Parents usually want what’s best for their children. However, the way in which they go about it might not always be the best. What’s more, sometimes when parents best intentions can backfire and lead to harm in the long term. Let’s take a look at what are the common mistakes parents make in trying to help their children.
1. Sheltering and protecting
Children need their parents to protect them from many dangers in the outside world but many parents take it a bit too far. They ban from their homes anything that doesn’t fit their worldview or is perceived as too challenging or upsetting. This often means removing anything even a little bit scary or sad or controversial, preventing kids from accessing any form of unapproved content even into their teenage years, monitoring every aspect of a child’s leisure and communication, and so on. For example, there are parents who try to get books banned from libraries or removed from the curricula if they think they are too controversial or difficult, even if they touch important subjects in real life, such as racism. What damage does it do? It can leave children a bit too naive about the world or unable to think critically about difficult issues, which can be found in the real world aplenty. As adolescents or young adults, they can find that they lack the tools and emotional resilience to cope with complex or challenging situations.
2. Praising your child
Shouldn’t you be praising your child? After all, if you say that they are handsome or smart, you are reinforcing their self-confidence. Apparently, the most common way of giving praise is actually quite harmful. Focusing on children’s qualities, like “smart”, can do more harm than good. It teaches that these are the important things and may shape a specific self-image. Children who fixate on being smart because that’s what they hear seem to struggle a lot more in life. They are scared of challenges, are less curious and less willing to experiment, and more concerned about their performance. These are children who prefer to do an easy task to avoid failure rather than try something new and interesting. This is a limiting approach. It stunts growth and suggests that hard work is a sign of not being smart enough. Failure and challenge are necessary, and children who were called clever or intelligent often find themselves struggling with low self-esteem or wasted potential as adults. While saying “you’re so smart” seems like a good thing, the consequences can be quite damaging. It’s better to praise children for their efforts, which they can change and improve through hard work.
3. Pushing too hard
If your child has potential, they should develop it! They should speak more languages, play more instruments, prepare for college before kindergarten! Parents who are prone to this behavior want their children to succeed in life. They want them to be ahead of a highly competitive market, prepared for globalization, ready to face any change or challenge. Unfortunately, these good intentions can translate into overwhelming the child with activities and expectations. Children find themselves without time to play or socialize, without time to get bored or explore their surroundings. They also find that they do not have time to pursue things that they enjoy if these are seen as unproductive. For example, a parent with high expectations might discourage interest in art or a hobby. Often, parents do not do this consciously but make clear that they do not like a specific activity, pushing the child to give it up or simply by not allowing enough time or leaving the kid with enough energy to try it. Children might grow up unmotivated or unsure of what they really want. They might feel a sense of burnout from all the things they have to do or, on the opposite side of the spectrum, get caught up in the pursuit of an unattainable idea of perfection. Either way, pushing too hard can prevent future success instead of securing it.
4. Using their own upbringing as a guide
This is not always a bad idea. Many people who grew up in toxic families find that thinking “what would my parent do” and then doing the opposite is a helpful idea. However, this also can mean that parents are too focused on what they lacked or wanted in their childhood. The classic example is the parent who buys their kids the toy that they wanted as a child or pushes them to be more like they were as children, for instance, more outgoing, more of a tomboy, more bookish, and so on. Parents expect that their children will want the same thing that they did or will have the same needs. But children have their own desires and personalities, which might mean that they want something different. Learning to listen and understanding the specific needs of your child is a better strategy.
5. Accepting everything about the child
Parents should unconditionally love and support their children but this doesn’t mean that they should support each and every behavior. Many parents think that by encouraging children and not setting limits they can help their kid grow up with more confidence and freedom. They also can see potentially troublesome signs as being parts of who the child is. However, not every behavior should be supported and some should be cause for concern. Children who are aggressive towards others, who have a hard time with some type of learning, or those who are very inattentive can benefit from at least a preliminary professional assessment (for example, at https://www.testkidsiq.com/) and professional help. There are many behaviors that might be dismissed as “oh, he’s just too spirited” or “she is just a little lazy” that should be addressed. It can be hard to differentiate between personality quirks and behaviors that need some attention, whether to encourage a child’s giftedness or offer treatment for a learning disability, but it is important to stay alert for signs of trouble.