15 Parenting Mistakes Well Intentioned Parents Make
“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt
Parenting is a difficult job, and one in which we all make mistakes at times. Communicating effectively with our children takes time and energy. We need to become aware of our own feelings and automatic reactions, and slow down enough to be able to choose a more mindful way. Following through with consequences teaches kids limits, while listening and granting autonomy teach kids respect. Kids who have respectful, engaged, consistent parents learn to regulate their own emotions more effectively, feel better about themselves, and are able to have more loving relationships as adults. Despite our good intentions, we tend to make mistakes that actually lead to bad behavior with our children. Becoming aware of how we are contributing to the negative behaviors our children are exhibiting can help us steer back in the right direction, leading to a happier and healthier interaction for the entire family. Keep in mind good parents are not born but taught. If you lack any of the skills below, you can learn new effective skills and begin incorporating the skills into your parenting repertoire.
1.)Talking too much:
When parents talk too much, children learn to tune them out. That’s because the human mind is not capable of storing more than 4 chunks of information in the short term memory at one time. Instead of elaborately explaining your reasoning, it’s important to limit yourself to 2 sentences which makes it easier for children to process the information.
2.)Not following through on consequences:
When you nag or give multiple warnings, you are essentially teaching your child to ignore you because they know you will continue with more warnings. Instead briefly and clearly instruct your child of your expectations “We will be leaving the house in 10 minutes” and provide the consequence for not complying “if you are not dressed, you will leave in your pajamas”. It’s very important that you follow through and not give in to whining and negotiations for more time. This allows you to remain calm but also allows your children to learn natural consequences for their behavior.
3.) Using shame or guilt to get compliance from your children:
The empathic part of a child’s brain takes time to develop and they may not seem aware of your feelings or your needs. It’s important to take care of your self and take time to connect with your emotions by doing deep breathing work before allowing your emotions to derail your communication with your children. Instead of using guilt such as “Can’t you help me keep this house clean for once. Can’t you see how tired I am?“, communicate your needs and expectations without anger and blame by saying “I would like you to help me keep this house orderly so we can benefit from a clean house. It upsets me to come home and have your toys all over the house. Since you didn’t pick up your toys tonight, you will not be able to play with them until you tidy up your room tomorrow“. You will not only apply a clear and non-punitive consequence, but you also allow for another opportunity for your child to try again tomorrow and succeed.
4.) Not listening to your children:
When we model respectful and caring behavior in our interactions with our children, they in turn learn to be more respectful towards others and learn effective communication skills. Attentive listening is the most difficult thing for busy parents. When you are distracted and cannot give your child undivided attention, it’s better to say “It’s difficult for me to listen to you now because I’m busy cooking, but I’ll be there in 10 minutes.” It’s important to follow through and talk to your child after 10 minutes because it’s difficult for children to wait too long for your attention. It’s better to set aside a clear time for communication than to listen half-heartedly or resentfully.
5.) Giving in to your child’s angry outbursts and demands:
Your child will yell, kick, and scream until you give in to his demands and you might feel it’s easier to keep him quiet than stick to your rules, but the minute you’ve given into the demands, you’ve essentially communicated to your child that the next time he wants something, all he/she has to do is yell, kick, scream, plead until he has worn you out. Such behaviors, if not corrected immediately, become second nature. If these behavior are dealt with incorrectly, the child could end up using temper tantrums to manipulate the people surrounding them. Handling a child’s temper tantrum effectively will require a lot of patience and understanding. In order to handle a temper tantrum appropriately, you must remain calm and take a deep breath while composing yourself before deciding how to respond. You do not have to give into your child’s tantrum. If your child is safe and nothing is wrong with them, you can ignore your child’s behavior. Children must learn that yelling and wailing will not give them what they want. By being consistent and helping your children learn more appropriate ways of getting their needs met will not only support your children developmentally but also strengthen your relationship with your children.
