The 10 Most Common Mistakes Good Parents Make

What follows I find, in my professional and personal dealings, to be the most common mistakes we parents make. At the end of each of them I’ve listed the chapter in my parent book Working Parents, Thriving Families: 10 Strategies That Make a Difference (WPTF) that offers an expanded discussion and specific strategies for dealing with each problem as well links to related blog posts.

#1: Imagining that there will be more time for the family next week.

One of the most important exercises I ask parents to do in my practice is “special time.” This activity, which is different from quality time, takes one hour a week. So, so many parents believe that it will be easy to “make” this time (there is no “finding” the time, only making it) each week only to learn that it is extremely difficult to do so consistently, an insight that is instructive.

When parents describe a week when they did not complete special time they stress how unusually busy it was. While there certainly can be exceptionally busy weeks, most of the time the only thing that rotates is what is causing the extreme busyness, not the extreme busyness itself.

See Chapter One, Complete One Hour of Special Time Each Week With Your Child in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

The Value of Unplugging

Conversation Starters for You and Your Teenager

#2: Parenting from a cross.

The research makes it clear that our collective parental self-care is often quite poor and that this causes significant stress on not only on us, but also on our partners and our kids. My experience is that the number one reason we good parents fall into this trap is because we are consumed by work and family duties. An image comes to mind: the oxygen masks having dropped in an emergency situation on an airplane and a woozy parent, who is not wearing an oxygen mask, is consumed by securing a child’s mask

See Chapter Seven, Take Care of Yourself and Your Relationship With Your Significant Other, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Six Tips for When You Lose It With Your Kid

51 Truths (As I See Things Anyway)

Effective Romance Helps Effective Parenting

Lions and Tigers and Vows, Oh My! 10 Tips for Taking Your New Year’s Resolutions from Oz to Kansas

#3: Praising poor performance.

The pervasiveness of this leaves me feeling confident that you could go to any youth baseball game in your community this weekend and likely hear examples of parents praising their kids for striking out, or making errors or for other kinds of poor performance. We know that facilitating our kids’ self-esteem is important. But our compressed and crazy-busy lifestyles sometimes cause us to use techniques that are either not helpful or that facilitate negative outcomes (e.g., self-entitlement).

See Chapter Two, Discover, Promote and Celebrate Your Child’s Competenites, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

Five Questions for Effectively Parenting Kids in Sports

#4: Trying to undo a kid’s pain.

One of my favorite quotes is by Kahlil Gibran in his great, little book The Prophet: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” We good parents hurt worse when our kids hurt. So, we try to take it all away; if we are successful we limit our kids’ wisdom.

See Chapter Six, Promote Health Decision Making, Independence and Adaptive Thinking, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

•  Failure: An Important Part of  Psychologically Healthy Childhood.

#5: Missing the middle ground on discipline.

 It’s amazing how often the word “discipline” is equated with butt kicking. Actually, the root of the word is “to teach.” I would argue that the top outcome effective discipline promotes is our child’s capacity to do things well when he or she doesn’t feel like it. This is the psychological muscle group that best predicts success in our culture.

It is easy to wrap ineffective discipline strategies in truisms. The parent who is soul weary and disengages from discipline might say “you can’t make all their decisions for them. Kids have got to learn to make their own mistakes and to figure things out for themselves!” Likewise the harsh and unyielding parent (it takes less time to parent in this way than to discipline effectively), might say “kids have to learn respect and to do as they are told!”

To discipline well is one of the most challenging and time consuming aspects of effective parenting. As we are so, so tired and so, so overextended, it’s easy to miss the boat.

See Chapter Five, Practice Sound Discipline, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Six Reasons to Avoid Spanking

Seven Tips for When Your Child Refuses to do a Chore.

Top 11 Tips for Parenting Teens

#6: Enabling sleep deprivation.

There is an epidemic of sleep deprivation among our youth. The more researchers examine the consequences of this, the more we learn how impairing a lack of sleep can be across all the major domains of a child’s or teen’s life. Again, it is much, much easier to let this go than it is to ensure that our kids get enough sleep.

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Is Your Kid Getting Enough Sleep?

A Chronic Health Problems in Teens: A Lack of Sleep

Helping Your Child Get a Good Night’s Sleep

#7: Warring with other adults in a kid’s life.

My read of the scientific literature on divorce adjustment suggests that the two best predictors of child and teen adjustment to divorce are the number of changes that he or she endures (with fewer being better) and how well the parents get along. And, don’t even get me started on how important it is to a child’s education for parents and teachers to partner effectively. However, we parent-lunatics, often go to war with these other adults. The banners we fly as we march to battle usually articulate very important issues; however, we often don’t let ourselves be fully aware of the shrapnel our kids are taking.

See Chapter Nine, Establish Collaborative Relationships With Other Important Adults, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

11 Important Tips When You Meet With a Teacher

#8: Enabling excessive use of sedentary electronic pleasures.

Let’s face it, if our kids are plugged in they leave us the hell alone (and that’s good as we’ve got TONS to do) and they certainly seem to enjoy themselves. However, if a kid is doing this for more than two hours a day, it is very likely that she or he is missing out on important developmental outcomes (e.g., being physically active, developing skills for face-to-face interactions, learning academic material).

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog posts:

Can Parents Trust Movie, Television and Gaming Ratings?

10 Tips for Parenting Your Progeny’s Online Life

10 Strategies if Your Child is Addicted to World of Warcraft

#9: Enabling a poptart-pizza-pasta diet and lifestyle.

Unfortunately, it’s cheaper and easier (e.g., more convenient, less hassles from progeny) to eat poorly than it is to eat well. I was at a restaurant recently with my eldest doing special time. As I was paying the check at the entry area an array of sumptuous bakery items was on display, to which I said “They look really good. But you might just as well inject a vile of glucose in your butt.” To which my eldest said “you say that all the time.” (My second eldest recently had a wittier retort: “but that wouldn’t taste as good.”) My saying this “all the time” to my kids is my way of howling at the moon as I find the marketing of unhealthy foods in our culture to be incessant.

Of course, it takes time and effort to ensure that our kids sweat and breath hard for an hour at least five days a week, even if the activity is fun (the guideline is actually for seven days a week, but I’m trying to be Dr. Flexible).

See Chapter Eight, Emphasize a Healthy Lifestyle, in WPTF for more.

Related blog post:

Kids’ Physical Activity: 7 Thinking Traps

#10: Excessive self-reproach, worry and lunacy.

At the end of the day we parents are shepherds, not sculptors. We often oversubscribe our kids’ outcomes to what we do and don’t do, to what we say and what we don’t say. While our efforts matter and make a big difference, so much of what happens in our kids’ lives is outside of our control (i.e., as they grow older the stakes rise and our control diminishes). Moreover, we are the best intentioned humans on the planet who work our butts off. And, every single one of us screws up on a pretty consistent basis. So, let’s cut ourselves some slack and have our self-talk be what we would have our kids’ self talk be, in the future, should they end up having kids…we can only hope that we can be there to see it, especially if we can simultaneously kick up our feet and enjoy a tasty beverage.

See the Introduction and Epilogue in WPTF for more.

Related blog post

We Parents are Lunatics

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