Mistake #1: Modeling behavior you don’t want to see in your children.
You can’t escape what you model—this is the most important principle in parenting. Some children mature beyond what their parents teach them, but that’s not typically the case. It’s especially not the case during childhood. If you throw a tantrum and get upset when you don’t get what you want from your children, what do you think your children will do when they don’t get what they want from you? If you often complain about what’s wrong with the world, your children will pick up this habit. If you’re easily angered when the world doesn’t conform to your desires, you can expect your children to do the same.
Mistake #2: Following the crowd.
Turn on the TV set and watch the commercials your children are watching. Switch to MTV and watch the videos your teenager is watching. Listen to the music your adolescent has pulled off the Internet. In each of these cases, you can see where the crowd is headed—now you have to decide if you want to go there. If your teenager tells you that all his friends stay out till midnight (and maybe they do), you again see where the crowd’s headed.
I implore you to use your own common sense and good judgment with your children. Following the crowd only leads to a “herd mentality.” It’s easy to lose our capacity for independent judgment and insight and to lose sight of our values. Your most important responsibilities as a parent are to model healthy behavior and set limits.
Mistake #3: Trying to control what you can’t control.
We often respond to our children as if we have control over their behavior. We say things like “Turn off that TV set now” or “Clean up your room” or “You will not talk to me that way” or “You’re going to eat your vegetables.” In each of those examples, we talk as if we could control their behavior. Reality check: We don’t have control over our children’s behavior. Effective parenting techniques will enable you to influence your children by improving the quality of your relationship and communication with your child. Control is what you have over the TV set when you use the remote.
Some people have trouble controlling the way they eat. Others have difficulty controlling their work habits. Some of us have problems getting up in the morning. We can’t even control our own behavior very well, and yet we persist in treating our children as if we can control them by speaking firmly or yelling at them. Most of the time it doesn’t work. Instead, we need to focus on gaining influence, which comes from using effective, healthy parenting strategies and understanding how to use your true base of parental power.
Parents can try to control the circumstances and environment surrounding their children. You can’t control their actions, but you can control – to a much greater extent – how their world responds to their actions. Abandon the idea of controlling your child—that only leads to endless battles that get you nowhere. Instead, establish learning experiences for each choice your children make, so they can learn to act in ways that work well for them.
Mistake #4: Protecting children from the consequences of their choices.
It’s understandable that parents would try to create a world where children do not experience discomfort, pain, or failure. But the more we overprotect our kids when they’re young, the more we handicap them as they move toward independence, because children learn from consequences. You tell your toddler to stay away from the stove. You tell him two, three, or four times a day. One day he touches a hot pan and burns his finger. He never goes near the stove again.
How do you know if you’re overprotective? Do you do any of these things?
- try to protect your children from failure or negative feedback?
- rescue them from their upsets, as if they can’t handle their emotions?
- try to make everything perfect for them?
- save them from the consequences of their own bad choices?
- make your parenting decisions out of fear and anxiety?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, it’s likely that you’re getting in the way of life’s most powerful teacher: the consequences that follow from our actions. Kids don’t just wake up one day and understand; they have to learn from experience. Our brains are designed to learn when the environment gives us feedback. Your kids need that feedback—positive and negative. Don’t get in the way.
Mistake #5: Negotiating about limits
and other decisions.
One of the biggest problems I encounter in counseling is the conflict that ensues when parents negotiate limits that should not be negotiated. Every bit of common sense and clinical literature points in the same direction: Kids need structure and thrive on well-defined limits. As they bump up against these limits, they learn how to respond to and work within them. This is preparation for life, where we’re constrained by society, our employers, and our friends and spouses. There are almost always limits, and learning to work effectively within them enables a person to live a joyful and passionate life.
However, kids push limits. They may want to go to bed later, eat junk food, stay out until midnight, or listen to violent, misogynistic music. That’s just the way it is. But just because children or teenagers want you to stretch the limits doesn’t mean that this is appropriate, healthy, or beneficial to them. Limits are healthy, and parents need to stick to them.
