Do you feel like everything today comes with a warning label or instructions of some sort? McDonald’s coffee cautions that it’s hot. (At least it should!!!). My wife’s hair dryer comes with a warning label taped to it that reads “Do not use while in the bath.” (Seriously?) My new laptop came with 2 sets of instructions, the Quick Start Guide and the other one I’m quite sure no one ever reads. Yes, absolutely everything, and I do mean everything, comes with warning labels and instructions today.
But what about our kids?
I’ve heard parents say “I wish my kid came with instructions” more times that I can count. While we all want to be good parents, sometimes we forget there is a difference in being a good parent and practicing good parenting.
I’ve worked with children and families for over a decade and the following bad parenting habits come up time and time again:
1. Not Following Through
Guiding children’s behavior through rules and limits is a big part of parenting. Often in the toddler stage, children will test the limits with you to see just how serious you are about those boundaries. A bad parenting habit to fall into is to succumb to the limit testing. Yes, you might not like punishing your child. You don’t want to see him cry or miss out on his favorite TV show, but your child NEEDS discipline. By not following through with your limits, your child will a. Not see anything wrong with the misbehavior, and likely continue the misbehavior, sometimes escalating their bad behavior until it becomes dangerous and b. Begin to view you as unreliable and easily manipulated.
2. Not Setting Limits
This bad parenting habit goes hand in hand with the previous example. Limits not only keep your children safe but they also help your child develop a sense of responsibility for his or her actions. Limits aren’t negatives. They’re expectations and behavior guidelines that promote safe, healthy growth. Children raised without limits are often fearful of exploring on their own, or they deliberately misbehave in an effort to find someone who cares enough to draw a line. Keep limits simple and specific. When establishing limits, keep in mind your child’s level of maturity and his or her ability to meet your expectations. A toddler would have a hard time staying quiet and sitting still through a two-hour movie, but he or she can learn that we handle problems with words, not fists and teeth.
3. Failing to Stretch Limits
Your sixteen year old may want the keys to the car, but is she ready to accept all the responsibilities of driving? As your children mature, they need more flexibility in regards to your limits. What was once a hard and fast rule for your child, may need to be adjusted for your teen. Bad parenting is being too rigid with your rules so that your child’s growth is in reality inhibited. It can be hard to accept your child’s growing independence and separateness, and hard to relax your need to protect him. But in order to continue fostering a healthy parent-child relationship, you must give your child space to grow up.
4. Consistently Giving In to Your Kids
Some kids are just plain good at negotiating. You see them all of the time. The child asks for something. Mom or Dad says no over and over and over and over again, but in the end they give in. Guess what? Bad parenting habit! It’s so much easier to give in to your child, but it does MAJOR damage. Sure, you might earn a few minutes of peace, but you’re doing nothing towards guiding your child toward responsible behavior and sound decision-making. Likewise, your child loses respect for you and keeps arguing for outrageous privileges.
5. Acting Like a Servant
You want your child to grow into a responsible, independent adult, right? So why are sparing them of chores? Kids need chores to feel mature and to feel like part of the family, as well as to develop the skills they’ll need for living on their own. You may be very accustomed to doing everything for your children. After all, you had to do everything for them when they were infants. You may even have a selfish sense of being needed when you take care of everything for them. But this is a bad parenting habit you need to break. Truthfully, even preschoolers can be trusted with small tasks such as folding washcloths or placing utensils and napkins on the table before meals.
6. Using Intimidation
To put it bluntly, intimidation does not work. We easily fall into the pattern of yelling at our children, standing over them threateningly or poking a finger at the poor kid. While “old schoolers” may think that these techniques will impress your child with your authority, they really just show that you’ve lost control of yourself and of the situation. Using intimidation techniques is just plain demeaning and it shuts the door to open communication. When faced with yelling and threats, children are unlikely to feel that you’re open to their input. So they stay silent and rigid, and parental anger escalates, often ending with the parent demanding an answer or asking if the child is even listening.
7. Being a Friend Before Being a Parent
Very few things make me cringe more than hearing a parent say that their child is their best friend. You’re not a friend; you’re a parent. And that’s what your child needs and wants you to be. You can’t be both. Sorry. It’s a simple fact of good parenting.
8. Comparing and Criticizing
“Why can’t you be more like your sister?” Negative comparisons and public shaming are just plain bad parenting, and can be considered verbal abuse. While parents of a different generation thought that shamming their children into doing better was an effective parenting strategy, the reality is that comparing and criticizing have severe repercussions.
9. Doing Too Much
Remember that money doesn’t buy happiness. While we want our children to be happy and have the types of things we didn’t have as a child, overindulging your children with material things is a bad parenting habit. Another way that parents do too much is to solve every problem the child encounters. How many times have you been tempted to do your child’s homework for him? Now why would you really want to do that? Your child isn’t learning the skill if he doesn’t do his own homework! And your daughter isn’t learning how to problem-solve or navigate through life’s problems if you solve every peer spat she has. Sometimes as parents, we’ve got to learn to back up, put our hands in our pockets and our mouths on mute and let our kids’ ideas unfold, let them fight their own battles, let them solve their own problems!
10. Not Listening Enough
Jumping off from number 9 is bad parenting habit number 10, not listening enough. When we jump in and make decisions for our children or solve their problems for them, we’re being bad parents. Instead, listening is a highly effective tool to helping your child work through problems and make his own decisions. Instead of telling your kid what to do in a given situation, sit down and ask him to tell you what he wants the ultimate outcome to be. Pay attention to your child’s feelings and emotions. Listen and learn. Then ask to hear your child’s thoughts on how to get to that endpoint. This brainstorming session helps your child explore possibilities, and it gives you a deeper understanding of how your child thinks and feels.
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