6.) Not Delaying Gratification:
Children, if left to decide, will want everything RIGHT NOW. Everything in our modern world is about instant gratification. Children, as well as adults, have a difficult time waiting for what they want because often times they don’t have to. Children who learn to delay gratification at a young age will learn to become financially responsible adults. Children will learn to be more grateful as opposed to feeling entitled. When children work for what they want, and have to wait to get it, they will learn to appreciate it more. Many parents overwhelm their children with toys and presents, to the point where the child has nothing to work for. Children who are used to getting whatever they want, when they want it, tend to have less appreciation for what they get. The joy lasts hours to days and they move onto the next “must have” item. Some of the best ways to teach children delayed gratification is to encourage them to work for what they want by doing extra chores to earn an allowance and then using that money to buy the desired item. Also teach your children to wait to buy what they want and encourage them to be patient. The anticipation will help them appreciate the end result so much more. Encourage your children to wait before making major decisions. Delaying gratification will ultimately teach children self-discipline. Children with self-discipline are generally happier, and grow up to be more satisfied and productive adults.
7.) Inconsistency with rules:
Consistency means that rules and expectations are the same from one time to another. Consistency makes the child’s world predictable and less confusing. It frees their minds of worry about what might happen and teaches them accountability for their actions. Consistency with rules reduces anxiety for children and increases their sense of security. They know exactly what will happen when X happens. Consistency teaches responsibility and accountability for the children, skills that will be helpful when they are adults. In the absence of consistency, children are left to guess what is appropriate behavior. Inconsistent parenting also creates confusion, low self esteem, increase in temper tantrums, arguing, and bargaining as children get older. With consistency, children learn that “no” means “no”. It’s important that all adults caring for the child enforce the same rules in a consistent manner. Children will learn to manipulate one adult against another if they know rules are enforced inconsistently. Also be clear about the rule and consequences you want your child to follow and be prepared to follow it every single time. Being consistent takes patience and determination but the results of secure, responsible, and confident children are worth it.
8.) Not being reliable:
Being a reliable person in society is a valued characteristic trait. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “There are three signs of a hypocrite: whenever he speaks, he lies; whenever he makes a promise, he breaks it; and whenever he is trusted, he betrays his trust.” Just as in business and society at large, children value reliability in their lives as well. A parent who follows through on their promises is considered reliable and trustworthy. When parents are reliable and trustworthy, the children learn they can rely on their parents and trust that their needs will be met. This helps strengthen the bonding process and ensures a strong connection with your child.
9.) Frequently lying to children:
It’s important to not make lying to children a habit. It’s highly recommended to start being honest and truthful with babies as young as 6 months old. When you leave for work, don’t sneak off and pretend you are going to the bedroom and then disappear for hours in order to avoid meltdown’s from your child. Properly saying goodbye to your child and letting him/her know exactly where you will be going and when you will be back will increase their sense of security, reduce their separation anxiety, and in turn establish your reliability and trustworthiness for them. Of course as parents, there are times we must protect our children from certain information. You can do so without lying to them. Setting up a precedence for honesty and truth telling will teach children to value honesty as they get older.
10.) Justifying children’s inappropriate behaviors:
It’s easy to make excuses for your child’s inappropriate behavior (e.g. tired, hungry, sick, ADHD, Autism, etc.). Although being tired, hungry, and sick does increase irritability in children and increases negative behaviors, making excuses in front of your child about those possibilities gives the child a sense of permissibility for bad behavior under certain circumstances. Bad behavior is not part of the package even with children diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. Although children with a chemical imbalance or a mental illness can be more impulsive or irritable than other children, what they do with the impulsivity and irritability is learned. As with other instances, the negative behaviors associated with children diagnosed with ADHD or Autism are learned behaviors and therefore can be UNlearned. Children should be held accountable for inappropriate behavior regardless of whether they are tired, hungry, or sick. You can acknowledge they might be hungry or in need of sleep and teach them how they should act instead when being hungry or sleepy for example. Just as it’s never acceptable for an adult to use the excuse of being hungry or sleepy for misbehaving, we must hold our children accountable as well. Bottom line, keep your expectations for appropriate behavior consistent across all settings.
