8 Parenting Habits That May Undermine Your Good Intentions

by Sanya Pelini April 18, 2017

A boy is playing by climbing a tree

Big wins often require small steps. “Overnight success” is a myth that too often hides the pain, hard work, and failure associated with each and every success. Much like Hemingway’s description of how bankruptcy occurs, success occurs “gradually, then suddenly.” The same can be said of “successful parenting.” Ensuring that your children “turn out right” requires small, gradual, intentional steps. The downside, however, is that there are no guarantees that the steps you take will lead to success. In your quest to raise self-reliant and independent kids, these eight habits may be holding you back:

1 | You do way too much for them

Encouraging your children to undertake age-appropriate activities helps them develop confidence in their abilities. As Montessori argued, “The fundamental basis of education must always remain that one must act for oneself.” Doing for your child what she is able to do for herself can condemn her to helplessness and give her the false belief that there will always be someone to smooth out rough spots.

2 | You make it personal

Children’s behavior is not necessarily an attempt to undermine our authority. It is often a response to something else: anger, hunger, frustration, thirst, fatigue, boredom, etc. rather than an attempt to get at their parents. It is manifested in behavior such as acting-out, but reacting in anger without understanding the root of the problem only offers short-term solutions to what can become a long-term problem. Children do not necessarily know how to deal with difficult emotions and often need guidance in order to identify those emotions and deal with them in a socially acceptable manner. You need to explore underlying issues and deal with triggers before they get out of hand.

3 | You don’t encourage them to participate in decision-making

Encouraging your child to participate in decision-making will help him develop important life skills and will also improve your parent-child relationship. Children’s quest for autonomy occurs rather early, and there are many ways you can help them to actively participate in decision-making. If you often fall into the “problem-solver role,” start asking for your child’s opinion: “What do you think?” “Why do you think it didn’t work?” Encourage him to find solutions by himself: “What will you do next time?” Make him responsible for his actions: “How do you want to do this?” Letting your child engage in less structured activities may also enable him to develop his decision-making skills. Even young kids can participate in structured decision-making: “Would you like the blue shorts or the yellow ones?” Gradually transferring decision-making powers to your children is highly effective in reinforcing their decision-making skills and makes it easier for them to make good decisions, even beyond the childhood years.

4 | You focus on “putting out immediate fires”

Parenting is a tricky affair. It requires parents to keep in mind that they are dealing with a child, while also consciously determining the values they would like to instill in their children, and then parent in a way that reflects those values. Much too often, we respond in the heat of the moment. We react to our children’s behavior to get immediate results and forget to focus on the skills and values we really want to help them develop. Identify your parenting values and focus on your priorities. Avoid “emergency parenting” and be willing to let some things slide.

5 | You overprotect them

When you’re too scared about everything that can go wrong, you prevent your kids from experiences that may help them develop important skills. Children learn through failure. They learn through trial and error. They learn by making mistakes and breaking things. Show your child you believe she can make it, and trust in your ability to provide what she needs to thrive. Your child will surprise you if you let her.

6 | You don’t give them enough responsibilities

There’s a common misconception that teaching kids to be independent too soon is a bad thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Encouraging children to develop age-appropriate skills is the first step on the path to independence. And the seeds can be planted as early as age three. Children assigned chores early have better academic outcomes and turn into more responsible adults. In addition, giving children chores can have long-lasting social, academic, emotional, and professional benefits. Assign your child age-appropriate chores and gradually increase the level of difficulty as she gains confidence. Telling your child to “tidy up” doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for you as it does for her, so show her how to accomplish chores and explain exactly what you mean. If you want them to put their toys in the toy chest when they’re done playing, say it. Installing regular habits from a young age can help establish lifetime habits. If your child is resistant to do things by himself, encourage him by asking him to participate. You can ask him to start a task and say that you’ll help him finish.

7 | You’re too available

It is not our job to entertain our kids. Being too available can actually harm them. Constructive boredom can be beneficial for kids. Children provided with unstructured but stimulating environments are more creative and are better able to develop their critical thinking skills. Encourage your kids to play outdoors by themselves. Allow for unstructured time. Stimulate their curiosity. Being too available is bad for you, too. Everyone can be a “bad” parent when fatigue, anxiety, and stress kick in, so make time for you. Strike the right balance between being present and taking time off for yourself.

8 | You’re inconsistent

Sometimes the things we punish today are ignored tomorrow. Sometimes the things one parent punishes are ignored by the other. Failing to be consistent sends kids confusing messages about acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Identify your non-negotiables and be 100 percent consistent about those. What mistakes didn’t make it to the list? Let us know in the comments section.

Sanya Pelini


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