I am not a perfect parent. I have to admit that. Like anyone else, I make mistakes.
I even make mistakes that I mentioned myself in this post. But striving towards perfection, balance, and a healthy child-parent relationship is something noteworthy and honorable.
I am sure you want the best for your kids, and I am sure you are humble or self-reflective enough to know that you can improve. So rather than learning from your own mistakes, how about learning from others’ mistakes, so you don’t have to make them?
In this post, you’ll find the top 10 most common parenting mistakes. I have seen several parents make these mistakes, which is why I compiled them in a list.
Every facet is solidified by logical and psychological explanations so that you will understand why they are mistakes. Accusations towards parents without a reasonable logic behind it doesn’t make sense.
I commend you if you already do most of these things right. Society needs good parents to raise the next generation. But we can all do a little better too, and by learning what not to do, it is easier to ponder what we must do.
Mistake 1: No Consequences
I have seen this over and over again in some families. And every time I spend time with them, I wait in anticipation for something to happen. But nothing happens.
The “no consequences” mistake is often present in more permissive parenting styles. This is what happens, and it’s a simple formula:
- The child does something wrong.
- There is no punishment or taking away of a reward.
- The child thinks (maybe not literally, but at least subconsciously), “Oh, I guess nothing happens when I do this. They don’t like it, but I can get away with it easily.”
- The child gets away with it.
Next time the same situation occurs, there is no obstacle in the child’s mind to do it again.
The lesson is simple: Sometimes you don’t want to be considered the “bad person” who punishes his/ her children, but sometimes you just have to. The child has to learn that they cannot get away with bad behavior. If they don’t learn that lesson, they will repeat the behavior.
This doesn’t mean the punishment has to be severe, nor that you have to get angry every time a child does something wrong. The child simply needs a consequence to understand that certain behavior leads to certain outcomes.
At the same time, children also need to learn that they can be forgiven, as long as they apologize and do their best.
The opposite is true to. See how the following sequence of events is similar but just as important?
- The child does something right.
- There is no reward or expressed appreciation whatsoever.
- The child thinks (maybe not literally, but at least subconsciously), “Oh, I guess nothing happens when I do this. They like it but I get nothing back.”
- The child loses his/ her motivation to do it again.
- Next time the same situation occurs, there is no reason in the child’s mind for doing it again.
Wouldn’t it be nice if children always wanted to do well and obey, regardless of the rewards of lack of them? Yes, but that’s not life. People are motivated by rewards.
They don’t want to make a sacrifice unless it’s worth something, which can be a physical reward (candy, toy, TV time…) or an emotional reward (compliments, gratitude, approval). Sometimes, it may just mean giving a little of your time to play with them or go outside with them.
Children catch on quickly. Their brain simply tries out stuff (they push their boundaries) to explore and see what happens. And the formula is shaped in a simple way. The child is ALWAYS thinking:
“Ha! Interesting. When I (don’t) do this, then this will/ won’t happen.”
And by drawing a quick conclusion, they base their behavior after that on that formula, which is why it’s so important to stay consistent as not to confuse the child. More about that in the part about mistake number 3.
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But in reality, it’s a difficult task. There are numerous rewards and punishments (or “good and bad consequences” if you would rather call them that to avoid the harsh word “punishment”).
And for each good and bad deed there needs to be something, no matter how small it is. Children have to be re-directed to adapt their behavior constantly. Doing so with the right “leverage” or “consequences” can be challenging. It’s almost like a game of chess, and you cannot let them win.
If you think there is no manipulation going on between children, or between children and parents, you are wrong. There is always a power struggle between what one party wants versus what the other wants.
Life is that way. People persuade, guilt-trip, ask, beg, show, compliment, encourage, warn, get angry, throw tantrums, complain, thank, and do many other ethical and unethical things to either get their way or influence the situation or a person to do something.
As a parent, it’s you job to be smarter than the child. Your job is to give them a little push in the direction of becoming a good person and set boundaries to keep them away from evil.
