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The Five Most Common Parenting Mistakes (And How to Improve)

How mindful parenting can lead to better outcomes.

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No one ever said that parenting is easy. And frankly, if anyone has, they probably didn’t have kids. Every parent-child dynamic is different, and every kid needs different things from their parents. But there are some things common to the developmental stage of adolescence, and subsequent parental reactions, that should be very carefully navigated. Here are five common parenting mistakes, and how to stop making them today.

1. Helicoptering

During adolescence, children slowly become more and more independent from their families—and this is developmentally a positive thing. Adolescents might want to spend more time with their friends, rather than their parents, in a variety of contexts from text messaging, hanging out on the weekends outside of the home, and even having get-togethers with larger groups of friends. It’s normal to feel somewhat anxious about what your kid is doing when you aren’t there watching, but getting so worried about this, and refusing to let them do things alone or without your opinion can have a negative impact on the child.

“Helicopter parenting” refers to just this; in this scenario, a parent may want to be involved in every second of their child lives, primarily to make sure they are safe. In doing this, a parent can lead their child to believe that they themselves are incapable of doing things alone, and learn by example that the world is a scary place that they cannot navigate. Many kids develop anxiety as a result of this phenomena. So in sum, let your kids make their own mistakes, within reason, and explore life on their own.

Start Today Tip: Ask yourself if this resonates with you. Be mindful of your own anxieties. Are you actually parenting for the benefit of your child or are you to doing it to mitigate your own anxiety?

2. "Snow plowing" all obstacles

A related cycle that some parents fall into is taking care of all of their child’s obstacles for them—leading them through a social interaction or doing some of their homework for them. Taking care of your kid’s problems doesn’t help them in the long run. In fact, it leads your child to believe (and to believe that their parents believe) that they are not capable of taking care of their own problems. This ultimately can lead to low self-esteem.

Start Today Tip: Determine if you’re acting from the fact that you have a hard time sitting with distress and obstacles. Is this about how you don’t like to hear “no,” so you assume your kid will not be able to tolerate “no?"

3. Invalidating

Parents need to be careful to validate their child’s emotional experience. No matter how juvenile or silly a child’s emotional reaction to a given instance may seem, a parent should never invalidate their experience, or neglect to engage with their child over their emotional state. This can lead their child to hide emotions, and process them ineffectively, or, alternatively, not pay enough attention to their own emotional experiences, leading to feeling even minimal emotions overly intensely.

Start Today Tip: Emotional intelligence is incredibly important. Learn to identify your child’s emotions and acknowledge them without judgment.

4. Inconsistent reinforcement

Parents need to be consistent in what they reinforce, or what they praise, punish, and set boundaries on. Doing so inconsistently leads to confusion on the child’s part, and a chaotic living environment in general.

Start Today Tip: This sounds simple but it’s actually not. One of the purposes of adolescence is to learn how to identify appropriate boundaries. An adolescent, by definition, is a boundary-pushing machine. If the child doesn’t know that no is no and yes is yes, they’ll continuously push. Try to have a consistent reinforcement strategy—and understand that it may be harder than it seems.

5. Spoiling

This should (hopefully) be no surprise, but spoiling your child, and leading them to believe that they are more important or more deserving of love or material objects than the rest of the world can have disastrous consequences. A severely spoiled child might grow up to be entitled, which can be off-putting to interpersonal contacts and authority figures.

Start Today Tip: Check in with yourself. Are you really giving this to your kid because you’ll think it’ll be beneficial to them or are you doing it because you think your kid will like you if they get it?

Parenting is no walk in the park. But following a few simple guidelines may serve you and your child well, and lead them to be more emotionally healthy than they may be otherwise. Perhaps above all, the most important thing is to be aware and reflect honestly. Without first being honest with yourself, you’ll probably never make meaningful change.

More from Konstantin Lukin Ph.D.
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