THE BLOG
12/29/2011 10:31 am ET | Updated Feb 28, 2012

Following a Child's Lead

How long should my child breast-feed?
Should my child go to preschool?
Should my child sleep with us or by him or herself?
What about home-schooling vs. attending school?

Most people who choose to have children want to be good parents, and they have many questions about what would be best for their children. The problem often is that they look outside themselves and outside their children for the answers, and the appropriate answers for their particular child are not out there.

The answer to all of the above questions is, "It depends on the child." If you are breast-feeding your child, how long should you breast-feed? Some children love to nurse, while others feel tied down by it fairly early. My grandson nursed until he was three and then announced that he was done, while my granddaughter stopped at around a year.

The issue here is that each child is very different and has different needs. A highly sensitive child (see The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron) may not do well in preschool, or even in school. Some highly sensitive children have nervous systems that cannot tolerate a lot of stimulation, while other, not as highly sensitive children, thrive on stimulation. My little granddaughter is a very social child. She loves to be around people and other children, while my grandson loves to stay at home and only occasionally wants to play with other children. He much prefers adults, but only a few at a time.

I have counseled many adults who were traumatized by school -- by the bullying of children and the criticism of teachers. Since my grandson is one of these children who would not do well in a school atmosphere, it is fortunate that his parents are home-schooling him. But my granddaughter goes to school and loves it.

These decisions also depend on what parents need and what the atmosphere is in the home. If both parents need to work outside the home, then most of these decisions will be dictated by this situation. When this is the case, parents need to follow the child's lead in other ways, such as how time is spent on a weekend.

Both parents and children have an inner guidance system. This inner guidance system is your feelings and your child's feelings. Practicing staying present in your body makes you more and more aware of your own and your child's inner guidance system. If every child-raising book you have read tells you that children need to be kept on a schedule, but this doesn't feel right to you for your particular child, then you need to listen to your inner guidance rather than to the book. Even if it feels right to you but it is obviously not working for your child, then you need to follow your child's lead, which is being dictated by his or her inner guidance system. Your child knows what feels right inside and what feels wrong.

For example, some children love the safety and security of a playpen and can enjoy their time in their cozy place playing with their toys. Other children feel mortified by a playpen, feeling trapped and limited. They let you know this by their immediate screams. If you have decided that playpens are good for children, or you are more devoted to your convenience that to your child's well-being, then you might ignore your child's crying, telling him or her to just settle down. Children can lose their vitality and sense of security when parents do not follow their lead.

Certainly there are times when parents need to do what is necessary, like leave on time even when the child doesn't want to leave, or in situations of health and safety. But if you follow your child's lead much of the time, your children will likely accept those times when you can't or when it is inappropriate to do so. They may even learn to follow your lead as you have followed theirs!