Whether you’re religious or not, I am sure you agree. But knowing how to do it, requires numerous techniques. Moreover, boys are different than girls, and each child has his/ her personality to deal with.
It’s a challenge, but try to enjoy the battle.
Mistake 2: Too Much Yelling
I know we probably all do it every once in a while. It’s human to yell or speak louder when we don’t feel listened to. It’s natural and it makes sense.
But that doesn’t mean it’s good. Here again, the child will draw quick conclusions based on regular patterns. Consider the following sequence of events.
- There is yelling every day in the home.
- Daily life means yelling to the child.
- Since the parent yells at the child for the smallest things, yelling doesn’t mean something important or big is going on.
- The child stops taking yelling seriously.
- The one time something really bad happens, maybe even worth yelling for— although it may be argued that it is never necessary in the first place— the child thinks it’s a minor thing, since it happens all the time anyway.
- The parent might start yelling even more often because the child isn’t taking the parent seriously.
I was in a home like that once. The parents were yelling all day at their children, most times for no reason whatsoever.
The children became worse listeners and less obedient, because the yelling didn’t trigger an emergency situation in their mind. Here is a different situation, just a fictive example:
- There is little yelling. Almost nothing. Maybe some loudness, but not the emotional angry lashing out.
- The child is used to being talked to in a normal way.
- The child decides, for some stupid reason, to try and eat a knife, like he/ she saw some circus performer do on TV.
- You yell your lungs out, telling your child to put the knife down, holding him/ her back at the last second.
- The child isn’t used to your yelling, so it must be serious. It startles the child.
- You got his/ her attention, and the child puts the knife down, seeing how serious you are.
Even in this situation, you may be able to stop the child in time by just rushing over and saying, “Whow, whow. Don’t do that. That will hurt.”
But you get the point, right?
The rule is:
The more you yell, the less seriously the child will take you when you yell. It doesn’t mean anything anymore if it gets repeated too often.
This rule of thumb has a lot to do with the principle of consistency, which I will talk about in the next mistake.
Mistake 3: Inconsistency
The principle of being consistent is based on the same simple logic your child creates in his/ her mind. It’s nothing more and nothing less.
Children don’t know how the world works yet. A lot of adults don’t either, but to a child, many things are new. Have you ever noticed how much children are paying attention to “the rules” at the age of 4, 5 or 6 years old?
They constantly tell you when someone else is breaking them, look confused when you tell them it’s “not that important right now,” and they will hold you to your own rules.
Consistency is one of the most important keys to raising a psychologically healthy child.
Consider, for example, the following sequence of events, seeing how the mind of a child applies simple logic to understand his/ her environment, and the standards they are being taught:
- The child leaves the dishes on the table and doesn’t help with cleaning up.
- Nothing happens.
- The next day, the child neglects his/ her cleaning duty again.
- This time, you get angry and tell your child he/ she will be punished if nothing gets done, or you promise them an extra 15 minutes of staying up if they help out.
- The child cleans up.
- The next day, the child forgets to clean up.
- Nothing happens. The child gets away with it.
- The next day, the child doesn’t help out again.
- This time, you get angry again, but you leave it at that.
Confusing, isn’t it?
What is the consequence of not helping out? Sometimes nothing, sometimes a punishment, sometimes just anger from the parent. The fact that the child is “supposed” to clean up can be enough for some children, but for most children, it’s not.
The same consequence needs to happen each time. It’s not a big deal if you are scatterbrained for once or twice and you forget to attach a consequence to their behavior, but if it happens too often, the child won’t be able to connect the dots.
Many children, especially young children, and even more especially those with some kind of deviant mind leaning towards the autistic spectrum, need consistency, routine, patterns, schedules, etc. What you give them, is what they expect in the future.
If you deviate from that pattern too much, they will have to adjust their expectations over and over again. This is really hard for a child.
A child’s mind is often, “My mom and dad approve of this and this behavior, but they disapprove of this and this behavior.”
A child’s mind is NOT, “My mom and dad sometimes approve of this and this behavior, but at other times they disapprove of this and this behavior.”
