"Stop Parenting!": World renowned psychologist's advice to parents

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Find out why this respected expert believes ceasing "to parent" could be the best thing moms and dads could do for their kids.

Alison Gopnik, world renowned developmental psychologist, author, and expert researcher in the world of learning and reasoning capacities of young children, recently released her newest book called The Gardener and the CarpenterIn it, she describes the results of many clever experiments that help us understand how young children learn by watching others, listening to others, and manipulating objects in systematic ways in their play.

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(Source: alisongopnik.com)

Gopnik explains with great detail in her book, that children learn not by passively absorbing information, but by actively engaging their social and physical environments and drawing logical inferences based on what they see, hear, and in other ways experience.  Gopnik suggests that children learn a great deal from other people, including from their parents, not because the others are deliberately teaching them but because those others are doing and talking about interesting things, which children are innately motivated to try to understand and incorporate into their own growing world views.

What does all this mean?

As Peter Gray, Ph.D., interprets, this essentially means that “adults can help [children] best not by teaching, but by making sure that they have adequate social and physical environments and time and space in which to explore.”

“The more that young children are integrated into the real world of other children and adults, the more they will learn about that world and discover their places in it,” he adds.

In other words, as Gopnik later suggests in her book, it’s time for parents to stop parenting. It sounds a bit…insane, to say the least. But could parents raise better more curious and intelligent children by ceasing to “parent”? Possibly.

First it’s important to note the word “parent”. According to Gopnik, the word “parent” should be used and respected as a noun, but not as a verb. Perhaps she says it best. Here’s a quip from her newest book that further elaborates on that idea:


“’Parent’ is not actually a verb, not a form of work, and it isn’t and shouldn’t be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult (p 8) ….  We recognize the difference between work and other relationships, other kinds of love.  To be a wife is not to engage in ‘wifing,’ to be a friend is not to ‘friend,’ even on Facebook, and we don’t ‘child’ our mothers and fathers (p 9)”.


“The word ‘parenting,’ now so ubiquitous, first emerged in America in 1958 and became common only in the 1970s (p 21)… But, in fact, parenting is a terrible invention. It hasn’t improved the lives of children and parents, and in some ways it’s arguably made them worse.  For middle-class parents, trying to shape their children into worthy adults becomes the source of endless anxiety and guilt coupled with frustration.  And for their children, parenting leads to an oppressive cloud of hovering expectations (p 24). … The rise of parenting has accompanied the decline of the street, the public playground, the neighborhood, even recess (p 36).”


Learn more about why this expert thinks parents can be better parents by ceasing “to parent”. Click next for more!

Another interesting theme in her book is the metaphorical comparisons of carpenters and gardeners as they relate to parents. It may seem like a farfetched juxtaposition, but if you think about it, it really makes a lot of sense.

“In the parenting model, being a parent is like being a carpenter.  You should pay some attention to the kind of material you are working with, and it may have some influence on what you try to do.  But essentially your job is to shape that material into a final product that will fit the scheme you had in mind to begin with.  (p 18).”

As for gardeners…

“When we garden, on the other hand, we create a protected and nurturing space for plants to flourish.  … And as any gardener knows, our specific plans are always thwarted.… Unlike a good chair, a good garden is constantly changing, as it adapts to the changing circumstances of weather and the seasons.  And in the long run, that kind of varied, flexible, complex, dynamic system will be more robust and adaptable than the most carefully tended hothouse bloom,” (p 18-19).

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“So our job as parents is not to make a particular kind of child.  Instead, our job is to provide a protected space of love, safety, and stability in which children of many unpredictable kinds can flourish.  Our job is not to shape our children’s minds; it’s to let those minds explore all the possibilities that the world allows.  ….  We can’t make children learn, but we can let them learn (p 20).”

So there you have it, parents. Our role as parents, according to this expert, should be less about moldng and sculpting our children (like a carpenter). Instead, we should foster emotional and social growth as caretaker, but also a bystander (like a gardener).

Of course, the book touches on a number of other social, educational issues parents may possibly encounter. But the major theme of parenting as gardeners and carpenters remains the most interesting of the discussed topics.

What do you think of this world renowned psychologist’s rather controversial approach to parenting? Do you feel more comfortable as a gardener or as a carpenter?

This article was based on a post from Psychology Today

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