Little was known of the actual fate of Goldilocks. After her close encounter with the three bears, there were all kinds of rumors, including some talk of therapy for post-traumatic stress syndrome. Now it has come to light that following her graduate work in child psychology, our little uninvited house guest developed a system of parenting called appropriately, "The Goldilocks Method of Rearing Your Cubs: Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold, Just Right Parenting."
Currently Ms. Goldilocks is on a national book tour promoting her ideas.
It seems that from her day in the woods, Goldilocks learned some great lessons. Of course the first is "do not trespass," but that is quickly passed over in the preface of her new reveal-all book. In her writings she shares the intimate secrets of finding the "just right." The appendix also has several porridge recipes.
In Goldilocks' view, we parents should follow her path of rearing our child just right. Too often we pick a disciplining style that is too hard or too soft. Or there are other times when our emotions are too hot or too cold. We act too big, or we think too small.
Think about how we nonfairy-tale practicing mothers and fathers approach our children. There seems to be such a difference, and which is the just-right approach in the real world? A child falls and starts to cry. What should we do? What is the right measure of compassion we should show in a situation like that? What is the correct tincture of toughness? Should the mother hold the child? Or should the father tell him or her to be quiet? How long do you let an infant cry at night before you pick her up? How does one calm and quiet, not just quiet? This is a challenge I face in my own instinctive efforts to deal with children.
I don't want to transmit "learned helplessness." Nor do I want to teach heartlessness. Finding the just-right spot is hard.
In a child whose quest and destiny is to gain self-reliance, there is always the battle of balancing forces of soft and hard, easy or difficult, dependence and independence. How does a parent convey resilience to a child with the appropriate tests? But the trial shouldn't be too hard or too soft especially for the too young. Just like the momma and the papa bear had their preferences and needs for bigger and harder, challenges for each child ideally would be crafted for that child. Ms. G describes each of her three bears with a different need, age, size, gender and temperament. That is why the first year is so critical to match the needs of the child with the correct response of the parent, including backing off to watch and learn after intervening. Security is not doing too much, nor is it to do too little. But in my experience it is scarier to see too little: the lack of empathy, the absence of attachment and the missing of emotion. A great worry is that for the children of poverty, ignorance or violence and abuse, there is only the constant trauma of too much.
For the rest of us, the hard part is that our idea of "tough" for our individual children is often formulated from our memories of the tests that we either passed or failed in our own childhood. For example, do we use the "if it didn't kill us it makes us strong" line of thinking about pain because that is what our drill sergeant dad taught? But is it right? There is the other argument of "tough love." When do you say to a child, you are eating the porridge regardless of the temperature, flavor or even the lumpiness? The trick is to not get too hot ourselves and get angry, or chill too much and slip them a sugar cereal instead.That is why Goldilocks teaches her approach of identifying the unique requirements of the child and responding accordingly, and to do it just right.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for more than 25 years and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.