The only way you can help a child understand exceptions, is by explaining them in a clear and simple way. If they see why a particular circumstance is different than the previous one (and hence, the consequence), they can adjust the logic in their minds more easily.
And usually, the older they get, the more they will understand contributing factors and possible explanations or justifications.
Another aspect of consistency is staying united. If you don’t agree on a rule, consequence, or a principle of moral behavior, the child will divide and conquer.
I’ve seen it so many times with babysitters. The child will claim that he/ she is “always allowed to” do something that his/ her parents actually forbade. The same happens when one parent easily gives in and the other is too strict.
This is why it’s always important to discuss your children’s situation together as a married couple. If you are not certain about something, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I don’t know. Ask your mom/ dad.”
Mistake 4: Confusing Fun with Enabling
Just face it. All that kids want to do, is have fun. And that’s okay. Life can be fun.
In essence, they understand one aspect of life some adults have forgotten about. You can have a lot of fun with children.
But no matter how much fun life can be, children will neglect responsibilities if you do not hold them responsible. I know a set of parents like this. Their children are allowed to do a lot.
The parents claimed that they “want the children to express themselves.” Based on that, the children aren't punished for the craziest things. I am talking about bouncing balls in the living room, throwing garbage on the floor instead of in the trashcan, sword fighting in the kitchen, walking away from dishes without consequences, and leaving a pile of dirty clothes in the bathtub.
The parents are confusing “fun” with “enabling” them to do whatever they want. If you have any tendency to repeat this mistake, then tell yourself the following sentence over and over again.
"What children want is not always what is best for them."
Fun is not always best for them. Happiness in the long term is what is best for them, which is what they will thank you for later.
A lot of children want to be lazy, eat candy all day, and destroy objects just to see what happens. Life is not about doing what you want all the time.
In order to get what you really want, you have to make sacrifices, just like everybody else.
How can a child learn to be respectful towards their neighbors if they haven’t learned in the home that putting their feet on the table, throwing garbage on the floor, or painting on the wall is not okay?
Furthermore, how can a child make a living when they grow up if they are used to getting what they want all the time? A job requires sacrifices, as does parenting, being a law-abiding citizen, etc.
Yes, your children will hate you sometimes and say that you’re boring, that you ruin their lives, or something else in that alley, but if what you are doing is right, then they will see it when they are more mature to understand it.
If you want to create a fun life for your children, it won’t mean to neglect rules or approve of disrespectful, dirty, or sloppy behavior. The best way to make your children’s life fun is to get involved and play with them, show interest in their hobbies, obsessions, and thinking patterns, and to spend time with them.
Mistake 5: Not Enough Compliments
Compliments and expressions of gratitude and appreciation will fuel your child’s righteous desires more than any physical reward you can give them. Many children (and adults too) will do anything for their parents’ approval, especially when they respect their parents.
Instead of saying “good job” all the time, try to vary and be specific about what they did right. This way, they realize that you’re not just saying it and then ignoring them. They feel acknowledged like you noticed them.
People, young and old, need that constant encouragement. Try to be sincere about it and time it well. High-five the younger kids and let the teenager borrow the car for another night if possible. Let them know that you really appreciate what they do.
Make sure you only compliment them for something they did right. If you want to discourage certain behavior, you cannot laugh and you cannot say that “it’s okay.”
However, if you want to create a positive atmosphere in the home and help a child become more confident and successful, you should compliment more than complain. Children do a lot of little things right.
Sometimes they are hard to notice when we assume “they aren’t doing anything extra, since they were supposed to do that in the first place.” But just doing what you are supposed to do deserves a compliment every once in a while, doesn’t it? Or just a simple “thank you.”
The reason why some parents make this mistake, is often that they forget. They mean well, but they are occupied with other things, get busy in life, and then they forget to say something positive about the child’s behavior, even though that behavior was simple and his/ her duty anyway.
It helps. Trust me. Something similar to giving compliments, is giving enough attention.
Mistake 6: Not Enough Attention
Have you ever seen that movie “Despicable me,” the first one? Gru, the main character has become a criminal, and in a simple way, the creators of the movie suggest that he became that way because he was neglected by his mother.
