The 10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make

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by Dr. Jane Nelsen

Many of the following mistakes are made in the name of love. Too often we think we are helping our children when the long-term results of what we do may be discouraging. Other mistakes are made because we just don't know what else to do. Thankfully, one of the foundation principles of Positive Discipline is that "Mistakes are Wonderful Opportunities to Learn". So don't beat up on yourself if you have been making some of these mistakes. Children are very loving and forgiving, and we have the opportunity to model for them how we can learn from our mistakes.

1. Going for immediate rather than long-term results. Punishment may work to stop the behavior right now, but has detrimental long-term effects. Focus on solutions instead of punishment.

2. Lecturing and imposing consequences instead of asking curiosity questions to help the child explore the consequences of his or her choices. Children explore the consequences of their choices when you ask what happened, what caused it to happen, how they feel about it, what they learned from it, and what ideas they have to solve the problem.

3. Not considering what the child is thinking, feeling, and deciding. Children are always making decisions at a subconscious level. These decisions shape their personality and their behavior. A child who is punished may decide, “I feel hurt, so I’ll hurt you back.” “I feel shamed and embarrassed, so I'll just give up.”  “I feel powerless, so I’ll use my power to defeat you.” Some may become approval junkies and decide, “I’m bad, so I’ll try to be good to earn your love.” The greatest gift you can give your children is to help them discover and believe, “I am capable.”

4. Thinking, “I have to do something right now, or I’m not doing my job and I’m letting my child get away with something.”  When we are upset, it is the worst time to try to solve the problem. Everyone is irrational and no one can listen. Wait for some cooling down time (often it is the parents who should take some positive time-out), and then follow up when everyone can access their rational brains and cooperate to find mutually respectful solutions. Putting a problem on a family meeting agenda is a great way to allow some cooling off time before it is discussed.

5. Being too kind or too firm, instead of kind and firm at the same time.  “I love you, and the answer is no.”  

6. Rescuing or over protecting. This robs children of the opportunity to strengthen their “disappointment muscles” and discover that they are capable of dealing with the ups and downs of life.

7. Doing what they accuse children of not doing – not listening. Learn to validate your child’s feelings instead of lecturing her about her behavior. You may be surprised at how much more effective this is to encourage change.

8. Not having faith in their children to learn and grow in an atmosphere of unconditional love and support where they can learn valuable social and life skills. Children cannot thrive when parents are too controlling or too permissive. They thrive when parents involve children in focusing on solutions.

9. Thinking children must “pay” for their mistakes instead of “learn” from their mistakes. Create a tradition during dinnertime to have everyone share a “mistake of the day” and what he or she learned from it.

10. Not having faith in yourself. It is wise for parents to learn as much as they can, and then to filter everything through their own hearts and inner wisdom—and parent with love and confidence.

We have many Positive Discipline Tools to help you in your parenting journey. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Have fun and enjoy the journey with your children!

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