5 Unconventional Parenting Methods

By: Cristen Conger

What's the best way to raise a baby? A lot of love is a good place to start.
What's the best way to raise a baby? A lot of love is a good place to start.
Tara Moore/Getty Images

When it comes to deciding what menu item to order or car brand to buy, sometimes less is more. Psychology professor and author Barry Schwartz refers to this phenomenon as the "paradox of choice" in which, very generally speaking, more options muddy the decision-making process and also leave behind a nagging worry that we pulled the wrong lever or opened the second-best prize door [source: Tugend]. Certainly, new and prospective parents must encounter a similar effect when perusing parenting aisles in book stores. Bursting libraries of titles promise happy, healthy, well-adjusted babies with different and conflicting road maps to child rearing success.

All of that parental prosthelytizing kicked off at the beginning of the 20th century with the publications of "The Care and Feeding of Children" in 1894 by pediatrician L. Emmett Holt and 1904's "Adolescence" by G. Stanley Hall, the first American to earn a Ph.D. in psychology [source: Shea]. And with their vastly differing recommendations, hard-lined Holt and coddling Hall fired the sounding gun of the proper parenting debate that immediately struck maternal bosoms with the fear that they weren't raising their little ones appropriately [source: Hulbert].


But if only those post-Victorian era mothers had known how easy they had it in the parenting advice department. In the following 100 years, Holt and Stanley's books spawned myriad parenting methods that espouse a dizzying array of principles from authoritarianism to veganism. Today, instead of Holt and Hall, it's Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua, Bryan "Serenity Parenting" Caplan and other mouthpieces of the following five unconventional parenting methods that snag headlines and induce parenting quandaries. And in the meantime, generations of children have grown up, blissfully unaware that a 100-year-old parenting method dispute even exists.

5: Tiger Moms

Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua and her daughters, Sophia and Louisa.
Amy "Tiger Mom" Chua and her daughters, Sophia and Louisa.
Charles Eshelman/Getty Images

In 2011, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua became the poster mom for extreme parenting. That year, an excerpt from her book "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" published in the Wall Street Journal and ignited an online furor over her admission that she never allowed her two daughters to indulge in typical kid pastimes like sleepovers, school plays and watching television [source: Chua]. Extreme, or hothouse, parenting like Chua's "Tiger Mom" brand severely restricts children's activities and social exposures, generally steering them toward rigorous academic pursuit with the goal of kick-starting profitable careers from an early age. It also disregards softer parenting principles that emphasize building up children's self-esteems in favor of harshly pushing them to the edge of their performance capabilities.

Although the "Tiger Mom" angle didn't sit well with many American mothers, psychologist David Anderegg suggests that kids raised under extreme parenting methods will be fine, as long as they understand why strict boundaries have been established [source: Anderegg]. In Chua's case, her daughters Lulu and Sophie were consistently reminded of achievement goals their mother wanted them to reach. And in response to the public vitriol against her mother, Sophie Chua published a column in the New York Post to offer her side of the "Tiger Mom" catfight. The headline? "Why I love my strict Chinese Mom" [source: Chua-Rubenfeld].


4: Kiss-Feeders

What do Alicia Silverstone and this bird have in common?
What do Alicia Silverstone and this bird have in common?
Michael Tran Archives/Getty Images

Alicia Silverstone set hearts a-thumping in 1995 as the blonde high school bombshell in "Clueless." In 2012, however, a viral video of Silverstone passing pre-chewed food into her son's mouth set stomachs a-churning. The vegan actress hadn't gone off the deep end; she was simply pre-masticating a hearty goulash of miso soup, collards, radish and daikon for 10-month-old Bear Blu in the same way a mother bird feeds its chicks.

Also known as kiss-feeding, pre-mastication is a rare -- but by no means new -- parenting technique that delivers iron and other nutrients from food that molar-less babies younger than 18 to 24 months wouldn't normally be able to process [source: Hanes]. The mouth-to-mouth delivery system also exposes babies to bacteria in their mothers' saliva, which some believe could boost the children's immune systems [source: Wolchover]. In developing nations that don't have access to baby foods or food processors, pre-mastication is still fairly common, in fact [source: Wolchover]. Some scientists warn that kiss-feeding can also pass along harmful pathogens and disease, such as HIV, but in the case of the negative response to Silverstone's mama bird mimicry, it was the extra close mother-baby contact that ruffled so many feathers.


