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Top Ten Parenting Mistakes

Boo-boos, blunders, and screw-ups... and how to avoid them.

Key points

  • Making mistakes as a parent is natural, but correcting them is not. It takes courage to admit one's faults.
  • Kids who were micromanaged by their parents often remain dependent on their parents have great difficulty standing on their own.
  • Many symptoms of hyperactivity, defiance, and mood problems are generated in children of parents who invalidate their feelings.

Next time you’re at your wit’s end, keep this in mind: Making mistakes is natural — correcting them is not. It takes courage to admit your faults, especially to your children. Starting over and creating a new, healthier relationship with them is a challenge. But that’s the gift of parenting; children give you the chance to keep evolving and developing as an individual. Growing with your kids won’t just make you a better parent —it will make you a better human being.

In my book, When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control From Your Darling Bully—and Enjoy Parenting Again, I discuss the greatest hits of parenting blunders—the sanity lapses and slip-ups that I’ve culled from 25 years of working with families. Take your time, read through the list, and find your tendency. Develop a knack for knowing your weak spots, and it will be much easier to keep cool in heated moments.

So let’s count down parenting mistakes that every parent is bound to make:

10. Micromanaging

Micromanagers are dedicated and hardworking folks; they love their kids and want them to succeed. The problem is that they do too much for them. As a result, their kids remain dependent on their parents and have great difficulty standing on their own; they have trouble self-governing, they lack drive and motivation, and, despite their intelligence, they’re emotionally immature. Instead of micromanaging, give your kid the tools to be self-reliant and independent. The more your kids can succeed without you lording over them, the more drive they’ll have to succeed on their own. (See "Do You Have a Controlling Personality?")

9. Enabling

A parent’s actions are usually well-intended, but enabling is one of the most disastrous parenting tendencies. When parents pander to their kids’ every need, their kids fair poorly in relationships; they expect everyone else to cater to them. They shrink from challenges and avoid hard work, yet maintain a sense of entitlement. Emotionally, they suffer from a bizarre mix of low self-esteem and arrogance. To sidestep the trap of enabling, strive to engender personal responsibility in your kids; encourage them to achieve on their own. Stop enabling—and start empowering.

8. Bad Modeling

A parent’s first and foremost job is to be a good role model. Yet, there are many parents whose misbehaviors serve as poor examples for their children. Parents that erupt in rages, blame others, tell untruths, or play the victim are subconsciously training their kids to do the same. Blaming your kids for the behaviors and bad habits you taught them is like blaming the mirror for your reflection. Behave the way you want your kids to behave. Be the person you want your kid to be. Above all, before you fault your kids for their conduct, consider amending your own.

7. Bullying

Bullying parents tend to be control freaks. Rather than understand their kids, they overwhelm them with orders, directives, threats of violence, or actual violence. They aim to shape and define their kids by intimidating them, rather than letting their kids unearth their own individuality. Sadly, children of bullying parents suffer low self-esteem and anxiety problems; they have difficulty trusting others and fear intimacy. Bullying parents may get their way, but their kids suffer mightily for it.

6. Inconsistency

Inconsistent parenting drives kids (and therapists) nuts. Parents who change their minds often, don’t take a stand, and have difficulty making decisions or providing strong leadership are very likely to produce emotionally volatile children. These children emerge with unstable cores and weak identities. They have trouble defining themselves, and often develop oppositional and defiant behaviors to camouflage their insecurities. Providing a stable and consistent home may not always be possible, but providing stable and consistent parenting is always within reach.

5. Criticism and Comparison

No one enjoys criticisms or comparisons. Yet many parents compulsively criticize and compare their children daily: “Why can’t you be more like _____?” or “Why are you so _____?” This is a surefire way to impair your kids’ esteem and damage their fragile egos. Children who are criticized grow up to think of themselves as outsiders and underachievers. They don’t celebrate their strengths, because they were never taught to, a direct result of having internalized their parents’ negative voices. It only takes a thoughtless moment to hurt your kids with criticism or comparisons — but it can take a lifetime for them to recover.

4. Poor Structure, Limits, and Boundaries

Providing balanced structure, limits, and boundaries is essential to good parenting. What exactly are structure, limits, and boundaries? Here’s the breakdown: Structure means consistent schedules and routines; limits mean curbing destructive or risky behaviors by engendering good judgment, and boundaries mean honoring and respecting the physical and emotional space between people. Some parents are too strict with limits; some don’t provide enough structure or boundaries. Strive to find the right balance for your children, and they will be better prepared for relationships, jobs, and the world outside your door.

3. Neglect

Parents don’t set out to neglect their kids, but many do. Adults get absorbed in their work, delegate parenting responsibilities to eldest children or grandparents, miss important events in their kids’ lives, or worst of all, become terrible listeners—all forms of emotional neglect that undermine a child’s healthy sense of self. Emotionally neglected kids always suffer from mood and behavioral problems. The simple act of listening to your kid has a healing effect that remedies many parenting dilemmas. Children who feel understood by their parents don’t act out for attention and are less likely to engage in destructive behavior. Spend quality time listening, understanding, and identifying with your kid. It doesn’t cost you anything, and it will save you a fortune in therapy bills in the future.

2. Disregarding Learning Problems

Many academic and behavioral problems are the direct result of undiagnosed learning difficulties. (See "Signs Your Kid Has Learning Difficulties.") Impatient parents who are too quick to label kids lazy, unmotivated, and apathetic about school often fail to consider what might really be triggering their kids’ attitudes toward learning. Even exceptionally smart kids suffer from difficulties with processing speed, executive functioning, and sensory and memory deficiencies. These under-the-radar complications often don’t emerge until middle school or high school. Such difficulties make learning a painful and exhausting experience. So save your money; psychotherapy isn’t going to help resolve these problems in the least. If your kid has even the slightest difficulty with learning, an educational evaluation is the first step to finding a solution.

1. Invalidating Feelings

When your children reveal their feelings and insecurities to you, for goodness sake don’t contradict them, correct them, offer unsolicited advice, or use it as an opportunity to lecture about your experiences. Remember, they are taking a risk in doing so; therefore your sensitivity is imperative. Kids want to feel understood; they want to feel validated by their parents. Many symptoms of hyperactivity, defiance, and mood problems are generated in children of parents who invalidate their feelings. (See "Rules for Fighting With Teenagers.")

Parenting: The Ultimate Learn-as-You-Go Experience

Parenting is a full-time job without no training or supervision. Everyone is certain to make mistakes, especially during those chaotic first years. But no need to fret; parenting is an evolutionary process. You grow into it day by day, year after year. Strive to learn from your mistakes and improve; your parental journey will be far less hindered by self-doubt and worries, and far more joyful for you and your kids.

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