “All parents want their children to develop into well-adjusted, emotionally stable, happy and healthy adults. If this is the goal, slowing down and reducing the stimulation and pace of our children’s lives is the best gift we can give them. When they slow down, parents will realise that their stress and anxiety levels also reduce considerably,” explains Thiagarajan.

The consensus of opinion among child psychologists and parenting experts is that there is a deep connection between the rise in hyper-parenting and increase in the number of children suffering mental health disorders. With misguided hyper-parents prioritising societal, material and educational success over and above the well-being and happiness of children, a multiplying number of children are suffering stress, depression and anxiety. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report released in 2017 says that one in four early teens in India suffers depression. According to WHO’s Mental Health Status of Adolescents in South-East Asia: Evidence for Action (2017), a quarter of adolescents in India in the 13-15 age group suffer depression.

“Long hours in school, numerous highly-structured and regimented extra-curricular activities, tuitions, and tinkering with tech gadgets is par for the course in the lives of urban middle class children. No wonder that a growing number of them are suffering severe stress and anxiety,” says Chinmayee Ayyappan, a clinical psychologist at People Tree Hospitals, Bangalore, who over the past year has witnessed a surge in the number of adolescents consulting with her for mental health problems. “Children are constantly engaged in activities. Therefore, when they reach adolescence, they lack problem-solving and critical thinking skills which are developed through free play, reflection and hands-on exploration activities.” During her therapy sessions, Ayyappan advises parents to follow the principles of slow parenting where the emphasis is on “free outdoor play, hands-on learning opportunities and minimal technology usage”.

Against this backdrop of children and youth forced to adopt hectic lifestyles from young age, which stresses them out before they enter higher education, family psychologists and lifestyle counselors recommend slowing down the pace and speed of growing up.

Soak in nature. This is an excellent way to provide creative stimulation to children and promote family bonding. An increasing number of organisations across the country offer nature walks/weekends for families. For instance in Bangalore, Green Heritage Walks (www.bangalorewalks.com) covering the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens and Cubbon Park, and Bngbirds.com which organises bird watching tours, are excellent options.

“Bonding with nature is a great way to slow down. A simple nature walk can be creatively stimulating, restorative and therapeutic for children and adults. We also organise ‘forest-bathing’ excursions where everyone disconnects from gadgets and absorbs the scents and sights of nature at a leisurely pace,” says Acharya Neeraj, founder, DElotus Advaya Holistic Health Solutions, a company with offices in Lucknow, Mumbai and Rishikesh.

Allow boredom. Thaasophobia or the fear of boredom, is a contagion of contemporary society, prompting parents to overwhelm children with constant activity — hobby classes, widgets and gadgets, music, swimming, tennis, lessons etc. But child psychologists and counsellors contend that boredom is good for cognitive development. When children are bored, they will start exploring their toy boxes, pulling out board games, reading books, and devising games to play.

“Boredom builds imagination and creativity. One does not have to plan every minute of a child’s school day or summer vacations. By slowing down the pace of activities, parents can give children time to reflect and introspect. It will help them to develop inquisitional, free-thinking and creative minds,” says Chinmayee Ayyappan, clinical psychologist at People Tree Hospitals, Bangalore.

Learn at their pace. Unfortunately too many preschools push children into premature literacy and numeracy. Therefore it’s advisable to choose preschools and primary-secondaries that follow age-appropriate curriculums and allow children to learn at their own pace. Parents can supplement children’s learning by providing additional learning-by-doing resources. Avoid cramming their day with tuitions and extra-homework sessions.

“Children have a natural curiosity to learn and ask questions. Parents should nurture this natural desire of children to learn experientially rather than force them into hyper competitive regimented schools. Therefore, I am homeschooling all my three children, and my experience is that when you allow children to learn at their own pace in a non-stressful environment, it motivates and encourages them to improve themselves,” says Lois Kotian, mother of Elijah (14), Eliana (13) and Elisha (11) and city coordinator of Crossroads, a Bangalore-based NGO which works with underprivileged children.

Change your attitude. Children model their parents’ behaviour, so adopt a slow lifestyle yourself. “Parents need to take a conscious break from hectic lifestyles and learn to deal with stressful situations with a balanced repertoire of responses rather than hurried and impulsive reactions,” says Aarti C. Rajaratnam (quoted earlier).

Digital detox. Omnipresent digital devices are contributing to crowding and stressing children. “Our children who were already inundated with enrichment and tuition classes, are being constantly engaged, enticed and stimulated by digital devices of all types. They are being flooded by images and information on social media, video games, Youtube etc. This enhanced stimulation of children and youth is causing mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit disorders, and anger/aggression,” says Maya Thiagarajan.

In her book, Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age, Thiagarajan suggests establishment of no-tech zones at home. “Family dinners should compulsorily be a no-tech zone. I’m also a big fan of family reading. Reading — preferably print books — is a low-stimulation activity. Unlike a Youtube video or video game, a print book does not overwhelm the visual and auditory senses with images and sounds in rapid sequence. Spending time reading the old-fashioned style is a wonderful way to slow down,” she says.

Slow travel. While on vacation, parents should avoid manic sightseeing. Adopt mindful travel and give children time to soak in local environments and culture and keep the family open to new experiences. This includes experiencing local cuisine, engaging with natives, exploring on foot, bicycle or public transport, and living in homestays.

What’s your parenting style?

In the 1960s, US-based clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind (1927-2018) famously categorised three parenting styles — authoritarian, disciplinarian; permissive and indulgent; and authoritative — commonly used today by family coaches to help parents understand and improve their parenting skills.

Authoritarian parents are disciplinarians. Punishment is common, and communication is mostly one way: from parent to child.

Permissive parents are more like friends than parents, their discipline style is liberal. They are very responsive to their children’s needs and give in easily. Communication is two-way.

Authoritative parents draw boundaries and provide guidance, but also give children the freedom to make decisions and learn from their mistakes. Baumrind believed this style is the most beneficial for all-round development of children.

Uninvolved parents give children excessive freedom, consciously or because they are unsure of how to parent. They place no limits on children’s behaviour but also fail to meet their needs. This style aka neglectful parenting, was added later by researchers Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin to Baumrind’s parenting classification.

Helicopter parents. First used by American child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott in his book Parents & Teenagers (1969), it refers to parents who hover over children like a helicopter, dictating and micro-managing their lives. Such parents take full responsibility for their children’s experiences and, specifically, their success and failure. This parenting style is also referred to as “lawnmower parenting”, “cosseting parent,” or “bulldoze parenting” as it is over-controlling and over-protective.

Slow parenting. Slow parenting cherishes quality over quantity, being in the moment, and making meaningful connections within families. It abhors children rushing around from soccer to violin to art and other classes.
Lighthouse parenting is a relatively new child-rearing style coined by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg in his book Raising Kids to Thrive (2015). A well-known adolescent children’s specialist, Dr. Ginsburg believes that parents should be “lighthouses for their children,” guiding them to make informed decisions. In practices, it translates into a parenting style based on love, example, and allowing children to fail.

Attachment parenting focuses on the nurturing aspect of parenting. The first step in this style is to eliminate negative thoughts about pregnancy. It emphasises the importance of breastfeeding. Attachment parenting experts recommend “co-sleeping” arrangements with infants sleeping in the same room with parents.

Free-range parenting is raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently with limited parental supervision, in accordance with their age and with reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks. It is the opposite of helicopter parenting and was popularised by pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Elephant parenting. A new herd of parents have modeled themselves on the elephant. The nurturing parent or the elephant parent’s characteristics include consoling, encouraging, and providing for their young ones. These parents value emotional protection and encouragement above all else.

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