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Day 1 Speakers for the 8th Happily Family Conference

I have the honor to be speaking at the 8th Happily Family Parenting Conference. The theme is again focusing on “high needs” kids. In the past I’ve spoken about anxiety and ADHD. This time, I’ll be talking about how the context in which most kids grow up create not only real-time stressors for children and their caregivers, but also how hardship, neglect, and abuse in childhood leads to lifelong challenges in physical and mental health as well as limitations in school and work across the lifespan.

In addition, I’ll be sharing a model of Collective Parenting that integrates a familiar approach to parenting from developmental psychology along with intersectional justice advocacy.

Like Lev Vygotsky’s developmental psychology approach to parenting, we must consider what a child is able to or unable to do for themselves and what is fair or unfair to ask of them. When talking about children growing up in certain Adverse Community Environments leading to Adverse Childhood Experiences in the home (the pair of ACEs you don’t want to have) we must consider that things we’ve taught about “growth mindset” or “grit” are an unfair burden to be placing on children to have to overcome environmental burdens that they did not choose for themselves.

Collective Parenting: A Brief Overview

Just like in Vygotsky’s model, the burden of action to help support the growth and health of children falls on the adults. However, rather that reinforcing an unnatural Individualistic view on raising children and families, I encourage a return to what is a healthy, natural, and historical approach coming from the community at large.

The specific actions that are best taken depends on what children are capable of and what they need, integrating both seeing the child individually in terms of their development which is generally consistent from a biological perspective, but also looking at the environmental circumstances under which kids are growing up, which varies greatly depending on economics, race, culture, and resources.

In the space where children are capable and competent, adults in the community shouldn’t need to intervene directly, just like how when children have autonomy, parents no longer need to do things for them. However, there is value in bringing visibility to what kids are doing right and what they are doing well, and to protect them from unfair criticism. The validation that happens here is just as much for the self-esteem of the children as it is for the community at large to be educated and if necessary to be corrected. This is especially critical for those in the community that hold false, stereotypical, and toxic beliefs that contribute to environmental hardships that cause underrepresented and underprivileged children to suffer disproportionately.

Specifically, if you want to be a helpful ally, then out of your abundance give visibility to what kids are doing well, push back when people in the community are prejudiced or hold harmful beliefs, and take up the burden of educating those that you have relationships with so that the burden of education doesn’t fall on children or the parents of the children that are already dealing with prejudice.

Those that have more, should give more

In what is the equivalent of the Zone of Proximal Development, those in the community should look for specific and timely ways to provide outside help and resources for children and families that are marginally getting by. When we have “barely enough,” it makes it hard to take risks, be vulnerable, or to make mistakes so people living paycheck to paycheck (literally and/or when it comes to other resources such as time, energy, or help) are constantly stressed and seemingly inflexible or rigid. The latter isn’t an issue of character or ability, but rather circumstance, because failure is a luxury of abundance, and people living here don’t have that luxury. So the only way for most people to move forward from this state is with outside help. Those in the community should learn what the most useful interventions are for various community needs, and be helpful in areas needed the most.

The only way to get out of a state of “barely enough” is with outside help

In Vygotsky’s model, in the areas of “future growth” the parent assumes the role of caregiver and is fully responsible for the children’s needs with no expectation that children should be able to take care of themselves. A parent can’t expect a toddler to drive themselves to the market, buy food, and make themselves a meal, so they do that for them. In the same way, children who are born into hardships and disadvantages can’t just try harder, work smarter, or have a better attitude when it comes to systemic, environmental, economic, historical, or cultural forces. Those in the community that don’t have to deal with these negative forces should similarly “assume the role of caregiver” and be “fully responsible for the children’s needs with no expectation children should be able to take care of themselves.” Not only that, what would be even better is that allies in the community would be able to change the environment so that many of those oppressive forces that affect whole groups of families, won’t be the same burden to future generations of children.

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