No one said being a parent was easy. In fact, most parents would say it’s the hardest job they’ve ever taken on. After all, there’s a lot of pressure involved in being completely responsible for another (little) person. While there’s no such thing as the perfect parent, there are a set of ground rules you can live by to ensure you raise a healthy, happy, respectful human being. For starters, steer clear of these blatant parenting mistakes.
1. Being inconsistent
We humans crave routine — it’s what keeps us on track. But children, especially, need consistency during the day and night because it gives them a sense of security and teaches them self-discipline. “When parenting is consistent, the need for frequent negative interactions decreases and the quality of the relationship strengthens for both parents and children,” Mayra Mendez, licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, said in an interview with The Cheat Sheet. “Remaining firm and clear teaches children accountability for their actions.”
2. Sending negative messages
When parenting involves blaming, berating, and showing disapproval, it can be permanently traumatizing to a child. “Emotional messages interfere with problem solving and take attention away from learning,” Mendez said. These types of messages — be it verbal or physical — lack the care and instruction children need. They communicate the child is bad rather than point out it’s the behavior itself that is bad. Instead, Mendez recommends changing your tone to one that’s calm and praising your child for the times when they are modeling good behavior.
3. Fighting in front of the kids
If you ever witnessed your own parents fighting, you know how mentally and emotionally taxing it can be. So, imagine how hard this exposure is for a young child whose “rights” and “wrongs” aren’t fully developed. In fact, one study from Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, found arguing in front of children can cause serious damage.
Researchers analyzed 300 families over the course of three years and showed children films of adults arguing in different ways. They then asked the children questions about their parents’ fights. They found that, even when children are withdrawn and quiet, their emotional stability is threatened in the long term.
4. Trying to be the friend
No parent enjoys constantly having to put their foot down to say no, but that’s part of the job. When a parent gives in to their child merely for fear of disappointing them, they’re actually doing their child a disservice — they’re disrupting social emotional progress.
As Mendez explained, “Children look to trusted caregivers to set examples and model problem solving. Giving in to a child’s whim teaches entitlement and interferes with the child developing coping skills to manage disappointment.” A better move is to provide clear structure and calm instructions for your child by setting reasonable and appropriate limits — i.e., curfews, time limits, and ground rules.
5. Not being present physically and emotionally
Parenting means being involved in every capacity. Working late, skipping soccer games or the school play, or staying out late socializing with colleagues instead of spending quality time with your child all add up at the end of the day. Children need to feel loved, secure, and cared for, which means parents have to be around. Even if your scheduled is filled to the brim with to-dos, make the time to spend with your child.
6. Setting a bad example
Your kid picks up on a lot: “Hey, if mom smokes, why can’t I?” Even seemingly harmless behaviors of yours also have an impact, like cutting in line, getting snappy with the customer service rep for your local cable company, or eating unhealthy food on the reg and never exercising.
Your child is incredibly perceptive to everything you do — after all, you’re his or her role model. The best thing you can do is be on your toes when it comes to showing your child what a model citizen of the world looks like. If you do something, you should be OK with your child doing it.
7. Pushing relentlessly for perfection
Wanting your child to succeed is one thing, but pushing them past their limit to win every sports game, talent contest, and test with clear disapproval when they’re unsuccessful is another. “Children learn through play, and play includes struggling, making mistakes, and making changes or accommodations,” Mendez said. “When parents are constantly guarding, guiding, and correcting children, they reinforce fear of failure and, more importantly, children will have difficulty learning how to collaborate with others, consider change or alternative options, share with others, or develop good sportsmanship.”
The best thing you can do is to make sure your child has opportunities to play, experiment, and navigate life on his or her own without the concept of winning in the equation. “Encouraging children to explore their natural talents and discriminate between likes and dislikes supports emotional growth,” Mendez added.
8. Being overly protective
It is most certainly your job to protect your child from harm of any kind, but there is such a thing as being too protective. Denying a child the opportunity to learn from his or her mistakes and take responsibility for his or her own actions only sets him or her back, Mendez says. “Overprotecting children interferes with the development of effective frustration tolerance, problem solving, and regulation,” she said. “Children need to learn how to manage difficult emotions such as anger and disappointment.”
9. Always giving them what they want
It’s tempting to just say yes — especially when your toddler’s putting up a screaming fit or your teen refuses to come out of her room until she gets a nod of approval. While giving in is way easier on your part, it’s a breeding ground for future battles lost. It’s normal to feel afraid your kid will hate you or think of you as the enemy if you constantly put your foot down, but the truth is that’s how children learn. It’s your job as the parent to say both “yes” and “no.”
10. Always taking your child’s side
No one knows your child the way you do — not his grandparents nor his elementary school teacher — but that fact alone does not mean he can do no harm. While every parent wants to believe his or her child is a total angel, kids make mistakes (just like adults) — and these mistakes are an important part of the learning curve. So when a teacher or caretaker alerts you of your child’s bad behavior, it’s important to fully understand the situation and take the necessary steps.
Of course, you should use your own judgement to determine whether or not your child did anything wrong, but don’t immediately leap to stand by your child’s side regardless of circumstances.
11. Allowing or encouraging teen drinking
Even if your teen drinks very infrequently, it doesn’t change the fact research increasingly shows the adolescent brain is not fully developed, particularly in the areas of critical thinking, judgement, and memory. Even if your child is the most responsible of all their friends, letting them drink is still putting them at risk. One study by the University of California, San Diego, found damaged nerve tissue in the brains of the teen drinkers.
Bottom line: Put your foot down when it comes to drinking until your kid’s at least over 20.
[Editor’s note: This story was originally published May 15, 2017]