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Top 5 Things to Avoid with Your Kids

Parenting is hard work. Parents will inevitably make mistakes in the process of parenting their kids. I could tell you many stories about the mistakes I made with my kids. I mean I still make mistakes today even though my kids are 20, 18, and 16. You would think I’d have it all figured out by now! As I reflect on my parenting journey, I can pinpoint a few things I either avoided doing or wish I had avoided doing with my kids. So here are my top five things to avoid doing with your kids.

1.     Using time-outs. The prevailing discipline advice when my kids were young was to use time-outs when your child was misbehaving. The idea here was to put your child in a chair or space by themselves for several minutes equivalent to their age. The child was supposed to think about what they did and at the end tell you what they should have done differently. I used this with my kids. Did it work? In some respects, yes. But here is the major flaw with time-outs. Time-outs happened when my kids were typically feeling big emotions. They did something inappropriate because of their emotions. Putting them in time-out left them alone to manage these big emotions. Something they were not developmentally ready to do. They heard the message that we didn’t want to be around them when they felt those emotions. These emotions were bad or that they were bad. I know now that they needed me to connect with them and help them manage these big emotions. Over time we shifted to taking a break with our children. I would offer a hug, label their emotions, and stay nearby if they needed space to feel their big emotions and have a meltdown.

2.     Paying for chores. In our house, our kids have chores that have evolved as they have aged. Our kids were expected to help when asked with projects around the house, clean up their toys, help sort laundry, and put away clean clothes. As they got older, they were assigned days to do the dishes, started washing their laundry, and help with things around the house like mowing the grass, shoveling snow, taking care of the dogs, and running errands. Our approach to these chores is that you are part of our family, so you are expected to do things to help our family. We wanted our kids to understand that helping is something we value and want to help because it is the right thing to do. Now I am not going to lie to you and say my kids never complain about doing chores. However, they are for the most part willing to help when asked and take care of their assigned chores with minimal nagging. Paying for chores teaches our children to expect an external reward instead of being internally motivated. Kids who are paid for chores may be unwilling to do additional chores without payment. You can also run into an issue with your child not doing the job to your expectations but still expecting payment. If they don’t get paid, why would they do the job the next time?

3.     Shaming your child. Shaming can be defined as “subjecting someone to shame, disgrace, humiliation, or disrepute, especially by public exposure or criticism.” The thought of making my children feel that way makes my heart hurt. Now, I can’t claim that I haven’t ever shamed my kids. The problem with shaming is sometimes we don’t even realize we are doing it. We think we are offering constructive criticism but in reality, we are shaming our child. Criticism becomes shaming when it is something our children can’t change or is part of who they are. According to Dr. Claire McCarthy, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, “To prevent shaming we need to stop and think before we speak. There are two things you should always ask yourself if you are about to criticize your child:

·      Is it something they can change?

·      Is it important that they change?

Be really honest with yourself about the answers, especially to the second question. If the answer to either one is no, then it’s not something to criticize, end of story. Don’t take the risk of shaming or hurting your relationship with your child-don’t waste your time or energy. Sometimes you will answer both of these questions with a yes. In that case, it is important to think about the timing and approach to helping your child change. Is now a good time to talk to your child about it? Can you wait until you are in private? How can you help your child change their behavior?

4.     Labeling your children. What was your label as a child? Were you the smart one, the athletic one, the shy one, or the wild one? The problem with labels is that even positive labels can have a negative effect. Children can feel discouraged from trying new things because it doesn’t fit their label. It can also encourage sibling rivalry if you have more than one child. Your “shy child” might feel like they can’t be outgoing or create new friendships. Your “smart child” might be afraid of trying something challenging because if they fail, they won’t be smart. Your other kids might view your “helper child” as a suck-up. Labels also take away from the effort your child puts into accomplishing something. Your child might not realize that they can work at something and improve because the label makes being smart or kind or talented a quality they have or don’t have

5.     Refusing to admit when you are wrong. Apologize when you have messed up. When we apologize to our children, we teach them that it is okay to make mistakes. We also teach them how to take ownership of their actions and sincerely try to make things right when we do make mistakes. It also repairs and reestablishes our connection with our children when we have had an interaction with our kids that didn’t go the way we want. I can tell you that I have apologized to my kids many times throughout my parenting journey.

6.     And a bonus one…. Being too hard on yourself. Your kids don’t need you to be perfect. In fact, Circle of Security Parenting International tells us that we just need “to be good enough to be good enough” for our kids. I think of this as recognizing we are going to mess up and when we do mess up don’t waste time beating ourselves up. Instead, refer to number five above. A study published in Science Daily found that 50% is good enough. Parents who respond in sensitive and responsive ways to their baby’s attachment needs can create a secure attachment with their child. This study tells us that we don’t have to be perfect we just need to be good enough. So next time you mess up with your child, don’t beat yourself up. Focus on your next interaction with your child.