5 Parenting Traps That Harm

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Parenting is complicated and muddling through it without learning best practices can have negative consequences. Here are some things many parents do without realizing they may be contributing to the very problems they are trying to prevent.

1. Control (At the Wrong Stage of Development)

Controlling parenting (for example micromanaging a teen’s life and relationships) can move teens away from “under control” behavior and toward behavior problems.

“Positive parental control in early and mid-childhood is important for preventing late disruptive behaviour. However, in adolescence, monitoring – and not control – is most closely associated with positive behavioural adjustment.”   

O’Conner and Scott, Parenting Outcomes For Children, Joseph Rountree Foundation

It is critical to keep children safe when they’re young, but just as critical as they get older to step back and give them the space to become capable young adults who can manage themselves.

“In a recent meta-analysis of more than 1400 published studies, Martin Pinquart found that harsh control and psychological control were actually the biggest predictors of worsening behavior problems over time (Pinquart 2017).” 

Gwen Dewawr, Ph.D., Authoritarian Parenting: What Happened To the Kids? ParentingScience.com

Parents who find themselves wanting to control their teens’ behavior (which probably includes all parents at some point in time) can learn about child growth and development, and how controlling parenting can lead to problems. They can find ways to manage their own stress and seek parenting support.

2. Failing to Give Responsibility 

It is easy to become frustrated when we need to make repeated requests. We may fall into the trap of thinking that it’s easier to do things ourselves than to follow up with our children until they do them. The problem with that is that they will not learn how to take responsibility if we don’t give them responsibilities.

“Instilling the attitudes and traits that make children responsible occurs over years and involves many different pieces that make up the parenting puzzle.” 

RESPONSIBILITY AND CHORES: PART I – THE BIG PICTURE: TEACHING RESPONSIBILITY TO YOUR CHILDREN, The Center For Parenting Education

Too much homework and too many outside activities can be an easy justification for not having children help around the house — “My teen has too much homework and plays sports and doesn’t have time to do chores.” Teens don’t automatically know how to manage multiple responsibilities. How will they learn how to limit the activities they commit to and manage their time to get both their homework and chores done if they don’t get to practice?

3. Perfectionism (High Expectations Without High Support)

There is no perfect child, although it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that “if we could just get them to do x and stop doing y they would be perfect.” When parents fall into this trap, they may hover, do too much for their children or become overly demanding or controlling (see #1 above).

“At any one time, on average, school-age children have about five or six traits or behaviors that their parents find difficult. These might include not complying with simple requests, avoiding chores, spending too much time watching TV or playing videos, engaging in sibling rivalry or having difficulty completing homework.” 

A “Perfect” Parent, American Academy of Pediatrics

When we understand that parenting is a process with the independence of the child is the ultimate goal, it helps us weather the inevitable challenges along the way. Remembering that each child is different and there is no “perfect” child or “perfect” parent, we can better navigate the normal ups and downs of parenting.

4. Failing to Set an Ethical Example

We can be supportive, loving parents but if we don’t set a positive ethical example, we won’t be developing them in ways that help them become ethical adults.

“The good news is that by behaving in a positive way, your children are likely to do the same. The bad news is that the power of modeling puts pressure on you to act as you want your children to act.”

RESPONSIBILITY AND CHORES: PART II – TIPS FOR TEACHING RESPONSIBILITY, The Center For Parenting Education

If we tell a new driver that it’s okay to ignore the law that says they can only drive 1 other non-family young person, what other laws will they decide to ignore? Parents are the role models that define what ethical behavior means and how it is applied (or not) in daily life.

5. Using Labels Instead of Teaching and Guiding

Labels last a long time in a child’s psyche and can harm self-esteem and contribute to behavioral problems. Child development is cyclical and behavior is not always consistent.

“Labels that focus on the difficulties a child is having do so at the expense of recognising their capabilities and strengths in other areas.”

Vicky Plows,  Labelling kids: the good, the bad and the ADHD, The Conversation

Parenting frustration and anger is natural – managing it when it happens is one of the greatest responsibilities of parenting. If we use a negative label we are telling them that’s who they are and labels tend to stick. There is no labeling in teaching and guiding. We need to be careful that we describe the negative behavior and let the child know that it is not who they are – the behavior does not define them. 

“In the heat of the moment, you may not even be aware of what is annoying you. Getting to those underlying feelings and the reasons behind them can make a huge difference.”

ANGER AND VIOLENCE: PARENTS ANGER: TURNING DOWN THE HEAT IN YOUR HOME, The Center For Parenting Education

Instead of labeling based on their mistakes, we can let them know we expect better from them. We can describe why what they did was negative, and tell them we know they are capable of doing better next time. 

Be Willing To Learn

Every stage in a child’s life brings new challenges, and the child should not be the only one learning. Helping a child learn to walk does not prepare you for helping a teen learn to drive. The support needed is vastly different. Learn how to support healthy child growth and development.Parents who spend zero time learning about good parenting may not realize that their parent behaviors are harming instead of helping. 

Helping Young People Become Ethical Leaders

 

 

 

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About Linda Fisher Thornton
Linda Fisher Thornton is Founder and CEO of Leading in Context, and author of the award-winning book 7 Lenses. She teaches as Adjunct Assoc. Prof. for University of Richmond SPCS. She is leading a movement to help leaders and organizations Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership.

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