No wonder his desire is to use his real rocket to steal the moon. Everything is based on an innate desire to please or impress his mother. But she was never impressed with anything he did. This is a part of that movie’s script:
Young Gru: Look, Mom, I drew a picture of me landing on the moon.
Gru’s mom: Eh.
Young Gru: Look, Mom, I made a prototype of a rocket out of macaroni.
Gru’s mom: Eh.
Young Gru: Look, Mom, I built a real rocket based on the macaroni prototype.
Gru’s mom: [holds her breath in amazement for a moment]… Eh.
There was no point in trying to impress her, because she simply didn’t care. But still he kept trying.
In real life, it’s not very different from the cartoon. Children want to impress their parents. If their parents are impressed with their accomplishments, they are motivated to do more.
Isn’t it simple?
A lot of times, you don’t have to spend a lot of money or spend hours and hours of time with them. All they want is for you to acknowledge their existence, their capabilities, their potential, and their successes.
As a parent, you often have more influence on them than anyone else in their lives.
One of the best things you can say to your child when they do something right, is, “I am proud of you.” Another one is, “You are doing great. Keep going.”
Of course, this can become monotonous too. I know a father who is so easily impressed that he says, “Wow. That is amazing” at almost everything. The problem, though, is that he doesn’t say much more than that and just continues doing what he is doing.
Getting involved in your child’s life and acknowledging that they are valuable, smart, skilled, etc. means asking questions, listening, looking when they show something, expressing appreciation, following up on goals, and being a constant “fan” of their attempts to elevate their life to the next level. It’s like being a coach without being preachy or giving lectures.
Many people in this world become social media addicts, lunatics, or criminals because they lacked attention (sometimes spelled “love”) in their childhood. I personally know individuals who go through extreme lengths to draw attention to themselves.
They are constantly trying to stand out, show something, or have people honor them in awe.
Why is being famous a desirable lifestyle to so many people? Because they want more attention. It’s something everybody needs, and at the same time something that too many people lack. A lot of people feel even lonelier in a big crowd that neglects them than when they are alone.
The emotional need to be found interesting, attractive, impressive, or appreciated is in all of us. Don’t deprive your child from the attention they need and fulfill it for them.
If you do, there will be a bigger chance your child will feel fulfilled and won’t consider themselves the center of attention all the time. You can’t give what you don’t have.
If you lack attention, it’s harder to give it to others. That’s how the human psyche works.
One of the aspects of fulfilling your child’s need for attention, is making him/ her feel special. So look for special occasions. I know a great couple who gave their children a “toilet diploma” and potty-trained them that way.
I know of parents who go a little overboard when it comes to children’s birthdays or national holidays. There is a time to work and be serious, but there should also be times to party or put a child in the spotlight.
Mistake 7: Too Controlling
Just like it’s unhealthy for a child to get away with murder, it’s equally unhealthy for the child to experience only little freedom by the outrageous restrictions a parent places upon him/ her. This happens so often that I don’t even know where to start when I am looking for examples.
I personally know of parents in my own extended family who were so strict and controlling, that they lost control in their children’s teenage years. They tried to hold on, but the more they did, the more their children rebelled and pulled away from them.
This balance between control and letting go is extremely delicate. It is one of the hardest things for a parent. I mean, where do you draw the line, right?
There are so many situations that you have to draw that line each time again, taking into account the child’s age, understanding, your presupposed standards and morals, and a myriad of external factors affecting the new situation.
Trust me when I say that I don’t blame you for making mistakes with this. Everybody does.
In one the other books from the same publisher, control was compared to holding onto a soap bar. If you let the soap go, it drops, so you have to hold on. You have to keep it in your hand and make sure it doesn’t fall.
Compare this with exercising enough control to prevent your child from making bad decisions. No rules or consequences means that the child will not be protected.
But here is the thing: A soap bar can be slippery. Especially in the shower, if you squeeze it too hard, it will pop out of your hands.
Compare this too exercising too much control. You cannot hold onto your child too tightly, or it will escape.
