As a parent, you might find it difficult to know whether you’re making the right choices for your child.
You might encounter moments of self-doubt, as you worry whether you are doing a good job.
After all, parenting is the most important job you’ll ever do (and, of course, the worst paid).
Those moments of self-doubt are important, because they help to shape the type of parent you are. As you look for proof you’re making the right choices, or perhaps decide you aren’t, you allow your parenting style to evolve.
Parenting is all about long term goals. The decisions you make today shape the adult your child will grow into. How do you make sure you’re giving him the best foundations to become a strong and happy adult?
Is there anything you’re doing that could be preventing him from becoming the adult you want him to be? These are difficult questions, but answering them regularly will help you to keep your parenting skills at their best.
10 Things Parents Should Stop Doing
Here are 10 things you should stop doing today, and why:
#1: Giving Rewards For Good Results
Contrary to popular opinion, rewards are not a good way of motivating children. Rewards could refer to stickers, toys, or even praise, and all can affect the child’s motivation. The best motivation is intrinsic, and this means the child is motivated from within himself, for example by enjoyment or challenge.
The use of rewards can cause the child to rely on extrinsic motivation, which means being motivated by something else, such as a reward. Suddenly, the child is acting, not out of enjoyment, but out of a desire to be rewarded. Once the reward is gone, the motivation is gone, and the child might then be less likely to continue the good behaviour.
As parents, we want to offer praise and rewards when we see our children doing well. There are ways to do it that go beyond short-term motivation. We can use methods that encourage self-reflection and character growth, such as:
- Rewarding or praising a child for meeting a specific standard or instruction, rather than simply praising involvement or completion in general: “You did a great job staying in the lines while colouring this picture”.
- Providing an unexpected reward or praise for clear improvement in a specific skill or behaviour, and being certain the child understands the reward is linked to that skill or behaviour.
- Encouraging self-reflection, by asking children why they believe they were rewarded or praised; this helps them to understand their behaviours and motivations.
#2: Focusing On Results
Life shouldn’t be only about results; effort is just as important. Your child is unlikely to get everything right first time, so the ability to try, try and try again is an important one. To help your child achieve this, you should think carefully about the type of praise you give him.
Do you focus on outcome, or effort? Are you more likely to say a picture is beautiful, or to comment on how hard the child worked on it? Praising him for putting effort into something teaches your child that the process, not the outcome, is more important. Children who are praised for their effort feel good about themselves and are more likely to persevere with difficult tasks in the future.
#3: Keeping Your Child Busy
You’re the parent, but that doesn’t mean it’s your job to schedule fun 24/7. It’s not your responsibility to occupy your child from morning until night. Independent play is an important skill for children to learn. Not only does it stave off boredom, but they can also learn plenty of other skills during uninterrupted solo free play.
Allowing your child to get lost in his own game also buys you a little bit of time. You could get a job done, or sit down and enjoy a warm drink, safe in the knowledge that you’re providing your child with some important life skills.
#4: Solving All Your Child’s Problems
Problem solving skills are essential, and without them, your child is going to struggle. It’s understandable that, as a parent, you want to solve your child’s problems for him. After all, if you don’t, who will? Well, he will, and that’s how it should be. You’re not doing your child any favours by robbing him of these early experiences in problem solving; in fact, it could cause problems for him later in life.
Your child might be too young to peel a banana, but let him try if he wants to. You can always help him out when he asks you to after a few minutes. And if he doesn’t, hooray, he’s learned a new skill. The same goes for fall outs. As the parent, you want to wade in and sort out all of his fights, and make sure everyone plays nicely. Leave them to it, instead, and you might be surprised to see just how easily young children can resolve disputes by themselves.
#5: Pretending To Be Perfect
I hate to break this to you, but you’re not perfect. You’re human, just like everybody else. And that means you make mistakes. You make mistakes at work, at home, and as a parent. And that’s fine, because that’s what human beings do.
Your kids need to know you’re human too. They need to see you make mistakes, and see how you handle them. You need to show your children that it’s fine to make mistakes, and that you can learn from them and move on. This will help prepare your child for the mistakes he will make in life, and teach him a healthy way of dealing with the aftermath.
“The real questions for parents should be: are you engaged? Are you paying attention? If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time. The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.” — Brene Brown in her fantastic book, Daring Greatly.
Shouting doesn’t work. You already know that. You know because the days you shout are no easier than the days you don’t. In fact, they’re probably harder. When you shout, your child hears your voice but not necessarily the words you say. Shouting is intimidating and can be scary. It’s not a good way of getting your point across. Even worse, your child may learn to do the same too.
Many people now accept that smacking is ineffective, but you might be surprised to hear that shouting is also ineffective. It might cause a temporary behaviour change, but it could be damaging to your relationship and trust in the long run. It’s also modelling behaviour to your children; it's not so much what you say, but what you do. They’re learning what to do, from you.
#7: Worrying Too Much About Food
Mealtimes are a source of stress for many parents. You worry that your child isn’t eating enough, or isn’t enjoying a wide variety of foods. You might spend most of your time at the dinner table trying to encourage him to eat. Don’t.
All you need to do is provide your child with a healthy, balanced meal. The rest is up to him. As long as all of the foods on the plate are healthy, it doesn’t matter what your child chooses to eat. Be sure to offer a variety, including plenty of fresh vegetables and greens, but let your child decide what he eats from the plate.
#8: Distracting Your Child From His Emotions
Emotions can be pretty inconvenient, right? Especially when you’re busy or late, and your child is having some strong emotions about something you deem to be silly. It’s frustrating, of course, and sometimes the easiest thing to do is distract your child so you can move on with your day.
But is it healthy to distract your child from his emotions? Emotions can be overwhelming for young children, and one way to cope with them is to learn about them. The best way of doing this is to identify emotions as they happen, and you can’t do that if you’re busy distracting your child.
Instead, acknowledge his emotions; for example, “You’re angry because you want the toy for yourself”, which means he’ll feel heard (don’t we all want to feel like that as adults too?). Then you can offer a solution. While it might not immediately fix the problem, you're teaching him problem solving, and yes, it can take days or weeks to learn the lesson. But you’ll be surprised how quickly the problem can be defused.
#9: Ignoring Your Own Bad Behaviour
You have bad days, of course, because every parent does. On those days you might shout or snap, or simply be unkind to your child. It happens. It’s what you do next that is really important. Ignoring your own bad behaviour can be detrimental to your relationship with your child.
It’s important to call yourself out on bad behaviour, just like you would with your child. Own up to your mistakes, and apologise for them. That can go a long way to repairing your relationship, and is also a great way of modelling apologising, self-reflection and honesty to your child. One day, you'll notice your child will start apologising for his bad behaviour too.
#10: Sacrificing Your Sanity
You’re busy, you’re tired, and you’re in desperate need of some R&R, but there isn’t any time, right? Wrong. That’s one thing you must make time for. If you’re feeling burnt out, it doesn’t take long for things to start unravelling. Suddenly, you’re forgetting to do things, snapping at loved ones, and generally feeling crabby.
To get the most out of your family, you need to invest in yourself. That means taking a little bit of time for you, even when you think you can’t. Take a bath, go for a walk, book a massage, or do whatever it is you need to get back on track. Show your kids that you are important, that mental health is worth protecting, and that you must take care of yourself first.
Making changes to our typical parenting can be hard. We get stuck in our habits, we model after our own parents, and we might not know what to change, but sometimes we just know something needs to change.
Being an evolving parent, being open to change when it’s necessary, and practising some evidenced based parenting skills can help us be the best support for our children, as we navigate the difficult path of turning little people into strong and happy adults.
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