I start almost every parenting blog with the statement “parenting is hard; really really hard”, and that’s because every time I sit down to reflect on parenting issues, that is the first thought that pops into my mind. I am a professional licensed counselor, and I too mess this parenting thing up… often…. maybe almost every day. We all have the best intentions for our children, but often our best intentions can be replaced by less-than-ideal habits. Here are 5 common mistakes that even the best, loving, well-intended parents make.
- We confuse discipline with punishment: Remember the entire goal of parenting and discipline is to teach. To teach our children about their emotions, how to regulate them, teach resiliency, and teach them how to be happy and successful people in our society. When we begin to give a consequence for every small mistake or wrongdoing, we are losing sight of the larger goals of discipline. Stay focused on the larger goal and think about creative ways to teach your children the lessons you want them to know. Remember, when children are afraid, angry, or having a temper tantrum, they are unable to learn anything at that moment.
- We equate structure with strictness: Parents need to be consistent, but this does not mean that we need to have an unwavering, inflexible set of laws, rules, and expectations that are enforced at every minor incident. We want to have a consistent “philosophy”, so children know what we expect from them, and they know what they can expect from us. It is very confusing and scary when we shift our general philosophy on parenting. For example, we lose it on them one day for bad grades, then completely ignore their academics the next day. However, a consistent philosophy does not mean that we can not be flexible, cut our children some slack, or even turn a blind eye to minor mistakes. After all, don’t we make mistakes at times? I sure do, and when I do I hope my loved ones remember I’m human.
- We confuse strong emotions with negative behaviors: We don’t mean to, but most parents convey the message to their children that they only want to be around them when they are happy. I will be honest; I struggle with this one too. It is so easy to react quickly when our children get angry, anxious, or upset. For some reason, we believe that negative emotions are bad and need to be stifled immediately. “Negative feelings” are a part of the human experience. There is no escaping them. When we react out of anger, about their own emotions, we give them the message that negative feelings are “wrong or bad”. Children learn to stuff them, suppress them or numb them out. What we want to teach our children is how to feel those emotions, and what to do with them. We want to convey the message that we are there for them, even in the worst times. Remember, we can accept all emotions, and still set limits on inappropriate behaviors.
- We think apologizing is a sign of weakness: We will never be perfect parents. There is no such thing. We will have conflicts with our children, we will lose it, we will react out of anger, act immature, say things we regret and that might even sound as childish as our children. When we do, it is so important that we repair. This usually means, coming back to our child, once you have de-escalated, and apologizing for your role in the conflict, taking accountability for what we said or did. This is not a weakness. This is not losing face in front of your children. This is one of the best lessons we can teach our children. It shows them that we are human and make mistakes, and when we do we own up to our mistakes. They will follow suit and begin to take accountability when they make a mistake. Always role model the behaviors you want to see in your children.
- We expect our children to be always perfect: At some level, we understand that our children are not perfect, however, the message we often convey is that we expect perfection from them, especially when it comes to handling their emotions and making good choices. We acknowledge that a young child does not understand the concept of colors, numbers, and the alphabet before we teach them. The same is true with emotions and making choices. They do not understand that we are not supposed to hit when we are angry until we teach this to them. Furthermore, we often assume that once a child can handle a situation one time, they can do it all the time. This is not true for us. I can get very frustrated in traffic. Often I can keep my cool, but if other stressors are occurring in my life, and I am running late to a meeting, I might lose my cool. Just because I have handled traffic well in the past, does not mean I will always handle it well. The same is true for our children.
Bonus mistake) We are too hard on ourselves: Research suggests that it is usually the most caring and conscientious parents that are the hardest on themselves. If you are reading this blog, reading parenting books, taking parenting classes, and involved in therapy, you are probably one of these parents. We want to discipline well all the time. When we make a mistake, we get very upset with ourselves and might often criticize ourselves for our less than perfect way of handling the situation. The good news is that research suggests that we only need to get it right approximately 40% of the time to make a positive and long-lasting impact on our children. So, take a deep breath, set clear boundaries, love your kids, keep them safe from toxic stress, give them some child-size challenges to solve and freedom to explore their world, and trust that you are doing the very best job you can…. I promise that will be enough.