Nobody likes to be smothered or controlled. Free-agency and the right to choose are essential to the happiness we can obtain in life. If you take those away, the child will eventually kick against it.
The most difficult part about doing this right, is that you’ll have to slowly and gradually let go more and more as the child grows older.
You may tell your child, for instance, at age 5, that he/ she has to go to bed at 8: 00 p.m. At age 10, you may allow him/ her to go to bed around 10: 00 or even 12: 00 p.m., maybe even depending on whether it’s the weekend or a school day.
But when the child becomes 16, 17, or 18, you may want to push the deadline or remove completely. Just a suggestion. Some parents have a hard time letting go, because they are afraid their child will make bad decisions.
They don’t trust their children, and maybe they shouldn’t, because sometimes… the fact that they don’t trust their children is because they didn’t earn their children’s trust.
You can see this so often in society: Parents who feel perfectly safe because they can control their children by simply stating the rules and sending them to their rooms.
But then, when the years of self-development and individuality arrive (a.k.a. teenage years), they become terribly afraid and end up arguing with their children, because they still want them to keep the rules but their children won’t.
They’ve become too independent.
Balancing out control and leniency is extremely difficult but essential to good parenting.
Mistake 8: Denial of Your Child’s Mental State
A common mistake is that parents denial their children’s mental state. Sure, every parent hopes for their child to be the next world’s genius, but some parents can’t even face reality when their child is a little off.
This can have a destructive impact on the child’s ability to develop him-/ herself.
Let’s just say it how it is. We are all a little crazy, aren’t we? I mean, some individuals you meet on the street seem to make a lot of sense while others are considered nut jobs by everybody they come in contact with.
You may not like it, but to deny that fact, is like being an ostrich and putting your head in the sand, pretending nothing is going on.
So here is my bold statement: There is always something going on. There isn’t always a lot going on, but nobody is 100% sane.
By that, I mean that everybody just has their little quirks and behavioral patterns, or energetic tendencies.
Your child may have a slight ADHD, autistic, or even schizophrenic brain, while another might be very social but not as bright. It’s just the way it is, and even though you can exercise positive influence on your children to improve their character, you will have to accept that some of them will develop certain qualities more slowly than others.
I know parents who, when you tell them their son has a little autism or their daughter has a couple of signs of PDD NOS, they get angry. They will argue that there is “nothing wrong” with their child and that they are “not crazy.”
But what they don’t understand, is that it’s not wrong to have a brain that deviates from what is considered “normal.” People with autism can become experts at solving puzzles, cracking codes, programming, artists, musicians, authors who can pull the reader into “their world,” and work that requires routine, and tedious tasks nobody else can do, to name just a few.
We don’t know everything about autism, but a lot of skills can be perfected, social behavior can be improved, and conversational methods can be induced.
As far as I know, a lot of kids with ADHD or ADD have become rich entrepreneurs, tough salesmen, excellent drummers, successful athletes, and skilled innovators. Their need for adventure and variety puts them in positions that require exactly that.
Face the truth. Get to know your child. If they have any of those tendencies, try to figure out the best way to help them get the most out of life.
This way, you won’t have to mourn and be in denial. Instead, you’ll know that your child will excel in certain fields, despite the fact that socializing or other common behavior may not always be their strongest traits.
Why do you have to accept that?
Because certain brains require certain adjustments. If your child has autistic tendencies, for instance, you will have to set strong patterns and consistent schedules, more so than with your other children.
If your child has Asperger’s Syndrome, you may have to adjust your patience level when he/ she says something rude in a social setting.
Children with Down Syndrome are most times more often to spot, since their outward appearance often shows signs of it, but they too, require certain adjustments and a nonjudgmental attitude with great patience.
Denial will never help. Facing reality and not blaming yourself for your imperfections is the only solution. Once you have done that, you can look up specifics about the behavior of and suggested interaction with such children.
This will help them feel more comfortable, become a more powerful, successful leader, accomplish more in life, and have more self-esteem.
It will also help you, since you will understand the way your child thinks, and you won’t have unmet expectations all the time. More about that in the last chapter.
