If you have kids, I’m sure that every single thing you do, you do it while keeping their best interest in heart – to keep them as healthy and happy as they can be. But parenting is certainly not an easy job, and no matter how hard you try, sometimes it is hard to avoid making mistakes.
Even though every parent knows their child the best, child psychologists have been researching child’s development for decades, and they all agree that some parenting methods can actually be damaging to children’s growth.
In this article you can find out what are some common mistakes parents make that can be detrimental for their kids’ development.
1. Signing up kids for too many activities
Loving parents often want their kids to be smart, active and talented. What better way to achieve that than by signing them up for a bunch of extracurricular activities, right? Football practise, guitar lessons, foreign language and art classes…
These activities are great for a child’s physical, emotional and social development, but the problem arises when there are just too many. Always jumping from one lesson to another, together with trying to balance school and homework, can negatively impact a child’s sleeping habits, as well as mental health (making them prone to depressive mood and have difficulty coping with stress).
But how do you know how much is too much? The answer is easy: listen to your children. Parents should be aware of how their children perceive the degree to which they are stressed and busy. Also, follow the golden mean: research published in Journal of Youth and Adolescence stated that children who were engaged in only a moderate amount of activity (compared to those with a larger amount of hobbies) had better results in school.
By giving kids enough time for school, hobbies, play and rest, parents can help them learn time management skills and relieve them of unnecessary stress.
2. Not allowing kids to say “no“
Sometimes it seems like from the moment our little ones start talking, the word “no” becomes their most cherished word. Questions ranging from “Do you want to eat your veggies?” to “Will you share your toys with your sister?” are often greeted with a loud and clear “No!“.
And most of the time, this answer is followed by parent’s anger and frustration: “I am your parent, you can’t say no to me!“.
Of course, teaching kids respect towards their parents is important, but letting them (moreover, teaching them!) how to say “no” might be even more important. If children are never allowed to say “no”, they might not learn how to gain confidence, how to communicate their boundaries or how to stand their ground. This can become a big problem once they grow up and get into romantic relationships or start working.
According to 2008 research on child development, while arguing with their parents by saying “no”, children might bring that attitude to relationships with their peers and practice standing up for themselves.
Of course, the goal is to teach them how to say “no” politely and respectfully, which in turn could help them protect themselves, maintain identity and develop a positive self-image.
3. Comparing children to others
Have you ever told your child “Why can’t you be more like your brother”? Or did your parents used to tell you “Look how good other children behave”?
Comparing children to their siblings or other children is a trap many parents fall into, intentionally or not. You might think that this would motivate them to behave better, but being constantly compared to others could actually hurt their little hearts pretty badly.
By comparing your child to someone else in a negative way, you are, in a way, telling them that some other kid is better than them. This can ruin your child’s self-esteem from an early age. Also, they might think they are not living up to your expectations, which could make them think that you don’t like them or love them as much as you actually do.
What you could try instead is setting up realistic expectations for your kids, celebrating their strengths and if they make a mistake that other children don’t, let them know you love them regardless.
4. Forcing children to eat
Did you have that one specific food that you simply hated as a kid? Did that food happen to be some very healthy vegetable that your parents made you eat, resulting in tears and screaming during dinner and threats of “not leaving the table until you empty your plate“?
In a study written by psychologists from several universities in the USA, 70% of adults said that they had experienced being forced to eat in their childhood. As a result, today they see themselves as picky eaters and more restrictive in their eating habits, often avoiding that specific food they were forced to eat. This is a result from associating that food with negative social context – fights, yelling, punishments or threats.
Also, being forced to eat may be connected to a child’s weight. Another research published in the International Journal of Obesity, preschool children who weren’t allowed to choose the food they liked to eat had more problems with their weight.
Of course, it is important to keep track that your kids eat healthy meals, but there are ways to ensure their eating habits stay healthy without making your dinner table a war field. Making sure that mealtimes are relaxed and fun, asking your kids to help you prepare the meal or giving them a choice every now and then (e.g. Would you like carrots or green beans today?) are all a good place to start.
5. Using humiliation as discipline
Maybe you’ve come across Facebook posts from moms and dads sharing their frustrations about their kids with hundreds of friends and relatives: “How do I make my son clean his messy room? He never listens!”. Or maybe you’ve seen an angry parent yelling at their child in front of their friends.
Shaming and humiliating children in front of others is one of those discipline methods that may seem appropriate in the heat of the moment, but should actually be avoided completely.
As stated by Andy Grogan-Kaylor, an associate professor of social work at the University of Michigan, shaming a child or making them feel degraded leads to all kinds of behavioral and emotional problems in the future.
Children who are shamed in front of their friends can feel embarrassed, cry in shame and repeat the same mistakes because of the nervousness they feel. This way of dealing with children’s bad behavior can also make them become socially anxious as a result of the shame they feel, and they can become depressed or aggressive. It can also set them up to be bullied in school, as well as lose trust in their parents.
So, when your children choose to misbehave, it would be best to take them aside and have a private conversation. By doing that, you could help strengthen your relationship and keep your child’s dignity untouched.
