Parenting is a lifelong commitment -- and a challenging one at that. Back when I first became a mom, I remember thinking how my kids should have come with instructions, a kind of step-by-step parenting guide to follow. Parents-to-be can prepare all they want, but raising children, I discovered, is mostly learned on-the-job. There is no special formula to follow if you want to be a good parent.
As parents, we're bound to have missteps, being the humans that we are. And amid the day-to-day grind of keeping your kids healthy, happy, and safe, we all err here and there. Below I discuss counterproductive behaviors that parents engage in (often without realizing it).
Hitting your kid is never, ever acceptable. As far as punishments go, spanking is not effective. Period. It's worthwhile to mention: being physical in your anger can be destructive, too, even if you are not directly hitting another person. Throwing objects and slamming doors fall into this category. Children emulate what their parents do, so try to avoid engaging any kind of gesture that teaches kids to express frustration in a physical manner.
Making Them Eat Food They Don't Like
Nearly every parent--myself included--can relate to the challenge that is finding nutritious foods for your kids to enjoy. It's important to keep in mind that being fussy (or picky, even) is a normal part of human development. My recommendation? Don't act agitated when your kid refuses to taste a new food. Kids are impressionable; the eating patterns they establish during their early years will continue to influence their relationship to food in the future. Treat family mealtimes as pleasant gatherings. Enjoy your dinners together!
Invalidating Their Feelings and Emotions
All too often, I've witnessed loving parents (who have the best of intentions) invalidate their son or daughter's emotional experiences. In these situations, I've learned that the parents were invalidated as children by their parents, and the behavior is really habitual. It's crucial to remember: however young they are, children are still humans. Like adults, they are entitled to feel whatever they are feeling. Here are a few examples of emotional invalidation:
Telling someone that (s)he is overreacting or being too "dramatic."
Saying "there's no reason to be upset" or "that's nothing to cry over."
Telling someone that the way they feel is "ridiculous" or "absurd," etc.
Although these sorts of responses to kids' emotions are extremely common and well-intentioned, they can be very damaging to a child's emotional development. Sometimes I need to remind myself that my child is an individual person; he or she shouldn't feel a certain way just because I feel that way.
Complaining About Your Kid's Other Parent, In Front of Your Kid
Your relationship with your child's mother or father is exactly that: yours. Don't involve your kids in your personal relationships. Never bash your kid's other parent in front of your kid. Arguing in the vicinity of your toddler or teen can contribute to unnecessary stress and anxiety. This applies to all families, though the issue is more common among divorced parents.
A University of Michigan poll has shown that the majority of U.S. parents know at least one mom or dad who is guilty of so-called "oversharenting" - sharing embarrassing photos or tales of their kids via social media. Your kids, however young and immature, are entitled to privacy. They won't always be babies! Uncertain where the boundary is? A good rule of thumb to follow: if you wouldn't talk to a casual acquaintance about your son's bedwetting, don't post about it on Facebook, either. "We have of course gotten used to mommy bloggers embarrassing their children," says Slate's Hanna Rosin. Rosin's observation accurately describes the reality of our social media landscape.
Checking Your Phone (and other screen addictions)
Put down your phone! I know...we're all guilty of this one. When you are spending time with your children, spend time with your children. If you are watching your daughter's soccer game, actually watch her soccer game. Your kids can tell if you're not really listening or paying attention. Don't prioritize Facebook, work-related emails, and the like over your children. Put away digital distractions when you're hanging out with your kids. They deserve your undivided attention.
As I mentioned earlier, there will always be missteps. We're humans first, parents a close second. I'd love to say that loving your children is as good as a how-to manual - it isn't. But loving your child is the first crucial step in creating your very own child how-tos and how-not-tos. At least it was for me.
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