Over the years I have read more than my share of parenting books by well-intentioned experts who profess to have the “secret sauce” to parenting. Though I have found many of these books enlightening and sometimes useful, most of these authors take a prescriptive or “how to” approach to raising children — for example, let your child cry it out to learn how to fall asleep on his/her own; put your child in time out to learn how to control his/her inappropriate behavior; don’t help with homework so they can learn how to become independent learners. While some of these “prescriptions” may have some validity in some situations with some children, I take the “how to’s” more as suggestions to try in the appropriate context if I feel they are right for my particular child at a particular time in a particular context.
Instead of looking to experts to tell me “how to” raise my child, I have always preferred a “Who is my Child?” approach to parenting. That is why I find Stephen Cowan MD’s Fire Child Water Child so valuable as a parenting “guide book.” Dr. Cowan offers us a framework for understanding our children. This framework emphasizes that we understand our children’s dominant characteristics according to their nature. His approach suggests practical recommendations to try with our children to help cultivate their less dominant characteristics so that they can become happier, more self-confident and ultimately more successful.
Dr. Cowan wrote Fire Child Water Child based on his more than 30 years of clinical work with infants through teenaged patients in his pediatric practice, many of whom he has supported and watched develop from birth to college, and beyond. His effect on parents is as powerful as it is on the children he has treated. He has told me that when he introduces parents to the Fire Child Water Child framework, they inevitably “fall in love” with their children all over again.
Perhaps the most important guiding principle Dr. Cowan offers is that when it comes to parenting “one size does not fit all.” Just as tomato plants require varying amounts of sunlight and water to thrive and are ripe and ready to pick at different times, it is foolish for us to assume that all children grow and develop the same way, and that they will have a standard response to a “how-to parent prescription” at all ages and stages, and in all contexts. The beauty of the Fire Child Water Child approach is that it can be used to map customizable and flexible solutions that are intended to cultivate our children’s positive behaviors and beliefs, and build their character strengths.
As parents we may continually ask and find answers to the question “Who is my Child?” Our parenting journey affords us the opportunity to get to know our children, as we get to know ourselves. And as the process unfolds, we can choose to shift our attention to what is working, and focus on the possibilities for flourishing.