3: Serenity Parenting

Pizza and sleepovers: Kid-tested, serenity parenting-approved.
Pizza and sleepovers: Kid-tested, serenity parenting-approved.
Rubberball Productions/Getty Images

If "Tiger Mom" Amy Chua is an ally of parenting pioneer L. Emmett Holt, who urged regimented feeding schedules and no cuddling, then Bryan Caplan is the G. Stanley Hall equivalent, offering a softer approach to child rearing. Caplan is a George Mason University economist and founder of serenity parenting, which posits that behavioral genetics ultimately win out over heavy-handed parenting, so moms and dads should cut themselves some slack. In other words, nature triumphs over nurture, according to research that has found parenting practices make a negligible difference in child development beyond early adolescence [source: McVeigh].

Caplan's serenity parenting that he outlines in "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think" also echoes un-parenting, another alternative child rearing method that insists on listening to and addressing kids' needs and desires, instead of immediately making authoritative decisions on their well-being [source: Law]. Child psychologists may shake their heads furiously at the notion that parents hold little long-term sway over their kids, but Caplan takes comfort in DNA and preaches a gospel of having fun -- by eating pizza in front of the television, for example -- while you can.


2: Slow Parenting

Slow parenting preaches the gospel of free time.
Slow parenting preaches the gospel of free time.
Geri Lavrov/Getty Images

British journalist-turned-parenting guru Carl Honoré thinks it's high time that families slowed down. His 2008 book "Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting" was received as an antidote to overparenting, which had turned a generation of middle and upper class adults into hovering helicopters, loading their toddlers with extracurricular activities and fretting over every dietary indulgence and playground scrape [source: Gibbs].

Although Honoré didn't come up with the term "slow parenting" himself, he agrees that the phrase encapsulates something that he noticed missing from many kids' young lives: free time. Rather than penciling in piles of play dates and ballet practices, slow parenting advises keeping family calendars sparse to allow for relaxation and quality time together [source: Belkin]. At its core, slow parenting serves as a call for adults to untie themselves from the consumer culture pressure of buying and architecting a seemingly perfect upbringing for their kids, and use those liberated minutes and hours to get to know who those boys and girls are as unique and precious people.


1: Attachment Parenting

Television star Mayim Bialik promotes her attachment parenting guide, "Beyond the Sling."
Television star Mayim Bialik promotes her attachment parenting guide, "Beyond the Sling."
Jude Domski/Getty Images

Attachment parenting isn't all that new, but in early 2012 it received renewed attention -- and mixed public reaction -- with the publication of Mayim Bialik's "Beyond the Sling: A Real-life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way." In the book, the neuroscience Ph.D.-holding television star outlined her experience with raising her two sons according to attachment parenting principles, which, Bialik writes, foster neurochemical bonds between mother and child [source: Lacher].

Attachment parenting is based on a theory initially proposed by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s, which posits that infants are born with a biological drive to seek a bonding figure for security and protection [source: Bretherton]. By fulfilling that inherent need through close contact facilitated by baby slings, co-sleeping and breastfeeding -- particularly in the first three years of a child's life -- this involved method of parenting aims to nurture trust and well-being for healthy child development [source: WebMD Medical Reference]. Bialik also explained that not forcing children to wean is important, and that parents should instead pay close attention to kids' emotional communication. In her case, that meant continuing to breastfeed her 3-year-old son, who could at that age verbally request the breast [source: Lacher].


Of course, not all attachment parenting fundamentals sit well with mothers who may be unable to breastfeed or don't care to breastfeed beyond infancy, and of course there are medical warnings about the potential dangers of adults sleeping in the same bed with babies [source: WebMD Medical Reference]. But as with every parenting model that's emerged since the dawn of the 20th century -- and L. Emmett Holt's and G. Stanley Hall's hard versus soft debate -- attachment theory has attracted devoted followers like Bailik who have the same goal in mind as everyone else: to raise their children up right.

Author's Note: 5 Unconventional Parenting Methods

In her book "Raising America," Ann Hulbert notes that between 1977 and 1995, the number of parenting titles published increased five-fold. Since then, the amount of parenting advice floating around out there must've climbed even higher, considering the natural pace of the publishing industry and the incredible success of parenting blogs online. So what's a new mom or dad to do when they're preparing to take complete responsibility for a child's upbringing?

Further complicating matters, conflicting parenting methods have existed since pediatricians and child psychologists began publicly peddling their advice en masse at the beginning of the 20th century. Likewise, the five unconventional parenting methods dissected here all approach the same outcome -- healthy, successful children -- in vastly different ways. But while each of them has attracted negative public attention, I also wanted to call out their potential positive effects. Because the reality of child rearing remains that, when parents invest themselves in bringing up smart, happy kids, it's more the positive parental intent than a precise parenting method that makes the ultimate difference.


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