Wimpy Parent Syndrome, and allowing your child to get mad and cry

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and I could not fall back asleep.  I had a moment of brilliance laying there in bed.  I had discovered a new medical disorder, Wimpy Parent Syndrome (WPS).

For years I have been seeing it in clinical practice, but have been unable to put my finger on exactly what was taking place.  Then the idea of WPS came to me and everything seemed to make sense.  Unfortunately, this morning I Googled WPS and discovered that I am several years too late.  Someone has already coined the phase and provided some very good explanations of what WPS actually is.  Oh well, so much for fame and fortune.

So what is WPS?  It is a parenting technique where parents fear making decisions that may upset their child.  They are loving parents that have the best intentions, but they have bought into the idea that “good” parenting and having their child get mad, cry, or angry are not compatible with one another.

WPS becomes very prominent when it is time to stop the bottle or pacifier.  It is well known that staying on the bottle or pacifier too long tends to cause dental problems.  At some point parents should stop giving their toddler these things.  I recommend stopping the bottle by 12 months and the pacifier by 18 months.  For parents with WPS, this is extremely stressful.  Children are creatures of habit and do not like change, and the parent recognizes that making these changes will create an emotional reaction in the child.  The parent will reply, “I can’t take the paci away, he needs it.”  Let’s examine this.  I am fairly confident that, if the parent took the pacifier away, the child could not drive to Walmart and purchase a new one.  I am also pretty sure there is no physical reason why a child would “need” to have one.  So what the parent is truly saying is, “I am scared that taking it away will make my child upset.”   Welcome to parenting!

Parenting is full of tough decisions, and many of them will make your child upset.  Do not fear this.  It is called parenting for a reason.  Not to embrace this fact and to allow your child to grow up believing that he can control his external environment by becoming angry, crying, or throwing a tantrum, is asking for trouble.  I am convinced that WPS creates some very poorly behaved children.

Do not get me wrong.  I am not advocating that parents become unreasonable, abusive, or neglectful.  I am suggesting all parents step back and analyze their role as the parent.  It is possible to be loving and create a healthy emotional environment for your children, without letting the child controlling the family with his emotions.  You can take the beloved pacifier away.  You can let you child get mad and cry.  He will eventually realize that he is not getting it back. This is alright and it does not make you a bad parent.  In fact, it probably makes you a good one.

Michael Gonzalez is a pediatrician who blogs at The Anxious Parent.

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  • Sarah G

    It leads to badly behaved adults as well, frequently unemployed and divorced ones.

  • http://www.nurturedmoms.com Heather Johnson

    Yes!! I see this every day amongst my peers (parents of pre-schoolers). Kids cry and parents give in just to shut them up. I’d say it’s not just wimpy parenting, it’s poor parenting.

  • Dave Miller

    Nice post! I’m not even sure you can call this parenting. It’s more like trying to be your kid’s buddy or pal.

    I really enjoyed the following from the referenced article:

    “These ideas all came from professionals who were very intellectual, but did not have children themselves.” That pretty much says it. This is not to say that men can’t be good OB/Gyns or that women can’t be good urologists. However, if it sounds crazy and comes from someone without primary experience, well…

  • stitch

    I told my kids a long time ago that the most important word I could say to them was “no.” It doesn’t always make them happy, but someone has to be the grownup. And they have learned to recognize the importance of it when they see the behavior of some of their classmates and other acquaintances.

  • Emily

    I’m a parent of 2 small kids and was a teacher for 6 years before I had my kids. For what it’s worth, lots of teachers like Love and Logic’s techniques to manage a classroom and their stuff for parents is excellent as well. I’ve appreciated their ideas in both settings.


    Parents respect the opinions of pediatricians and I’ve found a wide variation in how helpful they can be on parenting issues. Some are fabulous. Some have very limited suggestions.

  • http://Abnormalfacies.wordpress.com Jim

    Thank you Dr. Gonzalez, I enjoyed this article. And as Sarah mentioned, it has life-long consequences.

    I never got what I wanted as a child by complaining or making a scene, and I thank my parents for that because I feel I can attribute a good deal of my success to a mature/realistic attitude about how the world works (and who it does, or does not, revolve around).


  • http://blaggieplaggie.blogspot.com Yolanda @ Babblings of a Mommy Doctor

    WPS really sums it up well. One thing it doesn’t convey though — the struggle between firm parenting and convenience. I find that, as I delve into a parent’s fear about how a child will respond, the issue of convenience comes up. It’s just easier to maintain peace. It’s just easier to get a good night’s rest. It’s just easier to not rock the boat for the sake that “life goes on”. Especially when you have multiple kids. Especially if you’re working two jobs to make ends meet. Especially when you’re struggling with depression, etc. Cultural influences really impact a parent’s approach too. It boggles my mind when I see kids with significant motor delay simply because it is culturally common to constantly carry their infant. When I remember all these factors, and remember how much I myself struggle with balancing life and the inconveniences that come with parenting (and my life is relatively easy), it really helps me reframe the issue with the parent. For some, maybe it’s not so much a “wimpy” parent syndrome, but instead an “overwhelmed” parent syndrome. Or a syndrome of the nosy grandmother set in her ways who actually determines a lot of the household practices.

  • gzuckier

    there is, however, most definitely the reverse syndrome; where the parent is so invested in control that they engage in a full blown battle of wills with a 2 year old. not a dignified position for an adult to be in. one thing you learn: avoid any fight which you cannot win. It just erodes your aura of infallibility.

  • http://www.confessionsofadrmom.com Melissa

    I see your point but not sure the examples you used best exemplify it.

    I believe in parenting with peace but also with firm boundaries. The true art lies within knowing when you can back off and when to stand your ground.

  • Valerie CRNP

    I was recently shopping in a women’s clothing boutique.
    I spotted a sign that read:

    “Unattended children will be given an expresso and a new puppy.”

    I truly dislike seeing undisciplined children run amok in public. Their future lives will not be easy once they enter the “real world” and they have not learned correct social behaviors.

    Our kids are adults now, but there was a time that at every family dining experience in a restaurant, one of the kids had to be taken outside for a “timeout” and a firm “talking to” before re-entry into public view. It was difficult, but worth the effort.

    Parenting is HARD, people!

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