11.) Inappropriate consequences for the inappropriate behavior: Too extreme or too lenient
A consequence differs from punishment and generally follows naturally from a child’s action, inaction or poor choices and decision. When giving a child a consequence, it’s important to make it flow naturally from the child’s choice or action. Make sure the consequence fits the behavior. Being too harsh or too lenient with the consequence doesn’t allow for teaching appropriate behavior for the child. A consequence that is task oriented as opposed to time oriented (time out, being grounded) is a more effective strategy in changing behaviors. Time oriented consequences teach children to “do their time”. Just as “doing time” in prison without rehabilitation doesn’t work for criminals, doing time in a time out doesn’t teach children how to change their behavior. A task-oriented consequence however is related to the negative behavior and allows for teaching alternative and acceptable behavior. If your child wrote all over the dining room hall, sitting in time out will not teach him/her to not do that again. What will help them is cleaning the wall, and paint if necessary. The best consequences are those from which the child learns something. If your child is being disrespectful to his teacher at school, a good consequence is asking him to write letter of apology as well as losing privileges such as TV or electronics until after he has apologized. In the letter, he has to explain what he’ll do differently the next time he’s upset with the teacher. Writing the letter of apology is a learning experience for him that wins back privileges. By getting a task oriented consequence, your child is not just “doing time”, but he’s completing an act that teaches him something.
12.) Too much love and not enough discipline: The Permissive Parent
When it comes to parenting, there must be a balance of love and discipline. When there is too much love and not enough discipline, the importance of appropriate behavior is minimized. Despite the fact that permissive parents express a lot of love, the lack of boundaries leaves their children with a high level of insecurity. The children feel loved, but they are never sure of their limits. The permissive parents are generally fearful, afraid of making mistakes, and/or damaging their children’s psyche, so they never set firm boundaries. This results in children feeling very loved but very unsure of themselves at the same time. Permissive parents tend to produce children with very low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority.
13.) Too much discipline and not enough love: The Authoritarian Parent
Just as too much love can have a negative impact on a child’s development, too much discipline can also have negative consequences. The authoritarian parent doesn’t express love and affection well but is very high on discipline. They raise children who gravitate towards rebellion. The bar is always high and the “musts” are always abundant, so there’s a strong sense of safety. But this kind of parent isn’t content just to win the war; they have to win every battle too. Communication between parent and child takes the form of arguing and fighting, especially when the child is old enough to fight back. Authoritarian parents pressure their children until their children can’t wait to leave home.
The perfect balance of love and discipline is demonstrated by the Authoritative parent. Authoritative parents are not an overbearing authoritarian, but a compassionate yet firm authority. They have clear boundaries but are also very loving. Everyone knows who the boss is, but there’s also a connection between parents and child, a consideration that respects and honors who the child is while not compromising his or her disciplinary needs. The result is a child high in self-esteem and equipped with good coping skills.
14.) Not Praising the Positive Behaviors: Catch Them Being Good!
Children love to be acknowledge and appreciated for what they are doing right. When we focus too much on all they are doing wrong or overly correcting them, we fail to recognize and encourage the positive traits of our children. When you see your child picking up after himself or helping her sister, say something! Acknowledge the positive behavior you observed and let them know you appreciate it. The more you appreciate a behavior, the more of that behavior you will see. Children ultimately want to please their parents and it makes them fill up with joy when they are validated and appreciated. You can give them random “caught you being good” coupons by specifically listing what you observed. You will learn how effective this tool is when you witness more positive behavior from your children.
15.) Not having fun with the children:
Although discipline and behavior management are a big part of parenting, playing and having fun with your children should be just as important. Parents can become so busy with running the house, working, and taking care of the children, they forget how important it is to simply get silly and play with your children. By play, you don’t necessarily have to spend hours playing barbies or playing with cars (unless you want to). Play can be acting silly together, getting up and dancing with your child, putting on funny costumes and acting out a scene, or pillow fighting. Even cleaning the house can become play time if managed correctly. Put on some music and get the whole family involved in cleaning as you dance and sing along together. You can then reward yourselves with a treat or prize afterwards. Playing with your children and having fun with them strengthens your connection and bond as a family. Children are more likely to be compliant when they have a strong bond and connection to their parents. Children also crave such connections with their parents and strive as individuals during these relaxed and fun interactions. Playing with your children also helps you relax and actually enjoy your children. Cherish and enjoy this time you spend with your children because before you know it, they’ll be young adults and won’t want to play with you! Hug and kiss your children often and make them feel loved. This will not only strengthen your connection with your children but will strengthen their bond to you.
Dr. Nafisa Sekandari is the director and founder of Mental Health 4 Muslims.com. Dr. Sekandari is currently licensed and practicing in California and Arizona. Dr. Sekandari is also the current founder and director of MH4M Counseling and Education Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Additionally, Dr. Sekandari is a published author and lecturer.