As a parenting educator of over twenty years experience, I’ve had many opportunities to observe and listen to parents in action. During this time I’ve learned some valuable lessons about raising children and managing families.
One thing I’ve learned is that parenting experts spend a lot of time helping parents learn what to do. We do not spend enough time teaching parents what to stop. Half of the parents I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what not to do!
There are a lot of good reasons for this. Probably most prominent is the fact that most parenting experts are committed to positive action to maintain forward momentum.
If you are a parent, or an educator who works with parents, then it’s helpful to focus on “What to stop” as well as focus on the positive activities that parents should do.
Here are 20 poor behaviours of parents. Everyone I have met has exhibited one or more of these behaviours, including me! Review the list. Do you identify with any of these bad habits? If you are like the majority of people, the answer is yes, and you are ready to start putting positive parenting behaviours into action. So what to stop? Here goes:
1. Doing too much: We all know that kids need to learn to fend for themselves and stand on their own two feet. Independence is the aim for parents. Learn to delegate.
2. Winning arguments: The need to win arguments and prove that we are right harms relationships and creates fertile ground for conflict. Focus on the things that matter.
3. Expecting too little: Expectations are tricky. Too high and kids can give up. Too low and kids will meet them. Pitch them at their developmental age.
4. Speaking when angry: Speaking is our default mechanism regardless of our emotional state. When we are angry kids don’t listen. They pick up our venom but not our words. Choose the right time to speak to kids.
5. Failing to give proper recognition: It’s easy to take children’s good behaviour and their contributions to the family for granted. Catch kids doing the right thing.
6. Playing favourites: Children usually know who’s the favoured or preferred child in their family. Your discipline and expectations give this away. Share the parenting so you share the favouritism.
7. Letting kids drop out of the family: In small families every child has a bedroom, which means isolation is easy to achieve. Teenagers, in particular, tend to prefer their own company rather than the company of peers and parents. Put rituals in place and make sure everyone turns up to meal-time.
8. Taking the easy way out: It’s a quirk of modern life that as parents get busier with work and other things there is a tremendous temptation to avoid arguments by giving into kids. Hang in there when you know it’s the right thing to do.
9. Judging yourself too harshly: Parents are generally hard markers of themselves. Kids are more forgiving of their parents’ blunders than their parents. Parent your family as if it’s a large one.
10. Solving too many problems: Good parents try to solve their children’s problems rather then leave them some to solve. A forgotten school lunch is a child’s problem not a parent’s problem. Pose problems for kids rather than solve them.
11. Confusing helping for responsibility: We all love it when our children help at home, but this shouldn’t be confused with taking responsibility. A child who gets himself up in the morning is learning to take responsibility. If you want a child to be responsible give him real responsibility.
12. Not listening: There is something inherent in most parents that makes us help children when they are in need or get stuck. We want to talk and help them solve their problems so they become unstuck. Listen first and then decide if you need to speak.
13. Taking yourself too seriously: There is a lot of gravitas placed on parents’ behaviours and on modelling that can weigh us down and take the joy out of the job. Take time to enjoy the little things.
14. Parenting the individual: Small family parenting is almost always an individual endeavour. It’s worth remembering that sibling relationships (if children have siblings) can be just as influential as the parent-child relationship. It will almost certainly outlast the parent-child relationship. Lead the group, manage the child.
15. Refusal to express regret: Sometimes parents can work themselves into a tight corner after they’ve said something out of anger or desperation. One parent I know cancelled Christmas out of desperation, and refused to admit she was wrong. Sometimes you need to acknowledge your mistakes and start over again.
16. Failing to use communication processes: Okay so you are about to talk to your children about sexuality and relationships. What process do you use? Where will you hold that conversation? Establish communication processes and communication places well in advance of when you really need them.
17. Neglecting your own well-being: Many families operate under a child-first mentality, which places a lot of pressure and stress on parents. We happily drive kids to their leisure activities at the expense of our own. Carve out some time for your own interests and leisure pursuits.
18. Giving feedback at the wrong time: Timing is everything when we give kids feedback. If you give negative feedback immediately after an event or action, you risk discouraging them. Use ‘just in time prompts’ to remind them how to do something. Pick your timing when you give feedback.
19. Clinging to the past: The ghosts from the past are strong indeed causing us to put some of our problems onto our children. The problems we may have experienced growing up won’t necessarily be shared by our children. Retune your parenting antennae to your children’s lives.
20. Believing everything your children say: As loving parents we want to trust our children and believe everything they tell us. Children are faulty observers and frequently only see one side of an issue. Help children process what happens to them and see issues from every side.
After reviewing this list, for those of you who still aren’t sure what to stop, there is one habit that I’ve seen take precedence over all of the others. You may be part of the majority of people who partake in this bad habit. What is the number one problem of the successful parents I’ve worked with over the years? It is Doing Too Much.
For more great ideas to raise independent kids read Michael’s latest book Spoonfed Generation: How to raise independent children.