Are Your Child’s Demands Driving You Crazy?  American Parents Can Learn From the Approach of Other Cultures

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash


Are you going crazy trying to entertain your children while trying to complete work or other tasks at home?

Do you feel like your child’s personal assistant — or servant — because they don’t seem to ever be able to occupy themselves without your involvement?

Well, you’re far from alone, but we may be able to learn a few things from parents in other cultures who just don’t seem to have this problem.

It hasn’t always been this way, but there has been a cultural shift in America in recent decades.  Kids seem to think they’re in charge – and we’re often unintentionally allowing them to be.

Michaeleen Doucleff — an American mother and writer for the New York Times – recently explored this phenomenon after struggling to get any work done at home while dealing with the demands of her four-year-old.

Those of us with toddlers and preschoolers can empathize.

It seems they always want attention – they demand something nearly every moment, ask a thousand questions, and cannot seem to entertain themselves for more than five minutes.

It’s completely normal – at least in American culture.  But it’s driving parents to the edges of their sanity…

Especially while more of us are working from home with our kids during these unprecedented times.

Doucleff decided to do some research and was surprised to find the constant need for entertainment and attention to be very uncommon in children raised in some other cultures.

So what’s their secret – and how do we get in on it?!

Doucleff found that in more remote areas of the world, and in places like Mexico and the nations of Central and South America, kids participate in the work and activities of adults.

But before you think, “That’s the last thing I need; they’re already at me all the time,” these kids overwhelmingly play, learn, and entertain themselves without complaint, all at the side of their parents.

In many cultures, children are raised from a young age to explore in play and learning when and how they want to, without the constant direction of parents.

Parents keep an eye out to makes sure their children are safe – in fact, they usually accompany their parents where work takes them – but, by and large, parents in these cultures don’t feel it’s their job to control their child’s every activity.

If children take an interest in their parents’ work, the child is welcomed to safely learn that skill.  When chores are being done, these children help in whatever way they’re able.

American parents may be able to relate to this in some way.  Little ones love to help with the laundry or other household tasks.  They get the attention they desire while learning life skills.

The problem is, most of us shoo our kids away because we seem to have a thought process that work must be solitary, the kids make it harder to get things done, or we don’t want to take the time to be patient and teach them because we just have too much to do.

American parents overwhelmingly feel the need to teach our kids how they should play and what they should play with.

We’re so concerned with them hitting those milestones and excelling at an early age, we’ve forgotten to leave them alone to learn in the way that is best for them.

And it doesn’t help that we’re always behind a camera or cell phone asking them to pose or do something a certain way so we can post it on social media.

Doucleff, for one, decided to try the approach of other cultures with her own preschooler – and she was desperate to get some work done.

Starting with small increments of time, Doucleff had her child sit near her and do what Doucleff was doing.  She gave her daughter materials to write and draw while Mom did the same thing.

There were the usual – constant – interruptions at first, but Doucleff pressed on, emphasizing that it was work time, and work time meant quiet time for everyone.

She treated her daughter like a helper in her work, not a hindrance.

And it didn’t take long before her child felt appreciated, involved in what her mother was doing, and proud of her ability to be a part of it.

This approach of treating our kids as our helpers does not mean letting them do whatever they want.  It means encouraging them to find their own way under our guidance, not our total control.

And this doesn’t just benefit parents who feel like they’ve got a preschooler for a boss.

When kids are overly instructed on how to do everything, they fail to learn problem-solving through their own observations and by trying to find their own solutions.

Those character traits are among the most important in becoming independent, successful adults.

And kids who are allowed to safely work through their own challenges without constant parental interference seem to adapt better and handle the difficult times in life with more confidence.

Encouraging your child to be a helper may not change everything overnight, but this approach can be a win/win by giving our children more skills and confidence while giving us a little more quiet time to get things done.