A tale of two birthday cakes might be the easiest way to explain what third child style parenting is. My first child’s first birthday cake was made of grated carrot, whole wheat flour, apple juice, and other super wholesome ingredients. It was carefully spooned into his eager mouth to avoid getting crumbs on his tidy birthday outfit. No one finished their slice of healthy birthday cake. It just didn’t taste anything like cake.
On my third child’s first birthday, she sat in her high chair in her brother’s old Oshkosh denim overalls and a bib and dug into her chocolate cake with chocolate frosting with both hands. The cake, which was delicious if not nutritious, ended up on her face, in her hair, and sprinkled around the floor. And no one was harmed, alarmed, or offended by the birthday girl’s cake eating style.
For years, parents have micro-managed every aspect of their children’s lives, in some cases well into those “children’s” 20s. That style of parenting is known as helicopter parenting. A number of child development specialists have noted that the children of helicopter parents don’t develop the skills, independence, and ability to advocate for themselves and navigate the ins and outs of growing up and becoming an adult. Many are more anxious and depressed than their peers who were not raised by over-involved parents.
But there’s a growing interest in a less controlling approach to raising children that’s often called third child style parenting. Parents are more relaxed, not scheduling every moment of their child’s day and calling the teacher to ask why their child only got a B on her project. They allow their children more independence. Depending on the children’s age that could mean allowing them to walk to and from the library without a parent or not standing over their middle or high schooler pushing him to finish a paper and turn it in on time.
The potential benefits of third child style parenting include:
- Helping children build problem-solving skills
- Increasing their ability to advocate for themselves with teachers and other authority figures as they grow up
- Building resilience when faced with obstacles or failures
- Teaching children how to make their own decisions (unless there’s serious potential physical or psychological danger at stake; then guidance is still needed)
- Lowering both the child’s and parent’s stress levels
How to give third child style parenting a try
You may not be able to jump right into this parenting approach, but there are smaller steps you can try to see how it works for your family:
- Make an age-appropriate list of things your children could do for themselves, for example brushing their teeth, packing their lunch, or asking a teacher for an extension on a project. You can start small by transferring responsibility for just one or two things.
- Help your child learn the skills they’ll need to solve any problems or challenges they might encounter with their new independence, like what to do if they forget their soccer cleats or don’t get the grade they hoped for.
- Give your children unstructured time to think, dream, and relax. This helps build both independence and creativity.
You just may find that third child style parenting leads to a happier, more resilient, less stressed family.
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