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One Size Fits All

One of the great things about being a parent right now is that information is everywhere. Many newspapers run a daily (or at least weekly) column with a parenting expert, bookstores are stocked with countless titles, there are several parenting magazines on the market, and one quick Google search for “parenting advice” yields 76,500,000 results.  Information is everywhere.

The downside of all of this information is that everyone is an expert.  Everyone knows the best way to handle every single parenting issue.  I’ll save you the suspense; according to many of these “experts” you are probably not doing it right.

I have a lot of training.  I have years of education, practice, continuing education, and more practice under my belt.  And I’m NOT talking about the past four years of parenting two kids, although it’s always nice to use some strategies with them before sharing them with others.  And you know what?  Even after all of my education, practice, continuing education, and more practice…I still know that there is no such thing as “one size fits all” parenting.

Yes, there are basics that tend to work across the board.  Children crave, and function better with, structure.  Sleep is essential (for your children AND you).  Healthy eating really does make a difference.  Adequate exercise is important to both physical and emotional development.  Stress affects children physically, emotionally, and academically.  Positive reinforcement works.  All children need to be loved, praised, and cherished.

How you choose to meet those basic standards should be based on what works for your children.  Even within your own family unit, what works for one child might not work for another.  No two families are exactly the same.  But no two kids are exactly the same either.

My children are actually the perfect example.  Although they share some interests, play well together (most of the time), and function equally well within the existing structure in our home, they are actually very different.

My daughter is social, athletic, artistic, and prone to getting her feelings hurt.  Like her mother, assertiveness will probably come later in life (although we are already working on it now).  At times, she’s a worrier.  She eats everything.  She considers sleep some sort of necessary evil.  She’ll do it if she has to, but she won’t enjoy it.  She enjoys parties, playgroups, and needs A LOT of physical activity.

My son is a mellow soul (like father like son).  He loves cars, puzzles, quiet time, and racing around like a madman on his plasma car.  He, too, needs a lot of physical activity, but in a different way.  He enjoys the park, but he likes long walks with mommy or daddy better.  He eats very few things, and hesitates to try anything new (although he’s getting better day by day). He is a much better sleeper.  He always has been.  He NEEDS his sleep.  He’s fearless.

When it comes to implementing specific parenting strategies, I have to pick and choose based on what works best for each of them.

Forcing my son to sit at the table and eat after he’s checked out will only cause stress sure to result in a meltdown.  So I offer him new foods but I am always sure to have something on hand that he really enjoys.  My daughter, on the other hand, only needs a book read to her during a meal to keep her eating.

When correcting a behavior, my son needs a very soft approach (he’s very sensitive) and he likes to review the list of rules.  My daughter responds well to counting.  They both do really well with positive reinforcement (because it works).

When the advice starts pouring in from the “experts” (i.e. “you really should use that cookbook where you sneak vegetables in to get him eating”) I just smile and nod and vent to my husband later.  I know they mean well, but they don’t really know what’s right for my son.

When I was first sleep-training my daughter years ago I took a very slow approach.  She had a dairy allergy that caused projectile vomiting for 7 months straight AND acid reflux.  Those were some long nights.  Before I knew it, people were practically at my door with the sleep “Bible” and various other sleep training manuals.  You know what she really needed?  A little more time and reducing one night feeding at a time.  Cold turkey isn’t for everyone.  Her baby brother sleep-trained in two nights.

The fact remains:  They are different. All families are different.  All children are different.

While the books, articles, magazines, and blogs (mine included) are wonderful educational tools (it can be a lonely world when you’re struggling with a parenting issue that you didn’t see coming), there is no such thing as “one size fits all” parenting.

Knowledge is always helpful.  I still read most new parenting books and subscribe to many magazines because it never hurts to learn something new.  The important thing is to soak up what you think will work for your children based on their personalities and patterns of behavior, and let the rest slip away.  And ask questions.  Always ask questions (but maybe not from the know-it-alls who only believe in one method or another).  Chances are, someone right next to you is going through the exact same thing.

How do you feel when people give you unsolicited parenting advice?

Katie is a Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist/Parenting Consultant in Los Angeles, CA.  She has a four year old daughter, two year old son, and a rock and roll husband who makes her life complete. Katie has a parenting advice blog at can also be found on Twitter.

Josh (NonConformist Pa)

Thursday 14th of July 2011

We're 5 months into our second kid, and we're getting used to blowing off parenting tips. That being said, we also have some pretty rad influences in our life (ie: friends from Basically, Sarah and I work hard to a) define our family values, and b) live by 'em. Everybody's opinion be hanged. (in as non-offensive a way as possible, of course...)

- Josh (@nonconformistpa)

Amy Brown

Wednesday 13th of July 2011

agreed agreed agreed! my mom is the worst for unsolicited advice. luckily she's the easiest to ignore ;P


Thursday 7th of July 2011

It is the truth though, every one seems to have an opinion. It always did and continues to surprise me when people push their opinions upon others because I would never give unsolicited advice. Why do others think they should be able to? Just as the post said, every child is different. After 3 children I know that for a fact and what worked for one, didn't for the other and vice versa. The best advise: as a parent, follow your own heart and instincts as you know your child better than anyone!

Practical Parenting

Thursday 7th of July 2011

That is excellent advice! Even as parenting expert, I always wait until someone asks for specific advice before chiming in. Otherwise I just let people vent...we all need to vent sometimes. Parenting is hard work!

Lotus Blu Mama

Wednesday 6th of July 2011

When I was pregnant with my first child, I had people tell me horror stories of how everything I was doing (or not doing) could have profound, life-long affects on my unborn child. GHAAAA! At the end of 9 months, my head was a mushy mess of unfounded advice that aggravated an already stressful situation. Now, 9 years and 2 kids later, I know that each mom is different. Each kid is different. And the million different situations you encounter each day are different than the mom next door. I've learned to trust my instincts, do what I felt was right, smother my kids with love, give them room to grow, and the rest just seems to fall into place. Great post Katie!

Practical Parenting

Thursday 7th of July 2011

It's so true...we encounter so many situations each can anyone other than us possibly know what's "right"?

Jessie, Education of Ours

Wednesday 6th of July 2011

Generally, I'd like it if people talked to me about something other than me being a Mom for a change :) I don't like parenting advice. It's overwhelming and it doesn't always mean we are able to take it. It take it all in, and do what my instinct asks. Great post!

Practical Parenting

Thursday 7th of July 2011

It's always great to go with your instincts and feel good about that. Thanks for your support!