How to Avoid Common Parenting Mistakes

  • Parenting is a journey, along both bumpy roads and well-paved highways. Each journey takes its own twists and turns. Obviously, there are infinite roadblocks and U-turns – too many to mention in one article – but this guide page will address five common parenting issues and offer tips on besting them. Continue reading for more information on how to avoid common parenting mistakes in maintaining consistency, accentuating the positive, respecting youth, handling fairness, and trusting yourself.We might be reluctant to think of parenting as a job; for many, that “j” word conveys drudgery, boredom, aggravation, void of fun. But every now and then it might behoove us to consider this. Lists, calendars, BlackBerrys®, and iPods all come in quite handy for reminding ourselves about essential work tasks that need to be completed. All too often, however, we need to remind ourselves about essential parenting tasks that are just as, if not even more, important.
  • In parenting, as in life, practice makes perfect. Good behavior is not innate; it must be taught and practiced. Children do not want to be disobedient, but if their unacceptable behavior is not addressed and corrected, they have no way of knowing that it’s wrong or how to change it. Similarly, it takes lots of practice to parent. Parents learn by doing – learn what motivates their children, learn what makes their children happy, and learn what strategies help them maintain a sense of sanity and order in an otherwise messy situation.
  • Consistency is the Key
  • Step 1: Maintain Consistency

    Children thrive off of routine and predictability. This is evident in the child who eagerly requests the same book over and over, or sleeps well once a good bedtime regimen is established, or happily follows directions when he knows to expect.
    “Few things can harm your children more than an inconsistent parenting style,” maintains Vincent Lannelli, MD, board certified pediatrician and Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “If you are sometimes very strict, but give in other times or simply don’t seem to care what your kids are doing, they will have a very hard time knowing what is expected of them and how to act.”
    Setting and upholding rules are critical. Parents must demonstrate, through repeated action, that rules are not arbitrary. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages parents to make sure rules stay the same from one day to the next: “Children find frequent changes confusing and may push the limits just to find out what the limits are.”
    A major element of consistency in parenting is displaying a united front. Both parents need to follow the same discipline strategies for equal offenses. Otherwise the child is easily confused when one parent allows certain activities, while the other does not. Whether both parents always agree or not, it is critical for the child to see that the parents are a team that works together toward the same goal. Families with divergent parenting strategies are likely to encounter more behavioral problems in their children than those with straightforward, established rules.
    “Agreeing to disagree is also a part of team work, as long as parents can be cordial and pleasant about it. The important thing is that children should feel that parents work as a team,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. David Swanson. “You can iron out your differences alone but must present a picture of working together to the children.”
    How To: Discuss your parenting style at length with your partner and agree to one set of strategies. Then remember that rules are rules. Share your family/house rules with everyone caring for your child. If needed, provide gentle reminders of your expectations to those who tend to spoil the child (such as grandparents, aunts or uncles).

  • Step 2: Accentuate the Positive

    While it is highly unlikely that parents can eliminate ALL their child’s negative behavior, reinforcing good behavior can help reduce disobedience. Chris Theisen, mental health specialist and creator of [[The Parent Coach Plan]], recommends “catching” the child in the act of being good. “Praise, compliments, and positive attention will go a long way,” he maintains.
    Other parenting coaches agree with the importance of praising a child’s good behavior. “Good manners and social skills are learned behaviors, and kids need constant and positive reinforcement,” says Robin McClure.
    Families who focus on positive attitudes can enhance their overall mental health. Laughter is often the best medicine to curing both ill-behaved children and stressed-out parents. Humor can work as a wonderful diversion from a tantrum or argument, and children can often forget that they were upset in the first place. “Use humor to diffuse situations when possible,” Theisen says. “A little humor can go a long way.” He cautions, though, to steer clear of ridicule or sarcasm.
    On the flip side, the American Academy of Pediatrics textbook Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics) cautions, “Children whose parents fail to set appropriate limits, are overly strict, or forget to reinforce good behaviors tend to have more frequent or severe tantrums than children whose parents take a moderate approach.”
    How To: It’s easy to call out bad behavior; you obviously need to stop your child quickly when pulls this sibling’s hair. It’s more difficult to commend someone for doing “what’s expected.” Take the time to observe your child in daily activities and notice the small gestures of good behavior. A simple, “Wow, thanks for sharing that toy with your brother so nicely!” shows your child that you pay attention to him – even when he doesn’t notice.

