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We all want our children to be kind, confident, cooperative, and assertive. It can be hard to teach our children to handle so many different behaviors. We miss providing learning opportunities for our children when we unknowingly make these damaging parenting habits.
Many times, these habits that we started as a way to help them are exactly what stops them from reaching their potential.
They get in the way of those moments that could become great ‘lessons’ for our kids… those teachable-moments that give them the tools to learn to be responsible, independent adults.
Most parents want the same things for their children: Happy, healthy, curious children that grow to be happy, healthy, responsible adults. We want our children to be strong– to take the initiative to stand up for what they believe in and what is right, while knowing when it is time to stop and listen to others.
Here are some ways that WE (accidentally) get in the way of this long-term goal.
1). Not letting our CHILD make the choice.
If you want your child to feel empowered, confident, and independent… give them choices. The small choices that they make now will be the stepping stones to the big choices that they will make in adulthood.
Start with easy choices about things that won’t impact your routine or day, so no matter what they pick, it will be fine.
Example: “Which of these TWO outfits do you want to wear tomorrow?” “Which cereal do you want to eat?”
“Do you want milk or water with your dinner?”
As they become older children and then teenagers, expand the choices to things like, “Where do you want to go for dinner this weekend?” or “Which of these two places would you rather go for a weekend away?”
When we don’t let our children have a choice of things now (while we can still supervise, guide, and help them), it will hinder them from making a choice when it comes to harder issues (when we aren’t there to help).
2). Not letting them “TAKE CHANCES, MAKE MISTAKES.”
There are plenty of times to make mistakes when you are a child.
It can happen when you’re making cookies & you read the ingredients wrong, or when you are writing and you write the wrong word, or if they are learning to ride a bike and they think they know the best way to learn (even though you know it really isn’t the best!)
If you are always there to stop your child from making a mistake, they will rely on you forever. Let them take chances. They have to experiment with figuring things out while they are young, so they can do this when they are older – when it really matters.
Let them see that falling on the ground, while learning to roller skate, wasn’t so awful (even though you knew that their method would end in a fall).
I know, from experience, that when I guard our kids too much, I create unnecessary fear in them.
Example: When our son was very young, I screamed “Watch out! A bee!” I was scared but not nearly as scared as I had made him. That fear lasted for years- until he was old enough (and we had helped him get over that fear). Take it from me, they feed off of your fear! Try to let them take chances & be brave. 🙂
3). When We Don’t Really Listen
Our children know that we have experience. They know that we probably have the solution to their problems, yet so many times they don’t go to their parents.
Why? They are afraid of being judged, afraid of getting into trouble. Instead of feeling like we are the perfect people to listen & help them find a solution, they worry about the consequences.
I saw this in one of our sons when he was younger – he was afraid of getting into trouble for breaking something.
We came up with a plan: I told him that if he needed help or was afraid to tell me something, he could say “I need to tell you, and I don’t want you to get mad.” I told him that it would let me know that I had to prepare for some bad news, but to stay calm and just listen. 🙂
Since then, they’ve been pretty good about coming to us for their problems (big or small) without fear of getting into trouble or feeling judged.
Now, after they tell me something like this, I ALWAYS say, “Thanks for telling me.” Or “Thanks for being honest.”
This will become more important as they get older. If they learn to trust you for the little things, they will come to you for the big things.
The Monique Burr Foundation teaches kids about five safety rules and one of them is “No Blame | No Shame” I want our children to know that if anything serious should happen, they can come to me without feeling blame or shame.
Your child needs to learn to trust you so they can feel comfortable coming to you. The best way to build trust? Listen to your child, without reacting. Just listen.
4). We OVER-compliment.
Yes, it is GREAT to be proud of your kids, but give them the chance to show you their greatness. Compliment them, of course, but let it mean something.
If we are always telling them how great they do, for every tiny thing, our word will start to become something that they NEED, or it will also lose part of its value and it won’t mean anything to them. It will become as common as hearing “Hi”
Let’s not teach them to rely on others for positive reinforcement. Let them do a job themselves, and they will see how great it feels to be proud of themselves!
I can still remember when our son passed a swim test that took him many tries to pass, and when he finally passed it, he turned to me and said: “Mom, I am so proud of myself!” – that is the best feeling of all!
5). We swoop in to save them constantly.
This is hard, I know. I have done it, I do it now, and I’m sure that I will continue to do it, at times. As much as I try to let them “sink or swim” it just isn’t in my nature. I’m still working on it. 🙂
The problem is that soon our children learn that if they fail at something, we will save them.
