Raising a child is certainly no picnic. Indeed, it comes with many challenges and stressors, and tests your mental and physical capacity to the extreme. But even parents who feel like they have all the answers don’t always make the best decisions. And while children are growing and soaking up everything around them, parents are also growing in the process, which means they are bound to make mistakes. Unfortunately, some of these mistakes can also lead to negative mental health consequences as children grow into adults. It’s not always easy, but there are a few parenting mistakes to avoid to ensure you’re fostering emotional resiliency in your children.
10 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid
1. Downplaying their feelings
A part of healthy emotional dialogue is providing your children a safe space to discuss their feelings. But failing to acknowledge your child’s emotional needs or even downplaying them can cause several consequences. In particular, they become more at risk for developmental delays, trauma, depression, and several other psychological problems.
Children need to learn and know that it’s okay to have emotions – and the freedom to express them. For example, if your child is upset about an incident at school, ask them about it. Ask them what made them feel so angry. After discussing the reason, ask what would make them feel better. Brainstorming solutions together builds emotional resilience in kids and fosters independence.
2. Avoiding accountability
Have you ever encountered someone who refused to accept responsibility for their actions? No matter the circumstance, defense follows like a habit. Unfortunately, parents who make this same mistake model their children to adopt the same. But the consequences of this mistake are far greater than apologizing.
Children taught to neglect responsibility also begin to alienate themselves from others, form unhealthy relationships, and live in defense mode, denying their emotions. To interrupt this pattern, start by modeling how to apologize, take responsibility, and show your children how healthy it is to accept accountability for a mistake.
3. Rigid expectations
It’s natural to want your kids to be ambitious, achieve big goals, and aim high. Who doesn’t want their kid to have a great future? Yet, setting the bar too high can produce the reverse effect – it can lead to confidence and self-esteem problems.
Instead, help them build realistic expectations and teach pathways to achieve their goals. If they fail, it’s also a good learning point; failure is a prerequisite to growth, and they’ll have a better foundation to overcome setbacks.
4. Fighting in front of your children
Disagreeing is a natural part of relationships. You may fight with your partner about the dishes or dinner. But if it becomes deeper and you begin yelling, name-calling, or engaging in aggressive behaviors (throwing, hitting, etc.), it’s best not to fight in front of your children or even within earshot – two parenting mistakes to avoid.
Research shows when parents fight often, it affects the child’s cognitive function, brain development, and emotional regulation and can cause depression, anxiety (mistakes that make childhood anxiety worse), and even self-harm.
While it’s not always possible, try to have any arguments or heated discussions in privacy, away from home. If that’s not realistic, write your frustrations down and save them later to discuss when you’re alone.
5. Playing favorites
Favoritism often happens in households with siblings, and parents may not realize they are acting more favorably towards one child over the other. It may appear like praising one child more, giving them more gifts, or more attention because of a stronger bond.
Nonetheless, it can cause low self-esteem (tips to build self-esteem that work) and damage their relationships later in life. If your child comes to you with a favoritism concern, try to be open and empathize. Start taking note of how you might treat one child over the other, and work towards providing more balanced love and attention.
6. The guilt response
When arguing with your child, you may feel like they’re ungrateful or not appreciative of something you provided or did. For example, you might say, “I’ve paid for all of your food, given you a roof over your head, and this is how you treat me!”.
While you may be in pain, how you respond to your child during an argument impacts them mentally. It can lead to internalizing feelings and low self-worth. Instead of reacting with the guilt response, explain to your child your feelings are hurt, and the reasons why, and build a discussion that will teach emotional intelligence.
Why can’t you be more like your cousin, friend, sibling, neighbor, (insert person)? It’s natural to want the best for your child and be disappointed if they don’t meet your expectations. But pushing them too hard and comparing them to others can cause profound psychological effects.
Children may believe nothing is ever good enough, second-guess their accomplishments, and become overachievers prone to burnout. Instead of comparing them, praise their accomplishments, and teach them to value their own. Expecting perfection won’t work and will only lead to resentment.
8. Carrying over unfulfilled dreams
Everyone experiences disappointment in life. Yet, if a parent feels remorse or pain from not fulfilling a dream, they may project their unmet goals onto their children. But if it means denying and ignoring your children’s wants and needs, their emotional and intellectual growth may be affected. Furthermore, it can make it difficult for children to develop their own identity, feel a sense of self-efficacy, and lead to dependent behaviors.
To ensure this doesn’t happen, give your children ample opportunities to discover what they want, allow them to make decisions, and release control to allow growth, expression, and space to pave their own paths.
9. Distant love
Whether it’s intergenerational trauma, a busy work schedule, or another reason, not spending enough time with your child can lead to various negative emotional effects. Research shows children are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviors, misconduct, delinquency, drug use, and self-harm, to name a few. While it may be out of your control, try not to feel too guilty.
Many studies also reveal the quality of time spent together counts more than the quantity. If you can’t increase the amount of time you have with them, focus on bonding with the time you do have. For example, ask about their day, limit distractions, have 1:1 playtime, or leave notes and reminders of love when possible. Perhaps in their lunch, via text, when they wake up, or any creative way to shower them with attention and love.
10. Not caring for yourself
Life makes it exceedingly challenging to make time for self-care. Whether it’s work, responsibilities, or parenthood, it can be hard to maintain healthy habits (e.g., exercising regularly, eating healthy, socializing with friends). But making time for yourself also reduces stress, minimizes frustration, improves your energy, and overall makes you a better parent.
Moreover, modeling self-care habits for your kids also teaches them the importance of self-love. When you’re stressed about work or dealing with a personal problem, it’s okay to tell your child, “I’m tired and need to relax in a hot bubble bath”.
If you’re a parent reading this article and made any of these mistakes, practice self-forgiveness and know you still have time to grow, practice new habits, and help your children increase their mental strength. Yet, if you’re unsure how to manage your children, following any of these parenting mistakes to avoid, including talking to a professional, will help you cope with the many complex feelings parenthood creates.