Does it seem like no matter what you do, whether you’re being nice and understanding, or punitive and strict, you keep running into problems with your kids?
They’re whiny, don’t listen, throw tantrums, or outright ignore you.
Or maybe they’re becoming lazy, or withdrawn and secretive, and you’re worried that it’s a sign you’re doing something wrong as a parent.
Or they continually “space” their homework or school assignments and you’re constantly helping them pick up the slack so they don’t get demerits at school.
Yes, parenting is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life, but sometimes it’s also one of the hardest.
But what if you’re making your job much harder than it needs to be?
What if the way you’re approaching parenting means that you’re accidentally creating some of these challenges you’re experiencing with your kids?
We reached out to some of the country’s top parenting experts—highly respected in their field with decades of experience counseling parents—to learn why so many experience ongoing stresses and challenges with parenting.
What they told us was eye-opening!
Parents make some very common mistakes, and these mistakes actually create some of the biggest problems they’re experiencing with their kids.
But parents are often unaware of this. They’re making these mistakes for all the right reasons: because it’s how they wish they had been raised. Because they’re caring and compassionate. Or because the alternative approach—authoritarian or permissive parenting—is just not an option they believe in.
Regardless, these mistakes are making their job as parents much harder on them AND on their kids. They are:
Kids make mistakes, too. Lots of them! They forget things. They break toys. They don’t think things through before barreling ahead.
As parents we are especially empathetic with our kids, so when our child tells us on a Saturday that they forgot their science project is due on Monday, we spring into action. We go to the store to buy art supplies and posterboard and then we help them type up their report.
We don’t want them to get a bad grade. We want them to succeed, and we think it’s our job as a parent to be helpful and supportive.
But then it doesn’t end with the school project. We bring their lunch to school when they forget. We nag them nightly to brush their teeth. We clean their room when they don’t do it “right.”
The more we help our kids, the more they become forgetful…unmotivated…unfocused. And therefore we continue to have to give them a boost, show them how to do it, and rescue them.
We overparent. And it’s a mistake.
Dr. Jane Nelsen, author of many Positive Discipline books, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a featured expert in the Flourish program, Parenting Traps says, “Teaching your child the skills and capabilities they need in order to be adults is the exact thing that over-parenting undermines.
They can handle the mistakes and the disappointments of life much better when they’ve got a support system, but not a rescuing system.
When you over-parent you’re not letting them develop their problem-solving skills and their capability muscles. Therefore, they’re going to have problems all their life.”
That’s why always helping is usually more harmful than simply allowing our children to suffer and fail, like letting them get a “D” on that school project they procrastinated, or letting them suffer with a bit of hunger when they forget to bring their lunch…again.
One of the main jobs of parenting is teaching children the difference between right and wrong and disciplining them when they misbehave. Right?
But it’s HOW we discipline and teach kids that can end up being a mistake.
Time-outs, for example, can seem like a good option to harsher punishments like spanking or yelling.
But time-outs can harm your child’s emotional development and cause them to develop destructive self-beliefs. Why?
“When children are sent to punitive time-out, they are likely to be thinking, I won’t get caught next time. I’ll get even. Or, worst of all, I’m bad." says Dr. Nelsen.
You may want them to think about what they did wrong while they’re in time-out, but all they’re actually doing is thinking about how UNFAIR you are. “Negative time out is based on the silly thought that in order to get children to do better, first we have to make them feel worse,” she says.
And it just doesn’t work.
But what about punishments, such as taking away toys, yelling, or telling them how “wrong” they are for doing what they did?
Dr. Nelsen says these types of punishments don’t motivate them to think through the consequences of their behavior. It only leads them to shame and self-loathing. They believe they’re bad, incapable, or unlovable, and when they believe these things, they act them out: They’ll make poor choices or act incapable.
It results in the very things you’re trying to curtail, and therefore makes your job as a parent harder. Harder on you, and harder on them, too.
One of the most common mistakes we make as parents is to invalidate our kids’ feelings when they tell us they’re angry, sad, or scared. It’s completely understandable why we do it:
We want to make our kids feel better.
