Every parent knows that, to a certain extent, what you put into your children’s upbringing, you get out. A new book by the US psychologist Dr Faye Snyder goes one step further. In The Manual, Snyder claims that the bond you form with your infant in the first years of life will inform their entire personality.
“Bad parenting leaves its legacy in the minds and behaviours of grown children, especially criminals and the mentally ill,” she writes in the book. According to Snyder’s “Causal Theory”, there is no such thing as a gene for personality. Conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or Aspergers’ syndrome – they are, she says, not predestined, but may be the result of poor attachment. “These hyperactive [ADHD] children are bouncing off the walls because they feel an ongoing state of major separation anxiety.”
The day care debate
One of the major culprits, Snyder believes, is day care. “There is way too much day care,” she says. “I’m a feminist and it’s really painful for me because I also know that these babies are not designed to be in day care. We’re the product of evolution and our babies have big heads so they’re born a little early and therefore need to stay with us, and to put a child in day care before the age of 3 is harmful to their core.”
Snyder, a marriage and family therapist who has spent more than 20 years assessing parenting and children’s behaviours, says the research is well-documented. “Some of them bang their heads. Some of them turn in circles. Some of them just withdraw. Some decide that they didn’t need a parent anyway and they develop a tough core and become very bossy. And there’s also research that there’s cortisol running through the bloodstream of these children who are in fear. Their right brain is fully formed and they experience abandonment as strongly, if not more strongly, than adults do.”
In fact, Snyder believes that the problems that now plague youth culture are largely down to the prevalence of day care. “There is a reason why, when I was a child in 1967, the worst things that happened in my school were chewing gum and cutting in line,” she says. “Now there are drugs and kids bringing guns to school. These are the results of children not being cared for by their mummies or daddies in the first few years of life.”
Feminist or selfish?
Snyder knows that this is unwelcome news to many parents. “I am on delicate ground,” she says in The Manual, “because what I am saying is socially forbidden.” Feminism, Snyder claims, blinds us to the needs of our children. Her Causal Theory asks that mothers stay at home for at least the first three years of life, ideally five. “Every time you compromise your child in the first three to five years of his life for your interests,” she writes, “you lower the bar as to what kind of person he gets to be.”
An alternative view
Of course Snyder’s Causal Theory is only that – a theory. So should we be removing our children from day care if we want them to turn into successful adults? Dr Naeema Jiwani, a child developmental psychologist at the Human Relations Institute in Dubai, thinks not.
“A day care facility with an early child development curriculum has the capacity to build a very strong early foundation in a child. One of the biggest aspects of sound early childhood institutions is the emphasis on stimulating the senses intellectually, emotionally and socially. Although these experiences can be recreated with a hands-on home environment by a parent, a child in a solitary environment misses out on important social experiences that they would only receive in day care, where they can practise their social skills from a very young age.”
Whether a child is ready for day care or not depends entirely on their level of “school readiness”, she says. “Based on their temperaments, also known as their inborn personality traits, some children are born into the world with a sense of calmness and ease. These children adjust more easily to new situations and can contain themselves to a certain degree in unusual situations. These children will therefore adjust earlier and quicker to a new day care environment compared to children who are slow to warm up and more anxious in general.”
Nevertheless, Snyder writes that she “would rather live under a bridge before I put my child in day care”. Perhaps she has a point. Her son, Scott Clifton, recently won a Daytime Emmy for his role in the long-running soap The Bold and the Beautiful. “He’s ethical, humble, inspired,” she says. “Children who are parented well often have a kind of charisma and it’s delightful to be around them, and he has that.”
Believing that behaviour is genetic stops parents trying to correct mistakes, says Snyder. “I looked at my son as a way of measuring how I was doing. If you believe that behaviour is genetic then you’re going to look at your child and say: ‘Oh, that’s just the way she is.’ It’s not about guilt and blaming parents, it’s about adjusting as you go.”
Parenting the Snyder way
Don’t see genes, see your child. Look at your child’s behaviour as a clue to the adult they’re becoming, then respond to the clues.
Treat your child like she’s a miracle. Be fascinated by how she learns and how tuned in she is to you and how she’s picking up new concepts every day.
Set a high bar for what you want from your child, whether it’s ethics or personal responsibility, but don’t set it so high that you burden them prematurely.
Allow your child to express their feelings. Whatever mistakes you’ve made, that’s your chance to self-correct and your child’s chance to heal.
Discipline with natural consequences. Know that you need to praise at least as much as you criticise. And allow your child to learn from their own mistakes as much as is safe.
Visit www.drfayesnyder.com for further details