The most important pothole mistake is expecting yourself to be perfect. You will fall into these from time to time. Every parent does. Not to worry. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and use these fixes most of the time.
Mistake Pothole #1: Assuming that children are smaller versions of adults. When you make this mistake, you may get caught in confusion. You treat your children like little adults and are surprised when their behavior is immature. The mistake here involves an incorrect assumption. Children are not little copies of us. They do not know what an adult knows.
Quick-fix tip: Correct the assumption. Remind yourself that your kids are just kids, and help them learn the values and behaviors they need to function effectively in the world. There is good news in this fix. The shift of perspective will open up a world of possibilities for teaching kids how to become the kind of adults you want them to be.
Mistake Pothole #2: Comparing and labeling the kids. The mistake here involves failure to see children in a more integrated and well-rounded view. You can fall into this pothole in a variety of ways. You might cast the child into a certain role: the ‘good one’ or ‘the bad one’; the ‘troublemaker’; the ‘drama queen.’ Or you may compare one child to another to try to get certain results. Children try to live up to a parent’s expectations. What you see may be what you get - for better or worse.
Quick-fix tip: Recognize the special traits and abilities of each child. Refrain from pitting children against one another in attempts to motivate. There are good payoffs to this fix. Affirming your child’s special qualities can put 'miracle grow' on your child’s development of self-esteem, and there is a better chance that you will raise well-rounded individuals.
Mistake Pothole #3: Caving on the consequences (or rewards) you set for certain behavior choices. You jump right into this pothole if you set a consequence or reward for a certain behavior and do not follow through. You will lose leverage and credibility that you might need for a later event.
Quick-fix tip: This one is simple and you can make it easier on yourself. Follow through with what you say will happen. Choose consequences that do not threaten the child. Choose consequences you intend to back up. Be consistent and keep consequences reasonably simple. Keep them free of shaming. The trick here is to match the consequences appropriately to behavior. You do not need the heavy equipment for every repair job. This fix has a nice payoff. It builds trust.
Mistake Pothole #4: Allowing the kids to ‘run the show.’ The mistake here is to allow the kids to play one parent against another. This can happen in families where the parents do not live together. Even when they really fight to get their way, kids feel safe and secure when they trust that the parents are in charge. Often it is easier to give in; however, taking the easier (and often quieter) route may undermine your parental authority when you need it.
Quick-fix tip: If your situation allows, co-parent as much as possible. Put heads together to make decisions for what is best for the kids. And pick your battles. If you decide to give in on what they want, do it as a team. A united front will provide the limits that children need to feel protected and cared for. Think of yourselves as equals in the planning and prospering of your child’s well-being. Work together to work out your own differences as best you can. There is bang for the parenting buck in this fix too. Your children will have less insecurity/anxiety when they see that you are running the show. There will be less wiggle room to ‘play you’ when the stakes are high.
Mistake Pothole #5: Your body is with the kids and your mind is somewhere else. Kids can tell when you are there but not there. Joining the kids in their world means the world to them. Their budding sense of self becomes stronger when they feel the parent’s affirming presence.
Quick-fix tip: Plan to have mindful time with the children. This is time when you can really focus on something they are doing, or on something you are doing together. This doesn’t mean you literally have to be everywhere they are all the time. It means when you are with them that you really join with them, and enjoy them. Even 10 minutes of time of this quality is beneficial - and can be fun!
The payoff here is big. You earn respect. They will be more likely to let you in if they have a problem. Your genuine interest in them will help build the character they need to be successful in their lives.
Bette Freedson, LICSW, LCSW, is a member of NASW with a background in parenting, women's issues and stress management. Bette specializes in offering practical wisdom for coping with difficult life situations. In addition, Bette conducts workshops and seminars focused on coping strategies, couples’ issues and emotional wellness.
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