I often have parents in my office doing what we now call “parent education” (a.k.a. family therapy.) I find myself saying the same things over and over to a variety of faces so I thought I’d distill them here into the “Big Eight” parenting mistakes.
1. Not expressing love and affection in such a way that the child “receives” the message they are loved. Communication consists of both a message sender and a message receiver—and if the receiver isn’t getting the message, whose responsibility is it? I’ll never forget the professor who gave this lecture leaning over and saying to his resistant audience, “if your message isn’t getting across, it’s YOU, the SENDER, who’s responsible to get it across in a way it can be heard.” Revolutionary! Instead, parents do the same things, and do them harder and more frequently, that aren’t meeting the child’s felt emotional need. Frustration ensues all around. What’s the answer? Find out the child’s Love Language and meet their felt need, and bad behavior is sure to decrease. (More on that in a future blog)
2. Saying “Time out doesn’t work.” Yes. It does. You just aren’t doing it right. Get a book like 1-2-3 Magic, read it and do it properly.
3. Not taking time to really interact with your kids. If you don’t, they will find a way to get your full attention, and I promise you, you won’t like it.
4. Unrealistic Expectations Part I. Do your own personal work, parents. Your child is not there to fulfill your fantasies of being a doctor, lawyer or Olympic gymnast. You got a dream? Do it yourself, for yourself, and model for your children how greatness is achieved through your own life. Children are who they are, and yes—some have potential. You as the parent should help them discover what that unique potential is and support it–for THEM, not for YOU.
5. Unrealistic Expectations Part II: read a few books on child development or check out websites like BabyShrink.com, and know what your child is capable of at any given age. No, it’s not realistic for a three-year-old to sit on a hard pew in church without any toys for an hour and not have any behaviors. And NO, he doesn’t have ADHD because he wiggles.
6. Monkey see, monkey do. Swearing? Surprise, surprise, kid’s got a potty mouth. Yelling and smacking the wife around? Kid’s a bully at school. No reading, just TV? Don’t be surprised when your kid won’t pick up a book.
7. Don’t just throw your kids outside. Lifestyle habits are learned through observation and practice. Eat healthy food, exercise, and involve your child in what you do—take a family walk, bike ride, or hike on a regular basis and your child won’t grow up to be a couch potato. I’m disappointed when parents do things like literally lock kids out in the yard “to play” rather than joining them and modeling for them. What a missed opportunity!
8. Giving away “the store.” I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve heard complain their (slightly older) child is ungrateful and won’t show respect or follow rules. I start by asking, “Do they have a cell phone?”
“A game system (any of about 20 different expensive kinds)?”
“Yes, three in fact.”
“Did they do anything to earn any of one of those (expensive, ridiculous, time wasting) items?”
“No.” At this point parents are getting a little sheepish. “Everyone else has those things.”
Now they’re quoting the line the child used to get them to buy those things. Nice.
Personally, I believe a 50 dollar present limit (from Mom and Dad) for Christmas and birthdays and earning everything else is a great way to teach responsibility and have “leverage” with kids. They should get allowance and have chores, and then they can learn to save for things they want.
Learning to work for rewards and planning and choosing what they want are empowering and enhance self esteem, rather than the arguing, whining, manipulating and guilt tripping that kids learn to do when parents “give away the store.”
These parenting mistakes are at the root of most kids’ bratty behavior. Unfortunately, changing the way you parent is a real workout—a lot harder than reading some list on a blog. SuperNanny would agree. But if the stakes are high enough (and trust me they are) it’s worth it.