Big wins often require small steps. “Overnight success” is a myth that too often hides the pain, hard work, and failure associated with each and every success. Much like Hemingway’s description of how bankruptcy occurs, success occurs “gradually, then suddenly.”
“Successful parenting” is pretty much the same. Few things occur “suddenly.” Everything – good and bad – is the result of small, gradual, intentional steps.
In your quest to raise self-reliant and independent kids, these eight habits may be undermining your good intentions:
1 | You’re always there
Doing too much for your kids discourages them to undertake age-appropriate activities that help them develop confidence in their abilities. As Montessori once said, “The fundamental basis of education must always remain that one must act for oneself.”
By doing too much for your child, you can condemn her to helplessness and give her the false belief that you will always be there to smooth out rough spots.
2 | You think your child’s behavior is about you
Your child’s behavior is rarely a personal attack against you. Rarely is it a conscious attempt to undermine your authority. Rather, his behavior is often triggered by emotionally charged events and is always a response to something else: anger, hunger, fear, frustration, anxiety, thirst, fatigue, boredom, etc. This is manifested in behavior such as acting-out, meltdowns, inappropriate behavior such as hitting and biting, and so on. When you react in anger without understanding the root of the problem, you simply offer a short-term solution to what can become a long-term problem.
What we now know is that many children struggle with difficult emotions and often need guidance to identify those emotions and deal with them in a socially appropriate way. Exploring underlying issues using age-appropriate tools can help your child learn to deal with triggers before they get out of hand.
3 | You make all the decisions
Failing to involve your child in the decision-making process does more harm than good. There is abundant proof that shared decisions reduce conflict and power struggles between children and their parents. Research has found that allowing your child to participate in the decision-making process as he grows older helps her develop important life skills and helps improve the parent-child relationship.
Other studies have found that children crave autonomy quite early, and parents should therefore strive to help them actively participate in decision-making.
If you often fall into the “problem-solver role,” start asking for your child’s opinion: “What do you think?” “Why do you think it didn’t work?” Encourage him to find solutions by himself: “What will you do next time?” Make him responsible for his actions: “How do you want to do this?” Resources such as “This is what it takes to raise a happy and confident adult” is filled with practical tips and worksheets to help your child practice skills as such decision-making and growth mindset thinking and behavior. Even young kids can participate in structured decision-making: “Would you like the blue shorts or the yellow ones?”
Letting your child engage in less structured activities may also enable him to develop his decision-making skills. Gradually transferring decision-making powers to your children is highly effective in reinforcing their decision-making skills and makes it easier for them to make good decisions, even beyond the childhood years.
4 | You focus on “putting out immediate fires”
Parenting is a tricky affair because it often requires us to keep in mind that we are dealing with a child, while also consciously determining the values we would like to instill in our children (and parenting in ways that reflect those values).
Much too often, we respond in the heat of the moment. We react to our children’s behavior to get immediate results and forget to focus on the lesson we want them to learn.
When reacting to your child’s behavior, think about the kind of child you want to raise first, then be willing to let some things slide.
5 | You are overprotective
Contrary to what Murphy’s law states, not everything that can go wrong will go wrong. When your fear makes you imagine that everything that can go wrong, will, you prevent your kids from experiences that may help them develop important skills.
The thing to remember is that your child learns through trial and error and through failure. He learns by making mistakes and fixing those mistakes by himself. Show your child you believe she can make it, and trust in your ability to provide what she needs to thrive. Remember that resources such as “This is what it takes to raise a happy and confident adult” workbook can help your child change how he views failure.
6 | You don’t give them age-appropriate chores
It is never too early to encourage your child to develop age-appropriate skills. This is the first step towards independence. Evidence suggests that assigning chores early has a positive impact on later outcomes: these children have better social, academic, and emotional outcomes and turn into more responsible adults. Your child can begin participating in chores from as early as age three.
Assigning age-appropriate chores and gradually increasing the level of difficulty can help develop your child’s confidence levels. When assigning chores, it is important to be specific about what you expect because expecting her to “tidy up” doesn’t mean the same thing to both of you. Remember that installing regular habits from a young age can help establish lifetime habits.
If your child is resistant to doing things by herself, start slow: ask her to participate, or ask her to start a task and tell her that you’ll help her finish it.
7 | You don’t believe in alone time
It is not your job to entertain your kid. Being too available does more harm than good. While it is important to spend quality moments with your child, he needs to learn to spend time by himself. The available research suggests that providing your child with an unstructured but stimulating environment goes a long way in helping foster his critical thinking skills. Encourage your kids to play outdoors by themselves. Allow for unstructured time. Stimulate their curiosity by giving them fewer toys.
Being too available is bad for you, too. Everyone can be a “bad” parent when fatigue, anxiety, and stress kick in, so make time for you. Strike the right balance between being present and taking time off for yourself.
8 | You’re inconsistent
Reacting inconsistently sends your child mixed messages. If you discipline your child today for specific behavior and ignore the same behavior tomorrow, she’ll have a hard time differentiating between acceptable and inacceptable behavior.
To be consistent, you need to know where your values lie and what you are willing/unwilling to negotiate about.
What mistakes didn’t make it to the list? Let me know in the comments section.
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An earlier version of this post was published on parent.co