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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