What happens down the road? In college? With their mortgage? Their marriage? Their job? We can’t save them.
It is hard to sit by and not “fix” something for your child that you can quickly fix.
I remember, when our son was in third grade, his classmate wouldn’t let him play football at recess with their group (this other little boy brought the football in).
What did I do? I bought him a football to take to school. What did this teach him? Just go to Mom & Dad, and they will buy my way out of a sticky situation.
What should I have done? Asked him to TALK to that child.
When we finally talked to that child (because my easy fix didn’t fix anything), I learned the truth… that this little boy didn’t want our son to play with the football because our son was getting the touchdowns and that left this little boy behind.
He felt sad that he wasn’t the one getting the touchdowns. It turns out that this little boy who was being mean was simply an insecure child, putting his fears onto someone else. I felt awful that we didn’t just talk to him FIRST – that we didn’t teach our son to try to get to the bottom of a problem before finding the easy way out.
Instead, we jumped to conclusions when we saw our son was upset. We thought that this little boy was mean, so my husband and I “swooped” in to save our son.
Lesson Learned: If we save them now, we will save them forever. Teach them how to deal with things, instead of saving them.
6). We let guilt blind us.
It’s ok to let our kids feel some disappointment. Be sure that you read that right: I didn’t say that it is EASY to watch them deal with a disappointment, I only said that it was OK.
The beautiful thing about children is that they are so resilient and they will get over it. In return, children will learn that they can’t have everything that they want, just because they want it.
We tend to give our children things when we feel guilty. Maybe we are working too much, not spending enough time with them, we have multiple children and can’t devote that one-on-one time to each child as much as we want, etc. There will always be a reason, but it doesn’t mean that we have to buy them things.
Don’t let guilt blind you and don’t let materialistic things blind your children. It can even be tempting to reward them because we feel bad for them (like when one child succeeds as something while the other fails).
As hard as it is, let them learn these life lessons when they are children, so they don’t have to learn them as adults.
7). Expecting Perfection.
Don’t expect perfection. Don’t expect laziness, either.
Teach them to try their best (and make sure that they do!).
Making their bed is a great example. They might not tuck in the sheets as you would, or put the pillows on just like you, but if the bed is made and looks well-done, let it be. Don’t re-make it. It will only make them feel like it wasn’t worth their effort. Instead, encourage them. I find that if I want them to do something differently, and I wait to tell them until later, it works better.
Ex: If the bed is made, but still looks “messy” for my standards, at 8:00 am, I’ll say “Thanks for making your bed.”
Then, around noon, I’ll say, “Oh- while you’re in here, let me give you a small tip about making your bed.”
It feels less like criticism and more like a helpful tip.
8). We don’t show them what to do… we tell them.
Lead by example. The best thing that we can do is to SHOW our kids how to behave.
When I volunteer somewhere- guess what they want to do?
When my husband offers to help someone- guess what they want to do?
Teach your kids to lead by being a leader! (& teach them to listen by being a listener).
9). We aren’t modeling what we want to see
As a parent, we have one job: teach our children.
If they don’t see us practicing what we preach, they won’t do it, either.
Example: If you want your children to get along, show them how you get along with your siblings. Show them how you talk kindly about them and how you respect them.
Example: If you want your children to read more, you need to read more so they can see that you enjoy it.
10). We don’t encourage them to try… and fail.
If they want to try something, tell them to go for it! If they think something might be too hard… ask them “Why not just give it a shot? What’s the worst that can happen?” I try to be laid back with a lot of things, and I hope that our kids see that.
I don’t let them try dangerous situations, but I do encourage them to try things that they might be reluctant to try. I would rather they try & fail than never try at all.
I let them see ME fail… a lot. I am not afraid to show them that I try things that don’t turn out well, but that’s Ok. I’ve learned from it. I’ll try again, this time with a little more knowledge or experience than I had last time.
I encourage them to GIVE IT A SHOT! The only thing that comes from failure is you learn a new way NOT to do it, so you can move on to try something else.
Our kids and I are reading a book called Fish in a Tree. The girl in the book had to decide if she should join the “cool kids” by making fun of someone else, or if she should be happy with herself by standing up for that child. This led to a great discussion with our kids.
I’d even encourage you to think about it yourself…
Think back to the example of standing up for someone. Why would they sit by and watch someone being bullied without stepping in?
Fear. Fear of teasing, fear of losing friends… fear stops us from so much.
Now think of how much they will have changed someone’s life if they DO step in. Encourage your children to remember that through failure, there is always a great lesson learned. There is always an upside to failure. Take a chance.