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Texas Parenting News
Avoid common parenting pitfalls

ost parents want to do a good job of rearing their children. They don’t intend to neglect them or undermine their development. But even the best parents can fall into traps.
Kevin Steede, a Dallas clinical psychologist specializing in child behavior, has identified 10 ways parents fall short of their childrearing goals in his book,
Planting mental “mines.”
Many parents, wanting the best for their children, interact in ways that leave children thinking: “I must be good at everything” or “I am my achievements.” You can avoid this trap by emphasizing a child’s unique qualities and acknowledging effort rather than outcome: “You really worked hard on that puzzle.”
Unknowingly, parents may convey messages that “Negative emotions are bad” and “Everyone must like me.” Help children understand that feeling angry, sad, or scared is normal and that they can talk to you about their feelings (but not act out on them by hurting others).
Children may also get the idea that “It is wrong to make mistakes or ask for help.” Tolerate honest errors (“You forgot to wash your hands. I’ll wait while you do it.”) and acknowledge your own (“Sorry, I goofed. What can I do about that?”) While it’s important to act independently, everyone needs help from time to time: “I could use some help. Would you set the table, please?”
Requiring children to misbehave.
Parents sometimes encourage misbehavior simply by failing to give children the attention they need. As a result, a child may pester you while you’re talking on the phone or whine for a toy in the grocery store.
Consider whether you need to spend more time with your child or involve the child in what you are doing (“We need potatoes. Help me put some into this bag.”) Try to “catch” your child doing something right. Be specific (“I liked the way you shut the door that time.”).
Being inconsistent.
Children will test limits. When you’re stressed or tired, you may let some rules slip by. Then children learn you don’t mean what you say and can’t rely on you.
Set only those rules you know you can enforce. Follow through on consequences for breaking rules—every time. Make sure rules apply to everyone, even you.
Follow a predictable routine—getting up, having meals, going to work or school, going to bed. Inform children in advance about changes: “I’m letting you stay up late tonight because tomorrow is a holiday.” Children need structure in their lives.
Closing the door on open communication.
Parents sometimes think they must give the impression they know everything. Well-meaning “advice” may sound like lecturing (“Share your toys with your brother. Sharing shows you love him.”). Your attempt to console (“There, there, it’ll be all right.”) may demean or belittle your child. Blaming (“It’s your own fault.”) can quickly shut the door to communication.
To keep communication open, first listen to your child—both words and body language. Label and acknowledge your child’s feelings (“Sounds like you’re angry.”). Invite your child to share ideas (“What do you think happened?”) and ask open-ended (rather than yes-no) questions.
Playing “fix-it.”
Parents, wanting to protect their children from unhappiness, rush in to solve all their problems. As a result, children may feel overly dependent and doubt their own abilities.
Teach your child a method for solving problems. Ask: What happened (or what could happen) and why? Encourage your child to think of solutions: What could you do instead? What might happen if you did that? Offer information from your own experience. After a child tries a solution, talk about whether it worked and why. Ask: What might you do next time? Use this method over and over as practice.
Dividing the family along some artificial line.
One parent and child may take sides against the other parent, or the parents may feel their children are always opposed to them. Essentially, it’s a power struggle, and the feeling is “us against them.”
To encourage cooperation, hold family meetings, perhaps one a week. Keep the meeting short. Talk about the schedule for the week and who is doing what. Share successes and acknowledge effort. Make the meetings a safe place to share ideas—no name calling or judging. End the meeting with something fun, maybe a dessert or game. It may take time to build trust. Over time, you can share problems and work together to find solutions.
Another idea is to sit down with your family and talk about working as a team, with everyone sharing responsibility for living together.
If the line is between brother and sister, talk to the children individually and then together. Explain the difficulty it causes the family, listen to their “sides,” and ask their cooperation in overcoming it.
Using destructive discipline.
Let’s face it: we all lose our temper at times or say things we don’t mean. Sometimes we find ourselves doing things our parents did that we resolved we would never do. What to do? Forgive ourselves, apologize, and move on.
Examine your parenting style. Are you too rigid or too permissive? Look at your daily schedule and routines. Are you working too much and spending too little time with the children? Anticipate times of stress and worry. How might you act differently?
Modeling inappropriate behavior.
This is the “Do as I say, not as I do” trap. Recognize that children imitate adults. They learn more from your behavior than from what you tell them.
If you want children to clean their rooms, make sure yours is clean first. If you want children to learn good manners, show them by example. If you want children to develop integrity, don’t lie to your boss about why you’re missing work.
Overlooking special needs.
Troublesome behavior may signal a special need, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a learning disability, or a mental problem such as depression.
Talk with your physician, clinic, or caregiver about your child’s behavior. For children younger than 3 years, contact the Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) agency in your community. In Texas call the statewide ECI Care Line at 1-800-250-2246 or check the ECI website at For children 3 and older, contact the Special Education unit of your local school district.
Forgetting to have fun.
Jobs and busy schedules can make us lose sight of a vital quality of life—joy. In tough economic times, you may need to cut movies, trips, and other entertainment out of your budget. But you don’t have to cut out pleasure and fun.
Joy is an attitude. Build fun into daily routines—tickle your child’s toes while pulling on shoes, or play a game like “Point to something red” while driving in the car. Take a walk, play with a ball, or tell a story. Play dress-up or dance to music on the radio.
To find out more about the 10 pitfalls and avoiding them, check out Steede’s book from the library or buy it online or at a bookstore. The book is available in paperback and in Spanish.