Frustrating, isn’t it?
You try your best as a parent.
You love your children unconditionally. You spend time with them. You give them gifts. You provide them with everything they need.
But somehow they don’t seem to appreciate it.
They complain about their lives. And – more annoyingly – they complain about you being a naggy, unreasonable parent.
You wonder to yourself, “Why don’t they appreciate everything I do for them?”
If this describes your situation, I’m here to help.
Having worked with thousands of children and teens, I realize there are many common mistakes that parents don’t even know they’re making.
I’ll explain 12 of these mistakes, which may be causing your child to be unhappy and unmotivated. (Some of them might surprise you as being mistakes!)
1. Making your children the center of the universe.
Does your family’s schedule revolve around your children?
Their homework, their needs, their activities, their music lessons, their enrichment classes . . . the list goes on.
Of course, children have practical needs. But when everything revolves around them, they may become self-centered.
And when they’re constantly thinking about themselves – instead of focusing on the needs of others – they’re more likely to be unhappy.
After all, the people who lead the happiest, most meaningful lives are the ones who concentrate on serving others.
So allow your kids to experience a family environment where others receive as much attention as they do. They’ll benefit from it.
2. Constantly telling your children how special they are.
“You can be anything you want to be.”
“You did a fantastic job!”
“You’re so clever!”
If you say these kinds of things to your children too often, they may develop a sense of entitlement.
They may start thinking to themselves, “I’m special, so I should be able to achieve success even if I don’t try too hard.”
This kind of thinking sets children up for misery down the road, because nothing in life worth achieving ever comes easily.
It’s not wrong to encourage your children – just be sure they don’t end up thinking they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.
3. Expecting the worst from your children.
Some parents say the following to their children:
- “You’re so irresponsible.”
- “You’re useless!”
- “You’re stupid!”
- “Why can’t you do anything right?”
- “Why are you so unmotivated?”
- “You didn’t do your homework, right?”
- “Did you get in trouble with your teacher?”
- “Are you hanging out with bad company again?”
Saying these things to your children won’t make them change their behavior. This is because over time they’ll internalize those labels they’ve been given.
A child who believes he’s “irresponsible” and “unmotivated” won’t magically become responsible and motivated. Instead, he’ll act out the negative traits he’s been labeled with. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What’s the alternative?
Read on to the next point.
4. Not acknowledging your children’s good behavior.
Don’t let your children’s good behavior go unnoticed.
For example, if you observe that your child has managed to focus for 20 minutes straight, say with a smile, “I notice that you managed to concentrate for 20 minutes.”
If your child submits his homework on time, praise him for it: “I’m proud of you for getting your homework done and for not procrastinating.”
These are simple comments that make a huge difference. The more you focus on your children’s good behavior, the more it will multiply.
5. Trying to achieve your dreams through your children.
It’s easy to see your children as an extension of yourself. After all, your children have half of your genes.
But if you try to achieve your own dreams through your children, they won’t find enduring happiness and success.
I even know parents who have forced their children to become doctors or lawyers, because those were their unfulfilled career ambitions.
Each of us has our own race to run, so don’t coerce your children into following your own agenda.
6. Disciplining your children when you’re angry.
If you want your children to be confident and well-adjusted, you must discipline them.
But this discipline shouldn’t be carried out in the heat of the moment.
If you discipline your children when you’re angry, you’re likely to mete out unreasonable punishments or use excessive force.
In the long run, this will make your children feel bitter and resentful.
So if you’re on the verge of losing your cool, remove yourself from the situation for 10 to 15 minutes. Discipline your child only when you’ve calmed down. You’ll feel better about it, and in the end, so will they.
7. Shaming your children.
No matter what your children have done, refrain from saying any of the following:
- “I’m ashamed of you.”
- “Stop behaving like a baby.”
- “You ungrateful brat!”
- “What were you thinking?!”
- “I’ll never forgive you for that.”
When children feel a sense of shame, their growth and development is hindered. They may feel unworthy of love, and they may feel like a failure. This will lead to various psychological problems.
So if your children have made a mistake, don’t find fault with them as people. Instead, focus on their actions and what you’d like them to do differently in the future.
And do remind them that you love them. This will teach them that they’re worthy of love even when they make mistakes, leading to strong feelings of self-worth.
8. Being a friend to your children rather than a parent.
If your children like you and enjoy spending time with you, that’s great. But your children need you to be a parent more than they need you as a friend.
Good parenting involves making hard decisions. It involves disciplining your children, establishing boundaries, setting expectations, and meting out consequences.
Even if you do these things perfectly, your children might still be disgruntled, and that can hurt your feelings.
But don’t worry, because they won’t stay that way for long. They’ll soon realize that you’re preparing them for adult life.
9. Not teaching your children to manage their emotions.
Life is full of stress, disappointment, and hardship. If children don’t learn to manage their emotions, they’ll be overwhelmed by challenges.
So it’s important that you teach your children how to regulate their emotions. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Set a good example by managing your own emotions well
- Pay attention to your emotions as well as your children’s
- Don’t dismiss your children’s emotions
- Empathize with your children
- Encourage your children to talk about their emotions
- Avoid judging your children’s emotions
- Teach your children to name their emotions
When your children can handle their emotions no matter what trials life throws at them, they’ll be prepared for just about anything. This is one of the best gifts you can give them.
10. Comparing your children with others.
“Don’t compare” – this is probably the most popular piece of advice in the history of parenting.
But no matter how many times you hear it, it’s still tempting to compare your children with others. (I’m a parent too, so I speak from experience!)
When parents compare, children get the message that “my parents would love me more if only I were more like so-and-so.”
This can make children feel insecure, which harms their emotional and mental development.
So resist the urge to compare, remembering that your children are uniquely gifted with their own skills, abilities, and personality traits. They’re worthy of love and understanding just as they are.
11. Shielding your children from the consequences of their choices.
One of the most important life lessons is that choices lead to consequences. The sooner we understand this truth, the sooner we’ll start to make wise decisions.
Don’t hinder your children’s development by bailing them out. (Of course, the exception is when they’d be in physical danger if you didn’t do so.)
For example, if your children forget to bring their homework to school, don’t drive to school to drop it off. They’ll be forced to become more organized in the future.
And if your children refuse to put their clothes in the laundry basket, don’t do it for them. They’ll learn to do so when they have to re-wear their dirty clothes because they ran out of clean ones.
By all means, show your children grace and compassion, but don’t go overboard. If you do, your children won’t learn to take full responsibility for their lives.
And without that understanding, it’s impossible to be successful and happy in the long run.
12. Not prioritizing your marriage over your children.
I don’t claim to be a marriage expert. But through my work with children and teens, I’ve realized that they would rather know that their parents love each other than that their parents love them.
Author and therapist David Code says that “families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the parent-child relationship isn’t important. I’m just saying that it’s crucial for you to focus on meeting your spouse’s needs, not just your children’s.
Be intentional about strengthening your marriage, and your children will be happier and more well-adjusted as a result. And you and your spouse will be great role models for your children’s own eventual marriages.
Parenting is an art, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works 100% of the time.
But if your goal is to raise children who are happy and successful, there are some things you should not do. In this article, I’ve outlined 12 of them.
If you feel like you’ve made many of these mistakes, rest assured that you’re not alone. Parenting is probably the toughest job in the world!
The first step to change is awareness, which you now have. The rest of the journey is about gradual improvement.
So take it one step at a time.
Think about which of the 12 mistakes you commit most often, and come up with a parenting improvement plan.
Implementing this plan will take commitment and hard work, but you’ll see results over time.
And down the road, your children will thank you too. 🙂
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