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10 classic parenting fails (and how to avoid them)

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There’s no universal instruction manual for parenting. Whilst there are thousands of books and websites to advise you the ‘right’ way to raise your child, every parenting situation is unique.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take stock of your own parenting approach. Some of the most common, seemingly harmless practices can encourage behavioural problems and even interfere with learning and development.

1. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’


Actions are louder than words. Lecturing your child not to do something will fall on deaf ears if your child has seen you engaging in the same behaviour.

If your child has seen you smoking since infancy, they’re three times as likely to become a smoker in adulthood. If they’ve witnessed domestic violence the likelihood of them exhibiting violent behaviour as they grow up increases by 50%.

Other examples include:

  • the dad who regularly swears with friends and laughs when his son uses a bad word – but gets upset when the teacher tells him his son has been swearing at school
  • the mom who gossips about relatives and neighbour but is always gushing compliments when in their presence

You are your child’s primary role model. When you tell them not to do or say things that you do or say, you create internal conflict and undermine your own authority. It is very easy to fall into a double standard and the long term result is a strained relationship.

So rather than barking orders try explaining your concerns. Accept responsibility for your bad behaviours rather than denying them. In that way you create an opening for your child to make informed choices as he/she matures.

2. Children should be seen but not heard

Victorian children
Flickr/Beverly & Pack

This throw-back to the Victorian era should be thrown back there. The best way to teach children to be polite and not interrupt is through example, not through intimidation and exclusion.

Encourage children to ask questions, to participate in discussions they are present for. Asking questions is how children decode unfamiliar social situations. Politeness is learnt by observation and practice. Inclusion cultivates maturity whereas exclusion breeds frustration and resentment.

If you want your child to be quiet then ask them to be and explain why. Children have a very different perception of time than adults do. It is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect your toddler to know how long fifteen minutes is.

3.  Let them cry it out

Toddler crying

Although it might seem that way sometimes, babies don’t cry just to wind us up. Up until the age of two, it’s their primary tool for communicating discomfort or distress.

And when babies cry, they expect to be comforted. Research shows a lack of hugs and cuddles in infancy can affect development of the brain, which can result in adults who are anxious and poor at forming relationships.

A responsive parent will learn to anticipate an infant’s distress signals by observing their behavioural cues. Once a child adopts other sounds or gestures to indicate their needs they will naturally begin to cry less.

4.  Give them the ……. to shut them up

Child with gun

Kids love to grab at the most inappropriate things. But packs of cigarettes, lighters, cell phones and car keys are not appropriate teething toys. Setting behavioural boundaries early is as important as expressing affection. Social interaction and good hygiene are based on boundaries and procedures.

In these cases prevention is often the best strategy. A mental checklist and a quick scan of the terrain are sufficient to foresee what objects your little one will grab.

Whilst an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ policy can be effective, it’s not always easy to enforce in all social situations. So sometimes you will have no choice but to be the “bad guy”.

Needless to say your little one will not be happy about it, but it’s vital to establish balance between anticipating actual needs and recognizing “wants” that should not be encouraged.

Shouting is not a viable solution. It evokes fear, not understanding. Far more effective is eye contact, accompanied by a steady but firm voice. Your child may not understand the words but they are very sensitive to your tone and intent. Kids are not stupid.

Neither is distraction a long-term strategy. You need to establish that it is not theirs for the taking. Always have a safe “guest grab” nearby – their bottle or pacifier. If someone else is holding the child’s object, using the same firm voice, explain to your guest that it’s not theirs, take it back and return it to the baby. Repeat this process enough and the lesson will be learnt.

5. Young kids are OK with broken promises

Broken promises

It may seem like a cliche, but a child’s brain really is like a sponge, soaking up information about the world at an incredible rateThat includes your promises. Hence if you make a promise without fulfilling it, they will take note, the net result being that you end up undermining your own future authority.

The easy response whenever your toddler asks for something might be “next time”.  But if next time never comes, don’t be surprised if your child responds with a full blown tantrum. If you’ve conditioned them to believe your promises have no value.  Naturally they will take their demand to the next level.

But your reason for saying no must be specific. However pressed for time you are, you need to take time to explain. By doing so you are investing in your future relationship.

Instead of just throwing out a general “next time” set a date, time and place. Whenever you follow through on a promise you are reinforcing your child’s respect for you and establishing the importance of taking responsibility for your words and actions.