We want to take away their pain and frustration. We want them to know that they’re wrong when they claim they’re unlovable (“No one likes me!”) or incapable (“I can’t do it!”).
We’ve been through a lot in life as adults and we want to impart our wisdom and guidance on our kids.
Unfortunately, when we tell our kids that they don’t have to feel a certain way, or we dismiss their feelings because “things aren’t so bad”, we invalidate them.
Christina McGhee, an internationally recognized parenting expert, speaker and author, says that “It’s true that most parents are trying to do the very best job they can, but there are a lot of ways that invalidation happens unintentionally.”
It happens when we tell our daughter, “I’m sure your friend didn’t mean what she said. You’re getting all upset over nothing.” Or when you tell her she isn’t “stupid” and that “C” she got on a math test isn’t the end of the world.
In other words, says Christina, “Invalidation is when what we say or what we communicate to our child is that their opinion doesn’t matter, or what they’re feeling doesn’t make sense. That what they’re feeling is wrong, irrational, or that they’re overreacting.”
That’s why dismissing our child’s feelings or jumping headlong into “fix it” mode is a mistake. It doesn’t help them feel better, it leads them to concluding that they’re alone in how they feel, that you don’t understand them, and that in the future, they should just keep their thoughts (and feelings) to themselves.
It creates the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Instead of trusting you or confiding in you, your child pulls away and becomes secretive and withdrawn.
Again, the complete opposite of what you were hoping to achieve when you told your child that “it was going to be okay” and that “they shouldn’t feel that way.”
It can be disheartening to think that everything you have been doing to be a kind, supportive, “good” parent may have actually been creating or perpetuating some of the problems you may have been experiencing with your child:
We’re doing the best we can and sometimes even that doesn’t seem to help.
Surprisingly thought, the strategies that feel completely counterintuitive are the ones that ARE most effective, such as letting our child feel disappointment, stepping back when we want to take over, letting them experience the natural consequences of their choices instead of being punitive, and letting them “chill out” instead of forcing them into time-outs.
What if you’re so used to doing things a certain way, and you’re not sure how to make the shift into these more counterintuitive methods?
That’s why we decided to turn to some of the world’s top experts and get their insights and advice on how to avoid the most common mistakes with parenting, and what to do instead.
When you subscribe to our free expert advice newsletter, you’ll get information-rich articles delivered to your inbox, with tons of actionable tips and specific advice to help you make positive changes in your parenting approach. These are articles by psychotherapists, authors, speakers and experts with decades of real-world experience working with families.
You’ll get articles from how to avoid some of the most common mistakes parents make and what you can do today to make sure you’re raising kids who will become happy, successful adults.
You’ll get articles with advice from parenting experts such as Dr. Jane Nelsen, who will reveal how to get your kids to cooperate without punitive time-outs and harsh punishments. You’ll learn what it means to let your child experience “natural consequences” while keeping them safe, which teaches them self-responsibility and exercises their “capability muscles.”
You’ll read articles with insights from Mary Nelsen Tamborski, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist how to tell your child “no” in a way that’s kind and firm, so you’re still able to maintain your boundaries while training your child to step up and be more self-motivated.
Or from Dr. Pat Love, author and a family therapist for more than 40 years explain why so many parents have such a hard time disappointing their kids and how to avoid raising an anxious child that grows up to be an entitled adult.
And parenting experts Christina McGhee and Shelly Lefkoe will take you through specific scripts you can use to help you validate your child’s feelings without patronizing them or sounding like a therapist, so they feel heard, understood, important and safe.
And finally, you’ll get important self-care tips from mindset coach, Gervase Kolmos, who has used her gut-wrenching experiences as an stressed out, perfectionist mom of three to help moms everywhere shift their priorities so that they can enjoy parenting AND be better moms!
You’ll also learn:
And much more…
Parenting isn’t always easy, but it certainly doesn’t have to be hard all the time, and we do have the power to help our kids be happier, more resilient, and more successful in life.