We hear it over and over again; every book, article, and TV show confirms it: Parenting is the hardest job on the planet. But is it really?
Is raising a happy, healthy, well-behaved child truly more difficult than rocket science? Should it truly require a Ph.D. or are we — as parents — looking to get off the hook for being judged for our parenting fails?
I tend to believe it’s more about the latter. So I have taken my years of field study in the arena of coaching parents and compiled this list …
Here are the top 10 parenting fails and how to prevent them:
1. You decide on a parenting “style” before your child is born and tell everyone how perfectly you will execute it.
Talk about being destined to fail! Making a decision that huge before getting to know your child’s patterns will undoubtedly sabotage your every plan.
The mother who intends to breastfeed exclusively will have a child with an allergy to nipples and the mom who is confident that corporal punishment is the only way will give birth to a child who is hypersensitive to touch. Learn your child before you choose your lessons. And, if necessary, decide to adopt a parenting “mindset” rather than a style.
2. You don’t allow your children to play and explore.
Children learn through play, and play includes struggling, making mistakes, and even getting some bumps and bruises along the way. If we are constantly guarding, guiding, and correcting their playtime, they will be afraid to try new things and, more importantly, they will not learn how to correct or soothe themselves.
3. You react out of embarrassment instead of responding to the true situation.
You let your child run around the house naked from the waist-down at home because that’s the latest potty training technique — but when he whips off his pants in the grocery store because he has to pee, you get embarrassed and scold him so other people don’t think you condone exhibitionism.
That sends mixed signals and will only set you both up for failure. The better idea would be to ask him, “Buddy, do you have to go potty?” and then follow through while reminding him to use his words next time. Any parent will understand. And if they don’t … who cares?! I’m pretty sure we could all tell a pretty good embarrassing story about our kids.
4. You blame your child for your reaction.
“Why do you make me yell at you? We were having a great day until you ruined it!” This teaches your child to blame others for his/her own actions.
Is a 2-year-old really responsible for you choosing to yell at them? Can the mistake of a toddler take away all the fun you had earlier in the day? Own your decisions and choose your words parents: “I’m yelling because I feel frustrated right now.” Then, give them the power by asking them what they can do to help get back on track.
5. You make unrealistic and idle threats.
Chances are, you won’t really leave your child at the mall alone and you certainly are not going to break his/her arm if he/she doesn’t stop pulling things off the shelves (and if you do, your problems go way beyond this article).
So don’t even say it! You are teaching your children to make threats to get their way and you’re telling them that you can’t be trusted to tell the truth. If you are going to make threats, be sure they are things you can realistically follow through with, which brings me to the next big mistake…
6. You don’t follow through on consequences.
If you use counting as a parenting tool, make sure your children know what will happen if they get counted out. “I’m going to count to three and you had better sit down.” Then what? So after the third time of complying, they decide to see what you’re made of, then the negotiation begins.
Have a better plan; set agreements in advance and stick to them. “We will be at the playground until 3 p.m. and then we will go get pizza for lunch! If you fight with me when it’s time to leave, there will be no pizza. Do you understand?” Then, it’s simply a matter of following through.
7. You end your requests or commands with “OK?”
This is an easy one. If “no” is not an acceptable answer, then don’t ask if they are OK with it. “It’s time for us to start getting ready to leave. You have two more minutes to play.” Period. You can do it.
8. You tell your child it’s not his/her fault even if it really is.
If Suzy pushes Billy off of the sliding board and Billy starts crying and says he doesn’t like Suzy anymore, comforting the crying Suzy by telling her it’s not her fault is neither serving Suzy’s emotional intelligence nor is it honoring Billy’s feelings. Suzy needs to know that her actions affect the people around her and sometimes, we make poor choices.
The better thing to do is to ask Suzy, “Billy is hurt and sad right now, what would you like to do to make this better?”
She may not respond by walking over and apologizing right away, but maybe she’ll make him a card or ask him to play something else. Let the apology be her own, but acknowledge the effort.
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9. You force children to display affection to “strangers.”
We talk about “stranger danger” and yet when we attend a gathering with family or friends that our children don’t know, we insist they give Aunt Mary a kiss! Sparing a distant relative’s feelings by forcing our children into uncomfortable situations is not a good move. In fact, it’s contradictory and confusing.
Teach your child to shake hands or blow kisses instead. It’s just as cute and allows kids to keep their distance while maintaining their comfort level and still lets Aunt Mary feel loved.
10. You compare other people’s kids to your own — in front of your children.
Parents, don’t we deal with enough blame, shame, and guilt from our own beliefs without putting it on each other? So what if Jamie’s kids don’t eat meat? Who cares if Bill and Donna let their kids have iPhones? Those are their kids and their rules.
That doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs to compete with them.
So unless someone is actually harming their child, what if we just let parents parent? And what would happen if we all decided to take our favorite things from each other and implement them? And what if we would then thank each other for sharing them? It sounds crazy, I know, but just imagine what a different world this would be?
Tara Kennedy-Kline is a YourTango expert who writes about parenting. Follow her on Twitter @TKennedyKline.