The top ten parenting mistakes – and some advice

From Nine To Noon, 11:24 am on 3 May 2018


Educator Joseph Driessen says he's never met a parent who didn't love their child and want to do a good job.

But when a child's behaviour is persistently difficult, parenting faults often set in and just keep rolling out, he says.

He looks at the top ten and suggests what people can do differently.

1. Not keeping calm

Little young girl is angry, mad, disobedient with bad behaviour. Children making the act of insubordination and disobedience, yelling, flipping off, showing the middle finger. Act of giving the finger.

Photo: © Jure Gasparic 2017

It's only natural to get angry as a parent, but if angry is your default setting you're going to create an angry person.

Make the decision to commit to a more peaceful track.

"You've gotta stay professional and calm and realise you're 40 and they're 4 or 14.

"Your calmness takes the threat away, the threat takes the cortisol and stress hormones away, and the child can then access its reasoning, its conscience and its social awareness and you can have a dialogue with them.

"Put the whole thing on ice, walk away from the argument and then start again the next day."

2. Using extreme language

shouting woman

Photo: 123RF

Sometimes parents have trouble forgiving their child for their behaviour and build up a grudge.

But trying to repress resentment only sets you up to suddenly fly off the handle.

"[These parents are] actually processing their sadness and anger about the whole thing and using the child as a sounding board."

Work on keeping your language moderate and constructive.

3. Focusing only on 'bad' behaviour

father and daughter

Photo: Arleen Wiese / Unsplash

Children simply love to be loved and respond best to kind and caring treatment, says Joseph.

Think about whether you're focusing most often on the bad behaviour while ignoring what's good.

"Coach, rather than criticise."

4. Ignoring 'good' behaviour

happy girl

Photo: Gift Habeshaw / Unsplash

Sit down in a quiet place one afternoon and write down all of your child's strengths and virtues.

Keep that list with you and use it.

"Start saying to your child 'Thanks for being so helpful' or 'I love your sense of humour' or 'Whenever you're at the table with us the conversation goes really well'.

The child will then starts to become more aware of their own strengths, says.

"As you notice them and they notice them they actually become more aware of their mistakes."

5. Labelling a child as 'bad'

A teenage Māori boy looking unhappy

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

Using critical language is a significant parenting fault, 'cause you never know what your child is going to take on board.

A child repeatedly told they're 'bad' will likely internalise and come to believe that idea.

"Some children are extremely sensitive. You might only say a few words and you don't know the impact it has."

6. Collapsing into 'learned helplessness'

depressed woman

Photo: ejwhite/123RF

Unsolved parenting problems have a big correlation with depression and helplessness.

Find a good friend or relative to talk to about the challenges you're having with your child.

"You need somebody to process your emotions so when you're on stage parenting that child those high-energy emotions have [already] been discharged in a safe place.

"Put effort into reaching out and improving your parenting skill set by learning how best to address a particular issue and you'll see results."

Joseph recommends positive parenting courses such as The Incredible Years.

7. Isolating yourself because of your child's behaviour

sad daughter hugging his mother at home. Concept of couple family is in sorrow.

Photo: 123RF

Sometimes parents feel so bad about the behaviour of their child that they isolate themselves from family support.

"They try and batten down the hatches and do it themselves. They might avoid speaking to their family about their children because they perceive they're being criticised.

"This withdrawal and isolation from your family because you perceive your child is not as good as their cousin or whatever – that's not a good thing at all."

Communicate with and seek support from your whānau.

"You'll be amazed to what extent your family will thoughtfully and wisely interact with your child.

"The more you can invest into a parent that is struggling with a child the better it is for the parent and the child."

8. Holding on to anger

Side view portrait of screaming bearded man - gray background

Photo: Daniel Jedzura

Improving your ability to segue from anger to forgiveness can be transformative – and satisfying.

"The difference is amazing when you talk to a parent or a teacher when they decide to forgive the child and realise they need to be more of a therapist or counsellor and have better skills.

"I know what the child is trying to tell me, they're trying to reach out but they're using negative attention to seek it – so I'm going to give positive attention.

"The child notices this, that somehow you're in a different space."

9 Being overly authoritarian

angry parents with boy

Photo: SAIYOOD / 123RF

Authoritarian parents are usually very anxious.

"They want the very best for their children but then they flip into 'I don't know how to solve this!'

"Steamrolling will provoke active resistance or passive resistance – the child will become sneaky and angry – or they lose their spirit."

Parents with this tendency need to move from 'my way or the highway' to more listening, talking and negotiation.

"Sit down and say 'we're a team. Probably I'm not perfect as a parent and you're not perfect as a child but let's work together."

If the child feels disregarded in this way, they will eventually "button up".

"They might do what you tell them, but they will act this out with their children, they will act it out at work… and we don't want to perpetuate this aggressive, authoritative parenting. We want to get rid of it and become more balanced. Not wimpish, but balanced "

10 Being overly permissive

Unrecognizable young mother with her little baby boy at the supermarket, shopping.

Photo: 123RF

Permissive parents are passionately committed to what they perceive as their child's freedom and don't know how to set limits.

Often their children are socially skilful and good at arguing, but lack self-discipline and tend to throw massive tantrums when things go wrong.

"Children need limits and boundaries. They feel secure with rules and agreements and chores which must be done and being held accountable."

"If you don't [set these] the child becomes incapable of managing themselves. Their own impulsivity is too great."

Have the courage to take on little battles.

"The permissive parent actually needs to do what the authoritarian parent does too much of – they need to set boundaries, they need to specify the expectations of the child and help them understand what they are, they need to coach the child and hold them accountable.

"And if the child becomes willful and difficult they need to have the courage of their convictions to dish out some consequences … there needs to be action so the child learns through consequences that they can't do whatever they want."


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