Here are some questions, not specifically related to autism or ADHD or something similar, but just to help you determine where you child is at, so you can take that into account when interacting with him/ her:
- Does your child like to take risk or play it safe?
- Is your child an introvert or extrovert?
- Is your child social or more to him-/ herself?
- Does your child have a high energy or a slow one?
- Is your child by nature loud or quiet?
- Is your child strong willed or easy going?
- Is your child easily distracted or focused on one task for a long time?
- Does your child forget easily or linger on things?
- Is your child sensitive or fairly uncaring?
- Is your child structured or pretty random?
- Does your child think a lot or does he/ she look for practical, quick solutions?
- Is your child more interested in facts or feelings? Is your child more interested in people or objects?
- Is your child independent or does he/ she often ask others for help or attention? Is your child silly or serious more often?
Mistake 9: Denial of Your Own Baggage
Just like your child has mental disorders, quirks, or deviant brain patterns, you have them too. Not only that, but you have also been highly influenced (in good and bad ways) by the way you were raised, the culture you grew up in, and the other people whom you encountered in your life.
You need to understand this. You need to understand yourself to be able to predict your own behavior.
- Was your dad a workaholic?
- Was your mother lazy?
- Has your father been lecturing you too much?
- Was your mom all over the place with her confusing insights about life?
- Did they guilt-trip you or come across as emotionally needy?
All those things have had an impact on you and are part of how you behave.
We often copy our parents’ behavior, whether we like it or not. I am not saying we are doomed to do it exactly their way; there is always a choice, and I believe in the power to break any unhealthy pattern. But knowing that you have that baggage, can help you work on those things you need to work on most.
I know a couple, for instance. The husband was raised by a dad who had a quick temper when he was young, and sometimes it still shows in his behavior.
When he gets angry, he bangs his fists on the table or slams the door. When he got married to his wife, she was shocked, and it scared a little. And although her dad had different flaws, he had never behaved that way.
Need I mention that the husband’s grandmother, his father’s mother, had a very quick temper too? Of course not. What comes around, goes around.
But what is so nice about it, is that they discussed the matter, and he is working on it, trying to improve each year by being a little more controlled when he is temperamental.
The wife, on the other hand, was a little sloppy sometimes. Her mother was bad at cleaning up, often lacking the motivation to say something about it or clean up the mess in the house herself.
The husband has expressed his desire for more cleanliness, and again, the neat thing is, she is working on it. Of course I don’t need to mention that her grandmother, or mother’s mother, is a hoarder who set the pattern for her children, and her grandchildren, and so on.
Breaking the pattern of what baggage you got from your parents, is hard, and it’s often a slow process, with years of trial and error. But for those who do their best and work on themselves, it’s possible.
When you know how you have been influenced, you can consciously decide which patterns you want to maintain and which ones you want to break. This will have a tremendous impact on your children.
Don’t be in denial. Acknowledge that there is something wrong with you, and accept that it’s okay. You have the choice to change for the better and become an improvement on the previous generation.
If you do that, your children may become an improvement on your generation too, and so on.
Mistake 10: Impatience
Parenting is tricky, because, like I said, there are numerous unexpected situations that occur each day. It may be easy to cope with one annoying child, one spilt milk carton, and one crying baby, but all of them at the same time will drain your patience quickly.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. You are human and will at times lose your patience. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your children. Just because you love them, doesn’t mean you have to like what they do.
When children make mistakes, talk to them, and stay patient. When children do things wrong on purpose— and those are the times when they drive me nuts — you STILL have to be patient.
Patience is not the same as tolerance. You can make it clear that their behavior will not be tolerated without getting angry about it or losing your patience. Just know this, and I hope this will be a comforting thought:
Everything you do, will be returned to you. That may sound a little too spiritual or religious for some, but the truth is, everything you do, helps shape your children’s personality.
And when you are kind and loving towards them, they will turn out to become healthier, more stable, and they will more likely return the favor. Just keep that in mind when you are about to snap. Be the hero and stay calm.