Remember; empty promises = empty threats… If you don’t keep promises, your child will never regard your threats of punishment seriously.

6. Spare the rod, spoil the child


I doubt there is a parent anywhere in the world that has not shouted, spanked a bottom or slapped a hand at least once. There are many situations where emotions can easily override good judgment.

But there’s a huge difference between the occasional over-reaction and the systematic application of physical or psychological violence as a means of disciplining a child.

Corporal punishment or humiliation will never bring about positive results. On the contrary, children that have been systematically exposed to domestic violence (including corporal punishment in the home) are far more likely to engage in violent or disruptive behaviours or become unresponsive and withdrawn.

When you know you have overreacted, don’t try to hide behind your parental authority as an excuse. It is very important to apologize to your child when you know your reaction has been unjust or disproportionate. This is one of the most important ways we can teach through example.

7.    ‘Baby talk’ is cute

Baby talk is harmful

Rewarding “baby talk” with positive attention is a sure way to negatively influence the linguistic development of a child. It encourages misunderstanding of connections between sounds and meanings and can even lead to serious learning difficulties at school age.

The way adults vocally interact with a child affects their continuing development. Babies must be constantly exposed to ‘adult’ speech in order to imitate – and thus learn how to speak themselves.

When your baby begins to reproduce recognizable sounds, respond by saying the full word or name. It may be tempting to mimic the “cutesy” way the baby says things but that can delay or impede vocal development.

When a baby joins a family, older children may feel envious of the attention the baby is receiving and regress, trying to imitate the baby’s sounds or behaviours in an attempt to reclaim the spotlight. In extreme cases they may even resume wetting or soiling themselves.

How we handle this as parents and caregivers is crucial not only to the continuing development of the older child but to cultivation of a healthy and loving relationship between siblings.

8.    A big appetite is all that matters

Junk food candy
Wikipedia Commona

Skyrocketing childhood obesity statistics should be a red-flag. Unfortunately all too many parents and grandparents insist that there is nothing wrong with a “hearty” appetite – that pre-pubescent paunch will magically transform into height and muscle.

Whilst we all have a few guilty dietary pleasures, when it comes to young children, who are more sensitive to sugar and food additives, eating a diet of junk lays the foundation for future health risks.

For example, infant formulas and prepared baby foods contain huge amounts of sugar, making them “tasty” so babies won’t be “fussy”. The same is true of breakfast cereals and snack foods targeted for school age children.

Forget about nicotine and alcohol, sugar is one of the most addictive and widely unregulated substances that exist. Hence getting our kids hooked from infancy, we are greatly increasing their risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

If that’s not enough, sugar and other food additives are also linked to many behavioural problems. When chronic, these behavioural shifts can lead to misdiagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). If disruptive behaviour is seen as holding the class back, or outbursts are viewed as potentially dangerous, school administrators and mental health authorities may insist on medication.

9.  Favoritism motivates…

Favorite child

Children should not have to “compete” for affection and appreciation. Favoritism only breeds resentment and envy, and these emotions can only have a negative impact on family relations. It also sets a precedent of injustice which legitimizes inequality and conflict.

Although some kids may need more support or attention than others, in order to avoid any misunderstandings, parents need to take the time to discuss with the other siblings why they are being treated differently .

Parents shouldn’t have to “compete” for children’s affection or obedience either. Unfortunately this practice is quite common, and not only among couples who are separated or divorced.

10.  Play is not a priority

The benefits of play time
Flickr/ KaseyEriksen

We are all too “busy” for our own good, parents especially so, it seems. Between work, domestic chores and school duties, the idea of prioritising play can seem counter-intuitive at best of times.

But spending fun-time with your children is an investment that only goes up and up. And if you want to teach your child something, the quickest and most effective method is not with a pile of books, but to turn it into a game!

It’s not a new idea. 2400 years ago Plato talked about the educational value of play, and how it’s an opportunity for children to express feelings and discover truths.

When planning your day, make sure to pencil in some play-time for the people you work so hard to support. You and your kids WILL benefit from “quality time” so make it a ritual like checking your e-mail. Few families gather around the dinner table every evening anymore so make time for those you love to insure your own emotional and physical well being.



The golden rule for helping a child develop is: be the type of person you hope the child will become. Become conscious of how important you are as an example and you will effectively nurture the child into conscious and caring adulthood!