Parenting Doctrines

What is your parenting doctrine?

“What is the most important principle in parenting?” I looked across the room at the medical student who had just asked me the question. I began to smile. “What a question,” I said to myself. “Does he know how important that question is?” Feelings, thoughts, words, actions, lectures and books flashed through my head. “What do I believe?” I thought to myself. The room was quiet and every student looked at me. “There is no single principle due to the complexity of parenting,” I answered. “But there is a single doctrine. I believe physical and emotional experience moderate the life of every child.”

Some children settle easily while others settle slowly. Some adapt to change well while others overreact to stimulation. Some accept schedules poorly while others chase rigidity. Transition and change comfort some children while inciting anxiety in others. “Bad moods” are common for some children while rare in others. These characteristics are innate and difficult to change. They can, however, be modified.

Most parenting classes focus on the teaching of practices. A practice is the performance of a pattern of behavior repeatedly in search of a sought after behavior. This is accomplished by teaching guidelines that if followed, result in habitual behaviors. Examples include the importance of clear, consistent parental responses that are performed competently and confidently.  Such practices enhance behavioral outcomes but they are not principles or doctrines.

Parenting principles are fundamental beliefs that support the essence of parenting. Examples include the importance of love, encouragement, approval, trust, freedom, respect, unconditional love and acceptance. The demonstration of these principles allows parents to be attentive, responsive, attuned and sensitive.

For me the primary dogma or doctrine about parenting concerns the physical and emotional power of connectivity. The parental ability to connect with a child provides life and hope to every child.  It is well known how diet, prenatal care, the environment, toxin exposure, illness and stress affect every child. We know actual brain structural changes occur when a child is exposed to toxic stress. Stress in childhood leads to a decrease in brain development and loss of memory and healthy emotional response.

As I looked at the faces of the medical students sitting around the room I could feel and see their connections. The tone in their voice and the zeal in their step are the result of the power of connection. “My doctrine is simple.” I answered. “Every child yearns for the safety and security that connection brings. Connection is my fundamental doctrine of parenting. Parents who connect with their child both empower and become empowered. This I believe.”