There are plenty of bad parents out there, but if you're reading this article, you're probably not one of them. Truly bad parents don't show much of an interest in scientifically validated parenting practices, nor are they generally much inclined to introspection and self-criticism.
But just because you're a well meaning parent who is deeply invested in your child's success and happiness, doesn't mean you're not making any significant mistakes. In fact, while loving parents usually avoid truly toxic behavior, they're actually more prone than less engaged parents to certain missteps that can lead their children to struggle later on. These are mistakes of love and concern, but they can still damage your child's chances of success.
What are they? When a curious member of question-and-answer site Quora asked, "What are common mistakes that parents with good intentions make because of ignorance?" a flood of experts, from educators to experienced parents to therapists chimed in with a list of serious mistakes even the best intentioned parents often make.
1. Allowing your child to give up too easily
Learning is pretty much always hard, insists Ryan Chew, an entrepreneur who runs a private school, in his answer. Mastering something new starts out fun, then tends to get miserable as concepts get harder until, if you manage to push through the pain, you achieve enough skill that whatever you're studying becomes fun again.
The mistake many well intentioned parents make, he claims, is letting their kids give up when the going gets tough. This "trough" in the learning process, he says, "is a natural and inescapable part of human learning... Our job as parents is to guide and shape our children's development, boost them up during the high points, and support them as they work through the low points."
2. Praising talent rather than effort
A number of Quora commentators and a whole lot of science agree: telling your kids they're smart might seem like a good idea but it can backfire badly. Why? Because if kids think their achievements are all about innate talent, they see the inevitable stumbles and struggles of learning as counter-evidence of their own abilities. Failure becomes something to avoid in order to protect their reputation for smarts. And that's no way to learn anything.
Or, as Quora respondent Brent C.J. Britton puts in, labeling kids smart, athletic, or artistic creates "a dynamic where the child is afraid to fail for fear of losing the label. They learn, 'If I do not get an A, I am not smart. If I don't hit a home run, I am not athletic. If my drawing is not pretty, I am not artistic.'"
It's far better to praise your kids for working hard and persevering in the face of obstacles. Then challenges are transformed from threats to their identity into an expected part of the growth process, one they take pride in overcoming.
That can make all the difference when it comes to succeeding in life, claims educator Matthew Alexander. "Although 'smart' kids cruise early on, eventually everyone hits a wall where only perseverance enables continued success. If smart kids don't learn to work through problems early on, they'll be more apt to give up when it gets tough because in their minds easy = smart, hard = dumb," he cautions. "Hard work always trumps innate smarts."
3. Removing the struggle from your child's life
It's in a parent's nature to want to protect your children from the slings and arrows of life, but take this too far and you'll do your precious offspring a huge disservice, warns mother of three Jen Brown. Without facing (reasonable, age appropriate) hardship and want, your kids will never learn to weather storms and solve problems independently. Brown offers a simple but powerful story to illustrate this principle.
"When my oldest was about nine months old he still wasn't crawling. He was still technically my foster child at that point and we had a home nurse that came monthly to check on us. I asked her about the crawling and she pointed out how I had him sitting in a circle of toys that were all within his reach. He was happy and had no need to learn to crawl because life was being handed to him. She went over and pulled the toys away from his little circle of blanket. He of course cried and then I cried and she just kept me from giving the toys back," she relates. "Well he didn't just magically start crawling but he did stop crying and start exploring."
"I adore my kids so I don't solve all of their problems," she concludes. Neither should you.
Are there any other mistakes loving, engaged parents often make that you'd add to this list?