The negotiation process over limits is inevitably ugly and conflict-ridden. Your best bet is not to engage in it. Follow this simple principle: Say it once, and don’t repeat it. Stick to your guns. Make it short and sweet, and then walk away. I’m referring here to the kind of negotiation that typically takes place at 9:05 p.m. when the TV set was supposed to go off at 9:00. It’s the negotiation that occurs on the telephone at 9:57 p.m. when the kids are due home at 10:00. It’s the negotiation over buying a CD while standing in the checkout line. Avoid these at all costs.
This is different than the calm and intelligent discussion you and your adolescent have about altering the curfew for a specific event some time in the future. For example, your daughter tells you that there’s a party after the football game next week. The party will be at the Smiths’ house and Mrs. Smith will be there. Your daughter gives you Mrs. Smith’s number, and you confirm the details. You then either agree or don’t agree to extend the curfew. This is entirely different than your daughter calling during halftime at the football game to negotiate about the party.
Set limits that seem reasonable to you. Don’t set limits based on the input of your children, on whether they’re happy about it or whether they tell you that you’re “the only parent in the world” who makes her kids come home at 10:00 on Saturday night.
Mistake #6: Repeatedly engaging behavior you don’t want…and expecting it to go away.
When your children are very young, words often work well to get their attention and change their behavior temporarily. You can say “stop it,” and your toddler may listen. However, as they get older, you may find that you’re saying “stop it…stop it…stop it” and getting no response. In fact, the very behavior you don’t want seems to be getting stronger. For many parents, the solution is to engage the behavior more intensely. “Stop that! Stop that! How many times do I have to tell you to stop that?” If you’re angry enough, you may get a response. As time goes on, however, you’ll have to yell louder. You don’t like the way this feels, and you notice that your children seem more and more immune to your input.
The mistake parents make is engaging the behavior patterns that they most want to get rid of. As you consistently and repeatedly engage the behavior that you don’t want, it just gets stronger. Because the behavior may stop temporarily—for example, in response to louder yelling—you’re seduced into believing that what you’re doing is working. This is a critical error. Any behavior you consistently engage will grow, so be careful what you pay attention to. You don’t want to grow weeds in your garden!
Mistake #7: Believing that your words alone will teach critical lessons.
This is a corollary to Mistake #6. Many parents believe that they can teach critical life lessons through lengthy discussions and repeated explanations. Discussion and explanation have their place; however, the real teachers are not words, but consequences. Remember the example of the child and the stove? You can tell him 50 times not to touch a hot stove, but if he touches it once, he’ll learn the lesson instantly.
I’m not suggesting that you give up on words; just don’t expect a lecture or a heartfelt discussion to teach most lessons. Rather, state your case clearly and succinctly and then rely on the consequences to teach children that you mean business.
These mistakes can be difficult to correct because the solutions fly in the face of instinctive responses. But if you can avoid making these mistakes when you’re dealing with your children; changes will occur.
- You’ll use fewer words.
- Your words will take on more importance and have more impact.
- Negativity in your home will decrease as you stop engaging negative comments, negotiations, complaints, and so on.
- You’ll feel better, because you aren’t trying to control things that you don’t have control over.
- Opportunities will appear for your children to learn key lessons about responsibility and happiness. They’ll learn that their actions have consequences, both good and bad.
- Everyone’s life will lighten up, and that’s a good thing!
Do you want to learn more about nurturing optimism and happiness, as well as a responsible home where kids take responsibility? It’s possible to MAKE A POWERFUL DIFFERENCE – EVEN WITH TEENS! Can you have more influence with a younger child? Of course!
But you do have influence in ways that go well beyond what most parents realize. How do I know? Because I have worked with thousands of parents, and I have seen the impact of these life-changing strategies, all built upon an in-depth understanding of the research and the laws of human behavior. YOU HAVE MORE POWER TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE THAN YOU MAY KNOW.
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