Avoid common parenting pitfalls
Most parents want to do a good job of rearing
their children. They don’t intend to neglect them or undermine
their development. But even the best parents can fall into traps.
Kevin Steede, a Dallas clinical psychologist specializing in child behavior,
has identified 10 ways parents fall short of their childrearing goals in his
Planting mental “mines.”
Many parents, wanting the best for their children, interact in ways that leave
children thinking: “I must be good at everything” or “I am
my achievements.” You can avoid this trap by emphasizing a child’s
unique qualities and acknowledging effort rather than outcome: “You really
worked hard on that puzzle.”
Unknowingly, parents may convey messages that “Negative emotions are bad” and “Everyone
must like me.” Help children understand that feeling angry, sad, or scared
is normal and that they can talk to you about their feelings (but not act out
on them by hurting others).
Children may also get the idea that “It is wrong to make mistakes or ask
for help.” Tolerate honest errors (“You forgot to wash your hands.
I’ll wait while you do it.”) and acknowledge your own (“Sorry,
I goofed. What can I do about that?”) While it’s important to act
independently, everyone needs help from time to time: “I could use some
help. Would you set the table, please?”
Requiring children to misbehave.
Parents sometimes encourage misbehavior simply by failing to give children the
attention they need. As a result, a child may pester you while you’re talking
on the phone or whine for a toy in the grocery store.
Consider whether you need to spend more time with your child or involve the child
in what you are doing (“We need potatoes. Help me put some into this bag.”)
Try to “catch” your child doing something right. Be specific (“I
liked the way you shut the door that time.”).
Children will test limits. When you’re stressed or tired, you may let some
rules slip by. Then children learn you don’t mean what you say and can’t
rely on you.
Set only those rules you know you can enforce. Follow through on consequences
for breaking rules—every time. Make sure rules apply to everyone, even
Follow a predictable routine—getting up, having meals, going to work or
school, going to bed. Inform children in advance about changes: “I’m
letting you stay up late tonight because tomorrow is a holiday.” Children
need structure in their lives.
Closing the door on open communication.
Parents sometimes think they must give the impression they know everything. Well-meaning “advice” may
sound like lecturing (“Share your toys with your brother. Sharing shows
you love him.”). Your attempt to console (“There, there, it’ll
be all right.”) may demean or belittle your child. Blaming (“It’s
your own fault.”) can quickly shut the door to communication.
To keep communication open, first listen to your child—both words and body
language. Label and acknowledge your child’s feelings (“Sounds like
you’re angry.”). Invite your child to share ideas (“What do
you think happened?”) and ask open-ended (rather than yes-no) questions.
Parents, wanting to protect their children from unhappiness, rush in to solve
all their problems. As a result, children may feel overly dependent and doubt
their own abilities.
Teach your child a method for solving problems. Ask: What happened (or what could
happen) and why? Encourage your child to think of solutions: What could you do
instead? What might happen if you did that? Offer information from your own experience.
After a child tries a solution, talk about whether it worked and why. Ask: What
might you do next time? Use this method over and over as practice.
Dividing the family along some artificial line.
One parent and child may take sides against the other parent, or the parents
may feel their children are always opposed to them. Essentially, it’s a
power struggle, and the feeling is “us against them.”
To encourage cooperation, hold family meetings, perhaps one a week. Keep the
meeting short. Talk about the schedule for the week and who is doing what. Share
successes and acknowledge effort. Make the meetings a safe place to share ideas—no
name calling or judging. End the meeting with something fun, maybe a dessert
or game. It may take time to build trust. Over time, you can share problems and
work together to find solutions.
Another idea is to sit down with your family and talk about working as a team,
with everyone sharing responsibility for living together.
If the line is between brother and sister, talk to the children individually
and then together. Explain the difficulty it causes the family, listen to their “sides,” and
ask their cooperation in overcoming it.
Using destructive discipline.
Let’s face it: we all lose our temper at times or say things we don’t
mean. Sometimes we find ourselves doing things our parents did that we resolved
we would never do. What to do? Forgive ourselves, apologize, and move on.
Examine your parenting style. Are you too rigid or too permissive? Look at your
daily schedule and routines. Are you working too much and spending too little
time with the children? Anticipate times of stress and worry. How might you act
Modeling inappropriate behavior.
This is the “Do as I say, not as I do” trap. Recognize that children
imitate adults. They learn more from your behavior than from what you tell them.
If you want children to clean their rooms, make sure yours is clean first. If
you want children to learn good manners, show them by example. If you want children
to develop integrity, don’t lie to your boss about why you’re missing
Overlooking special needs.
Troublesome behavior may signal a special need, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder, a learning disability, or a mental problem such as depression.
Talk with your physician, clinic, or caregiver about your child’s behavior.
For children younger than 3 years, contact the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI)
agency in your community. In Texas call the statewide ECI Care Line at 1-800-250-2246
or check the ECI website at www.eci.state.tx.us. For children 3 and older, contact
the Special Education unit of your local school district.
Forgetting to have fun.
Jobs and busy schedules can make us lose sight of a vital quality of life—joy.
In tough economic times, you may need to cut movies, trips, and other entertainment
out of your budget. But you don’t have to cut out pleasure and fun.
Joy is an attitude. Build fun into daily routines—tickle your child’s
toes while pulling on shoes, or play a game like “Point to something red” while
driving in the car. Take a walk, play with a ball, or tell a story. Play dress-up
or dance to music on the radio.
To find out more about the 10 pitfalls and avoiding them, check out Steede’s
book from the library or buy it online or at a bookstore. The book is available
in paperback and in Spanish.