5 Good intentions that are harming your child

Seemingly good parenting behaviours, but which can actually be harmful.

Parenting by itself can be challenging, and then you add Covid-19 to the mix and things just got so much tougher! It can feel like a constant evaluation of yourself as a parent on whether you are doing the right thing, or getting it all wrong. As such, parents often try to “get it right” with behaviours that are driven by good intensions. However, some of these seemingly “good parenting” behaviours are actually causing psychological harm to your child. Below are five such behaviours and how to correct them.

1. Telling them what to do

So many parents I meet are often lecturing their children in an attempt to “help them”, or prevent them from making mistakes, or showing them how to do things the “right way”. By doing this, you are telling your children what to think, what to say, and how to act. But more often than not, what is more important than what you say is listening to what they have to say.

The solution: Try to engage in active listening with your child. When they are speaking, don’t interrupt them, but listening carefully, attentively. Repeat back to them what you heard so that you can make sure you understood them correctly. This really helps your child feel heard from a very young age. 

2. Overstepping the friend zone

Being your child’s confidant and friend is a really good thing, but letting them set the rules for structure or being too accommodating is sure to backfire. Structure, rules, and routine are the seeds for a healthy developing brain. Why? At their developmental age, children’s frontal lobes–which are involved in decision-making, judgment, and impulse control–are not yet fully developed until mid 20s. Therefore, it is your job as the parent to be their frontal lobes! 

The solution: Be firm but still kind to your children. Create structure, set rules, and create routines for your children and make sure you stick to them! 

3. Play homework police

If you have convinced yourself that it is your job to ensure that your children have done their homework, then think again. What you are actually doing with this good intention is directly sabotaging their self-development. When you hold the anxiety that comes with doing their homework for them, it derails their ability to hold this anxiety for themselves. Moreover, you hamper their ability to develop a sense of independence and responsibility. 

The solution: Let your children know that their homework is their responsibility, and let them take ownership of it. In a kind and calm manner, inform them that if they do not complete their homework that there will be consequences, such as their teacher being upset with them. You do need to bracket your own “parental need” of wanting to come across as an involved and competent parent to the teacher. Communicate with the teacher should you need to in this regard. 

4. Ignoring self-care

In general, but particularly more so during the pandemic, you may have started to skip some self-care routines such as workouts, meditation, solo tea-breaks, journaling, and other forms of self-care so you can focus all of your attention and energy on your children’s needs. This is a big trap because if you are neglecting to take care of your own physical and emotional needs, you will not be the best available parent.

The solution: Make it a priority to schedule time for yourself into your day. It is ok if you miss a day, but do not make this a habit or pattern. Taking some “me time” will help you feel better, and more importantly, it models what healthy self-care behaviour is for your little ones. If they see you taking care of yourself, they will learn to take care of themselves too and begin to see it as “part of being human” which it should be! 

5. Slacking on the screen time 

If you use tablets, phones, or TVs as pseudo-babysitters, or as a way to bribe your children into getting things done, you’re in for trouble. Screen time has gotten out of control, in fact, new research has shown that extended screen time actually causes structural changes in the brains of children. In a longitudinal study tracking over 200 children from the age of 2 years to 5 years old, children with higher levels of screen time showed greater delays in development across a range of important measures, including language, problem-solving, and social interaction. Other studies show that too much screen time is associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues.

The solution: Set limits on screen time at home and stick to these. Your children will try push the boundaries initially, because of their inner untamed pleasure driven impulses. However, with firm boundaries, they will tolerate the initial discomfort and learn to engage in other activities. Just be patient with yourself here too. 

Parenting is a continuous learning curve, but even the smallest changes can make a huge differrence to your child’s psychological health and yours.

There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one. – Sue Atkins


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