Mighty Mommy explains the 5 most common mistakes well-intended parents make — plus 5 easy fixes to turn them around and reestablish parental authority.
As parents, we tend to have high expectations of ourselves. The fact is that kids don't come with an owner's manual, so we rely on our instincts and the guidance of others, particularly during the beginning years, to hopefully get it right. Even though we're trying our best, several common parenting mistakes crop up and can be detrimental over time if neglected.
These five problems may seem innocent enough but can derail your parental authority if ignored. If any are relatable, don't worry, these solutions can put you back on track.
Parenting Mistake #1: Life without rules
Before I began parenting my brood of eight, I didn't realize there were several parenting styles. Because of my 5-year-bout with infertility, I had plenty of time to daydream about how I would raise my kids. Initially, I thought it would be wise to let them have as much freedom as possible because I wanted their independence and creativity to soar. This style of parenting is known as "free-range" (and the term speaks for itself). It was coined by Lenore Skenazy, who famously let her 9-year-old son find his way home on the New York City subway system alone and wrote about it in her New York Sun column. A free-range parenting philosophy is about allowing children to grow and develop without a great deal of parental intevention.
The complete opposite of a free-range style is that of a helicopter parent, one who constantly hovers over their child so if any problem arises, they're close by to solve it for them.
I learned quickly that neither of those styles was for me, but a combination of both worked well.
The Fix: Impose boundaries
My pediatrician turned me on to one of my greatest parenting weapons—setting and enforcing boundaries. I had four kids under the age of three, and she saw how overwhelmed I was. Her advice was to create a loving home environment that included rules and limitations. She also shared that kids, including teens, secretly crave boundaries. She was right! My kids always did better when they had firm expectations.
An easy way to set boundaries is to incorporate them into your daily routines. Once your kids know what to expect, you'll be able to implement clear guidelines for all areas of your life, and you'll stay on task with an orderly and chaos-free home.
Check out the episode on How Routines Will Improve Your Life to learn simple tools for imposing stable routines in your home.
Parenting Mistake #2: Sending mixed messages
Once you commit to setting up boundaries and solid routines for your family, you need to pledge to carry them out even during those times when you're exhausted, aggravated, or feeling lazy. Nothing sends a more confusing message to a child than being inconsistent. If yesterday the expectation was that the child had to put their dirty dishes in the sink, and suddenly today they're allowed to leave them festering on the table, then what will be the case tomorrow? Once you set a household rule, stick to it.
Once you commit to setting up boundaries and solid routines for your family, you need to pledge to carry them out.
The Fix: Outline clear expectations
Children thrive if parents can have clear expectations for behavior and enforce those standards consistently. Consistency puts action behind your words; it shows your kids that you do mean what you say. Determine what your expectations for your kids are on everything from how they perform at school to curfews, household chores, and even things like using profanity and what their bedtime is during the school year. Be specific and then make the consequences equally as straightforward.
The Savvy Psychologist had excellent advice in regards to setting consequences with my son. In my episode How to Effectively Impose Consequences for Bad Behavior, she recommended the following:
"First, choose a consequence he actually cares about. If you take away his phone, but he can just chat with his friends from his laptop, it's not going to work. So choose something that he will actually be motivated about, whether it's the use of the car, having money, or being able to stay out as late as his friends. Spell out the consequence for breaking the rule just as specifically as the rule itself. Write it down and display it, just like the rule."
Include your kids in the process of creating your household rules and the consequences for breaking them. Print them out and display in a common area like the kitchen. That way, you'll have an accessible reference point when a conflict arises.
Parenting Mistake #3: Arguing with your kids
How many times have you caught yourself in a power struggle with your child over something as ridiculous as what they want to wear to school? Or maybe your tween oversleeps every morning and you start your day fighting about how he needs to get himself together because you're tired of him missing the bus so often? Whether it's simple bickering or a full-blown shouting match, you're half the problem when you engage in the argument. You're adding fuel to the fire by participating and setting a poor example.
The Fix: Don't engage in every argument
In my episode Parenting a Strong-Willed Child, I shared one of my favorite pieces of parenting advice from Parenting guru Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids — you don't have to attend every argument to which you're invited!
The next time you see an argument brewing with your child, make the decision not to engage. For example, if your teenage daughter breaks her curfew and comes home on the defensive with a volatile attitude about why she's late (it's probably all your fault because your rules are so unfair!), don't go into automatic battle mode. Keep calm and tell her you're glad she's home safely. As she continues to egg you on, let her know you're going to bed, and you'll talk about it in the morning. Now, keep your cool and walk away. By doing this, you've remained in control of the situation, and she can't keep the argument going because you're not in attendance.
The next time you see an argument brewing with your child, make the decision not to engage...Keep your cool and walk away.
Parenting Mistake #4: Neglecting self-care
Taking care of our family, home, and juggling a career is a monumental task. If you're always on the go and never take time to get re-energized, you're making two huge mistakes. First, it's not healthy physically or emotionally to neglect self-care. Second, you're showing your kids that you're not worthy of essential "me-time," and you lay the foundation for them to follow suit when they grow into young adults.
The Fix: Make yourself a priority
There are dozens of ways you can sneak time into your daily and weekly schedule to enjoy quality self-care practices. I start every day with a brisk 30-minute power walk alone. This is my sacred time to think, enjoy nature, and stay in shape. I've also learned how to say "no" to requests that I either don't want to take on or aren't of interest to me.
For more ideas on how to keep yourself balanced, check out my popular episode 10 Creative Ways to Indulge in Regular Self-Care.
Parenting Mistake #5: Being overly critical
I've saved my favorite parenting blunder for last. It's our job as parents to correct our kids when they make a mistake, especially when we can turn their wrong into a learning opportunity. However, often, we focus on their shortcomings and the negative instead of what they're doing right.
According to a study conducted by students and faculty in Binghamton University's psychology department, highly critical parents may significantly impact their children, increasing their risk for depression and anxiety and affecting future relationships.
The Fix: Catch them doing good
Years ago, my children's elementary school began a program called "Caught Ya." The goal was to catch the students doing something right and praise them for it with a written note, specifically calling out their good choices.
I shared an example of this in my episode 5 Ways to Raise a Happy Child. "When our kids receive praise for something they've well, and we take the time to let them know we've noticed, this builds self-esteem as well as encourages a growth mindset. This doesn't mean we have to become cheerleaders that wave our parental pom-poms every time our child draws a pretty picture or puts his dirty clothes in the hamper. However, when we genuinely notice their efforts and say, 'I've noticed you're taking the time to keep your room more organized—good for you!' we're fostering that growth mindset that inspires our kids to do better."