As the old saying goes, ‘The road to misery is paved with good intentions.’  It seems that many families are talking the good talk but failing to back this up with sound action.  In today’s article, I will cover five of the biggest mistakes we can make during these VERY tough times, and pointers for what to do instead. 

1. Desperately trying to take control of your home and kids, when you haven’t gained control of your own behavior and emotions.

This is readily seen in many areas.  Now, more than ever, constantly looking at the phone or the news and feeding your own anxiety is a habit pattern many need to control.  When it comes to trying to get things done, the constant nagging and prodding (which doesn’t work), will just lead mom or dad creating conflict.  What’s next?  Arguments, yelling, and misery inevitably emerge.

Bottom line:  Model self-control in every area of importance.  Your children will see further into WHO you are in these times…more than ever.  So, bring your focus to your own choices first.  Stay calm.  Stay positive.  Stay strong.

2. Thinking that protecting kids from failure now is more important than ever.

In emails and telehealth meetings this week, I find many parents sitting with their children in order to get the schoolwork done.  They do not want their children to fail or get behind.

Some of this is useful when valid questions exist.  However, this is not usually the case.  Typically, children are procrastinating, arguing, or refusing to cooperate to get work done.  In essence, there is a lack of motivation and mom or dad wants to protect their children from a failure to get the work done.  Well, we all understand that intention.

Bottom Line:  The intention to protect from failure is at odds with the intention to have your children nurture strength and become resilient.   Strength comes from learning through experience, which must include failure and struggle.  We must not focus on protection from failure BECAUSE that leads YOU working harder at getting things done than our children.  This is a problem.

3. Being soft on limits, and then letting kids negotiate.

Probably one of the biggest problems I consistently experience is the inevitable ugliness that flows from parents who are soft limits that should never be negotiated.   Soft limits create a changing, moving and stressful environment, that is constantly changing and influenced by various requests, kids whining and multiple negotiations.

Bottom Line:  Soft limits promote anxiety, stress and poor performance.   Be strong and clear about limits and make them non-negotiable (for the most part).  The literature is clear about the value of structure for your children.  And likely the future will tell us more than ever:  Kids thrive with structure, and the parents who held to a tight, clear and consistent structure during these times will have stronger families better prepared for the future.

4. Being Focused on Fixing the Moment…Rather Than Teaching a Habit.

It’s very seductive to see a problem with the kids and end up stepping in to ‘fix it.’  This could be homework not getting done, too much time on electronics or even sibling bickering.   The overwhelming tendency is to simply react and ‘talk at the moment.’  In doing so, we are essentially trying to fix it. Right?

And that makes sense!  If you didn’t have to do it twenty times a day!  And if your kids were learning something healthy from this.  (They are not.)

Bottom Line:  Teaching in the moment requires much more thought and effort.  To teach, we actually need a plan for that.  If you float through these times without developing a plan and understanding how to teach these critical habits, then your efforts at fixing the moment will inevitably erode into more and more fixing.  And, for your children, their habits will become worse.

So, stop fixing.  When it comes to teaching critical life lessons, words simply don’t cut it.

Instead, we need to commit to a parenting plan, which is simple and direct.  Use words to explain math, science and talking about the joys and wonders of life.  But limit the use of words when you are trying to manage their behavior.  Rely upon leverage for that (learn more in the Toolkit for Tough Times mentioned below).

5. Investing energy into what you don’t want & expecting to end up with what you do want.

This is likely the most important mistake to master in the weeks ahead.  Why?  Because you can’t consistently and repeatedly invest your attention/energy into what you don’t want ….and expect those problems to go away.  It doesn’t’ work that way.

Think of your attention as an invitation. Every time you engage or speak to behavior or emotion…it’s like an invitation to your child:  ‘Give me more sweetheart.’

If you repeatedly invest your energy in the moments you don’t want, don’t expect it to change. Remember:  it’s an invitation for more.   If you give the repeated invitation to a whining child, expect more whining.  If you give the invitation to a complaining child, expect more complaining.  If you give the invitation to procrastination, expect more procrastination.  Got it?

Almost any message you have repeated over and over to unwanted, negative behavior is inviting more of that.  It will not get better.    It will only get worse.

Bottom Line:  Hold the intention to primarily invest your energy in the moments you value and appreciate.  Walk away from the rest, as most of these moments have been living in your home due to the invitations you have repeatedly given.

Sign up for my free ‘Toolkit for Tough Times.’ Lots of videos and downloads, and practical guidelines for getting through these tricky times at home with the kids.