  • Step 3: Respect Youth

    While “respecting your elders” is a display of good manners, respecting children goes a long way in promoting their positive behavior. Respect is a two-way street: parents show their children how to respect by treating them with respect. Parents need to set the example by displaying respect to their children.
    “In order to grow into a responsible, capable adult, a child must learn how to function within his immediate and extended environment, to learn right from wrong and good from bad, to be respected by others, and to be respectful of others,” contends Joe M. Sanders Jr., MD.
    “Show respect for your child’s feelings and thoughts, while standing firm on your expectations for good behavior,” states Kimberly L. Keith. “Respect for parents and other authorities is crucial to self-discipline and healthy development. Help your child learn respect for authority by making your own words and actions as a parent worthy of respect.”
    The Parent Coach Plan maintains that respect is an integral part of successful discipline techniques: “Avoid shaming or humiliating your child. It is important to use discipline as an opportunity to teach. Shaming and humiliating will teach the child that she is not valued.”
    Respect can take on many visages. One critical facet to respect is engaged listening. Busy schedules and multitasking often make it a challenge to pay full attention to your preschooler’s stream-of-consciousness recounting of the morning’s activities or your middle-schooler’s excitement over this week’s field trip. But children will notice – and “reward” – the parents’ efforts.
    “Listening to children, and helping them understand that their viewpoint is important and worth taking time for, are very important. If a child knows you are willing to listen, she will talk to you,” says Madelyn Swift, founder and director of Childright. “Taking time and energy to listen to your children during times of crisis as well as times of calm is an excellent investment which will repay you many times.”
    In her article “How To Raise a Child Who Listens Well,” Holly Hanke advises parents to be good listeners themselves. “Don’t interrupt your child when he’s telling you a story. Turn your attention to him when he wants to tell you something. Give him your undivided attention when he’s talking. If you want him to listen to you, he needs to see that you will listen to him too.”
    “Children return the respect they receive,” says Hanke. “Children who have been listened to tend to become good listeners themselves.”<ref> 13
    How To: Designate dinnertime – or your family’s main meal together – as a common ground for conversation. Sit down and look your children in the eye when they are speaking, and really participate in their conversations. If only for a few scant moments, shelve the laptop; shift the cellphone to vibrate; switch off the television. Keep the dining table clear of mail, bills, newspapers, or other interesting distractions.

  • Step 4: Handle Fairness

    Life isn’t fair. Experiencing that harsh reality, while difficult and sad, is an important life lesson. Many experts agree that this should be learned early on. It is human nature for parents to want to protect their children; however, sheltering a child from every pain or hardship actually serves as a disservice.
    “We need to teach them the truth: 1.) Life is not going to go your way, 2.) Get over it, and 3.) Learn to handle life’s disappointments with some grace,” says Childright’s Swift. She maintains that children who have learned that life will not always go their way have an advantage over their sheltered peers in that they will press on in spite of the hurdles. “When our children are told ‘no’ at a young age, they learn: 1.) No means no, 2.) Grownups do need to be listened to, and 3.) Life will not always go your way. They begin to develop frustration tolerance and the ability to cope successfully with frustration, a very important life skill. Indeed, these children develop some character.”
    “If a child never experiences the pain of frustration, of having to share a toy or wait their turn in line or if they are never sad or disappointed, they won’t ever develop psychological skills that are crucial for their future happiness,” says Dr. Dan Kindlon, a clinical and research psychologist specializing in behavioral problems of children and adolescents. “It is important for children to develop their psychological immune system … or they will have a very hard time effectively coping with emotional stress when they get older.”
    “Children learn by following examples set by parents and other authority figures, by testing the standards society imposes upon them, and by simple acts of trial and error,” says Dr. Sanders. “They will inevitably make mistakes along this long and complex journey as they learn to control their impulses and funnel their boundless energy into appropriate channels of activity. A major challenge of parenthood is how best to ensure the lesson is learned.”
    How To: Use these “unfair” experiences as learning opportunities and as openings for meaningful conversation. Remind your child that everyone – even parents! – will have ups and downs throughout life, but we grow and mature by learning from them. BabyCenter experts recommend simply stating, “I understand that this seems unfair to you, and I’m sorry you’re upset, but life isn’t always fair.”

  • Step 5: Trusting Yourself

    Wanting the best for their children is natural, and in this quest, parents often seek advice from those with “experience.” The best advice in the world, from even the most well-intentioned provider, however, means nothing if it conflicts with a family’s core values. Every family is unique and, as such, has its own strategies that work (and don’t work). The trick is figuring out the strategies that lead to success.
    As therapist Karen Kleiman acknowledges in her BabyCenter article How should I handle unwanted advice from my in-laws?, “Well-meaning relatives may feel compelled to share their bits of wisdom, judgment, and even criticism, to make sure you’re doing everything the ‘right’ way – or at least the way they did it.” She cautions that new parents, especially, might have a difficult time setting limits when they feel overwhelmed and uncertain about their abilities. Advice from all sides might make the parents doubt themselves and their decisions.
    To say that being a parent is hard would be the utmost understatement. And the old cliché “the hardest job you’ll ever love” hardly suffices. While joyous and beautiful at times, parenting is also painful and exhausting at others. It is a full-time, lifelong job that requires continuing education, dedication, and training. Children don’t come with instructional manuals, and they don’t stay the same for long. Once a parent has mastered a certain skill or conquered a certain obstacle, the child inevitably moves on and grows into another skill set (or set of challenges!).
    But parenting is a labor of love. It is the parents’ job to raise their children, to the best of their ability, to bring out the best of their potential. Societal factors or other external pressures often make parents second-guess their decisions. At the end of the day, the love and devotion parents shower on their children will be obvious in the inspiring adults they will become.
    Tip: Solicit advice freely, and then adopt portions of that advice selectively. If anyone tells you that you’re doing something “wrong,” pleasantly let them know that you appreciate the advice but have your own strategy. Keep your sanity by reminding yourself that no one – not even those who dispense advise liberally – can do everything perfectly, and remember that you’ll never please everyone.

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2 Responses to “How to Avoid Common Parenting Mistakes”

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