6. Praising child’s intelligence, rather than hard work
Not many things in life make a person more proud than seeing a big red “A” on your child’s school report. Naturally, next thing you want to do is praise them: “You did such a good job! You are so smart!“. There is nothing wrong with praising your children, of course, but focusing your praise on solely their abilities, rather than their hard work, can actually be bad for their future motivation and beliefs.
American psychologist Carol Dweck thought about this in her mindset theory, where she connected praise, achievements and motivation. According to her, praising children only for their intelligence (e.g. You must be very smart!) leads towards creation of a fixed mindset. When a child with a fixed mindset fails at something, they tend to think that they are not smart enough to suceed, they are less motivated to try harder and they get worse results overall.
But if you focus your praise on your kids’ effort (e.g. Good job, you must have worked very hard!), those kids will believe that even if they fail, they can achieve better results if they try harder. They are motivated to keep pushing, trying and learning and they tend to do better at school.
So, keep that in mind the next time your child brings home a perfect test score!
Do you relate to some of these points as a parent? Or maybe your parents made some of these mistakes while you were growing up?
Even if that is the case, the take home message is simple. There is no such thing as a perfect person, and no such thing as a perfect parent. Finding ways to better yourself everyday, learning as you go to avoid mistakes and, most importantly, giving your kids unconditional love is all that matters in the end.
Thank you for reading!
Written by: Stela Košić
If you wish to find out more about topics on parenting, feel free to check out some of the videos from Psych2Go’s YouTube channel:
- 10 Toxic Things Parents Say To Their Kids
- 5 Ways Helicopter Parents Can Affect You
- 5 Examples Of Toxic Parenting
- 8 Ways To Improve Parent Child Relationship
- 7 Types of Parents And Their Impact On You
- 8 Things Parents Shouldn’t Say To Their Child
Refer to this list for studies mentioned and used in writing this article:
- Anderson, J. C., Funk, J. B., Elliott, R., & Smith, P. H. (2003). Parental support and pressure and children’s extracurricular activities: relationships with amount of involvement and affective experience of participation. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 24(2), 241–257. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0193-3973(03)00046-7
- Benton, D. (2004). Role of parents in the determination of the food preferences of children and the development of obesity. International Journal of Obesity, 28, 858–86. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0802532
- Brown, S. L., Nobiling, B. D., Teufel, J., & Birch, D. A. (2011). Are Kids Too Busy? Early Adolescents’ Perceptions of Discretionary Activities, Overscheduling, and Stress. Journal of School Health, 81(9), 574–580. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00629.x
- Fabian-Weber, N. (2021, May 20). Stop comparing your child to others — and celebrate who they are instead. Care.Com. https://www.care.com/c/stop-comparing-your-kid-to-others
- Glerum, J., Loyens, S. M. M., Wijnia, L., & Rikers, R. M. J. P. (2019). The effects of praise for effort versus praise for intelligence on vocational education students. Educational Psychology, 40(10), 1270–1286. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443410.2019.1625306
- How Shaming Kids Can Damage Relationships. (2020). Verywell Family. https://www.verywellfamily.com/why-you-shouldnt-shame-your-children-4089277
- Knifsend, C. A., & Graham, S. (2011). Too Much of a Good Thing? How Breadth of Extracurricular Participation Relates to School-Related Affect and Academic Outcomes During Adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(3), 379–389. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-011-9737-4
- Laible, D., Panfile, T., & Makariev, D. (2008). The Quality and Frequency of Mother–Toddler Conflict: Links With Attachment and Temperament. Child Development, 79(2), 426–443. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01134.x
- Levy, L. (2019, October 7). Humiliation is Not Discipline or Correction – Laurie Levy. Medium. https://laurieadvocates.medium.com/humiliation-is-not-discipline-or-correction-1c0609af6fe3
- Lushington, K., Wilson, A., Biggs, S., Dollman, J., Martin, J., & Kennedy, D. (2015). Culture, Extracurricular Activity, Sleep Habits, and Mental Health: A Comparison of Senior High School Asian-Australian and Caucasian-Australian Adolescents. International Journal of Mental Health, 44(1–2), 139–157. https://doi.org/10.1080/00207411.2015.1009788
- Rettner, R. (2012, May 15). Embarrassing Punishments Hurt Kids, Experts Say. Livescience.Com. https://www.livescience.com/20314-embarrassing-punishments-children-discipline.html
- Robert Batsell, W., Brown, A. S., Ansfield, M. E., & Paschall, G. Y. (2002). “You Will Eat All of That!”: A retrospective analysis of forced consumption episodes. Appetite, 38(3), 211–219. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.2001.0482
- Sugarman, L. (2020, October 23). Parents, Don’t Get Caught in the Comparison Trap. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/dont-get-caught-in-the-comparison-trap
- Teaching Your Child To Say No, Stop Abuse | RAACE. (2017). Raace.Org. https://www.raace.org/why-no-may-be-the-most-important-word-in-your-child-s-vocabulary?journal=26
- The Growth Mindset – What is Growth Mindset – Mindset Works. (2017). Mindsetworks.Com. https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/