Not enough interaction
Kids aren’t plants or even pets. It isn’t enough to water them, feed them and ensure they have somewhere to sleep at night. They also need positive, rewarding interaction with their parent or other caregiver. Kids who don’t get this may be lucky enough to find positive role models in a teacher, Scout leader or sports coach. More often, though, they’ll go off the rails.
Never saying sorry
A really important part of parenting is modelling the behavior you want to see. This includes teaching your kid the importance of apologizing when they’re in the wrong. Adults, like everyone, are fallible – and kids, of course, realize this as they grow up. Alongside the realization that no one is perfect should come an understanding that everyone needs to say “sorry” sometimes.
Not being the grown-up
It can be very tempting to be your kid’s friend instead of their parent. In a healthy parent-child relationship, the balance may shift more towards friend as the child enters adulthood but what younger kids most need is a parent. Kids may not admit it even to themselves but having sensible adults in charge makes them feel safe and gives them the confidence they need.
If you sometimes say yes and sometimes say no to the same request, you probably have weak boundaries. As the old saying goes, “give an inch and they’ll take a mile”. A kid who has good reason to suspect that your “no” doesn’t necessarily mean no is less likely to take your first answer as the final word.
This is often a problem where one parent plays “good cop” while the other plays “bad cop”. In that situation, a kid quickly learns how to play Mom and Dad off against each other, which is bad for family harmony. A single parent can also practise inconsistent parenting – making it hard for a kid to know how their parent is likely to react.
Sure, it’s been said a million times but too much screen use too young is bad for kids. For instance, evidence suggests that screen use at a very young age might hinder language development. That’s not to say that screens don’t have educational value. However, that value mustn’t come at the expense of social interaction, reading, playing games, kicking a ball around and so on.
It’s natural for parents to want their kids to succeed in life. Great grades, a wealth of impressive co-curricular activities, admission to a top school are common aspirations. Unfortunately, many parents are so focused on seeing their kids achieve these goals that they micromanage every area of their kid’s life. This is claustrophobic for the kid and definitely doesn’t teach them self-reliance.
Picky eaters can be tricky to manage. Allowing a kid to dictate what they eat can seem like a good way of ensuring they eat something. On the other hand, it also teaches them that their wishes are paramount no matter how difficult this is for whoever is doing meal preparation. Remember, while food fussiness is common in toddlers, most kids grow out of it.
Not enough praise
It’s really easy for parents to criticize bad behavior in their kids. It’s less easy for them to praise the good behavior. And it isn’t just behavior. Achievements, no matter how small, warrant a word or two of congratulations or a smile. A lack of praise may result in a kid who stops trying or who feels that nothing they do is good enough.
Not letting go
Accepting that your kid is growing up is hard for most parents. As well as the natural sadness that one stage is ending, there’s the fear of what adult life and the wider world might hold for them. However, wrapping them up in cotton wool does no one any good and can result in a resentful young adult with inadequate life skills.
Praising achievement instead of effort
Although it’s important to praise your kids for what they do well, it’s more important to praise them for trying. After all, not everyone can win a race or come top of the class but everyone can try their best. Moreover, praising effort encourages persistence, which helps the learning process and can lead to better results in future.
Arguing in front of them
Constant arguing between parents destabilizes kids. It makes them anxious and may even affect their ability to manage conflict in their own future relationships. On the other hand, it can be good for kids to see their parents disagreeing but then reaching a mutually acceptable compromise.
Using them as a therapist
No matter your problems and no matter the age of your child, using them as an off-the-cuff, unqualified therapist is inappropriate. It risks making them feel responsible for your happiness and mental well-being, and it risks over-burdening them with problems that should not be their concern.
Not respecting their privacy
It’s tempting to want to know everything about your kid. Whether this stems from love, concern for their welfare or a mixture of the two, at some point you must draw a line in the sand. Not all secrets are bad and, for the sake of both pride and personal growth, some mistakes are best chewed over in private.
Not giving them space to grow
From an adult’s perspective, the speed at which childhood races is terrifying and it can be tempting to keep them a little kid for as long as possible. This may lead to resentment on the part of the child. It also risks pigeon-holing them. Whether you like it or not, no kid is the same person at 15 as they were at, say, 12.
Making them the meat in the sandwich
Parents who use their child to communicate with each other are almost always doing that child a disservice. If you’re divorced, separated, on the road to separation or simply bicker a lot, you need to keep your child out of it. Making them pass messages on – no matter how seemingly anodyne – is likely to lead to resentment and divided loyalties.
Comparing kids is easily done, especially if you have more than one. It is, however, very bad for a child’s developing self-esteem. They are likely to end up feeling that nothing they do will ever stack up to the achievement of their sibling, cousin, neighbor’s nephew or whoever their parents are holding up as a shining example of “the perfect kid”.
Not keeping promises
They’re not elephants but children remember things – and they have a particularly good memory for parental promises. These might be small promises (ice cream after school, a trip to the beach), they might be bigger (“we’ll never move house”) or they might be out of a parent’s control (“the doctor will make me better”). Broken promises leave kids feeling they can’t rely on their parents.
“Resilience” may be one of the modern-day parenting buzzwords of choice but it’s an important life skill. Not giving kids space to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and try again encourages them to assume that someone else will always fix their mistakes and tell them that those mistakes don’t matter anyway. It’s the opposite of teaching resilience.
Being overly strict
While kids undeniably need boundaries, they also need space to learn how to keep themselves safe. Preventing them from participating in any activity or social event with any level of risk does them no favors in terms of helping them become competent adults. Excessive strictness can also encourage a child to lie and hide things from their parents.
Not teaching them to cook
Whether you have a boy or a girl, cooking is an essential life skill. The same goes for knowing how to do the laundry, change a lightbulb, manage a bank account and dozens of other mundane tasks. Your kid will have an easier introduction to independent living if they can competently undertake these things. They’re also more likely to have successful adult relationships.
Everyone knows someone who goes from “0 to 60” in the blink of an eye. It’s not pleasant for anyone to be on the receiving end of such an overreaction but it’s particularly difficult for kids. They may react by trying to hide anything that they fear may prompt the reaction and, when faced with an overreacting parent, a kid may overreact themselves.
A vomiting child, one with measles or a high fever clearly needs to stay home from school. However, the “duvet days” that some employers give their employees don’t apply to kids. Allowing a child to take a day off school because “they don’t feel like it” risks teaching them that certain activities – like school or work – are optional.
Modelling inappropriate relationships with food
With the rise in eating disorders and the near fetishization of particular body types, it’s essential for parents to model sensible relationships with food. It’s no guarantee against a kid developing problems but a mom who’s always on a diet or a dad who thinks three scoops of ice cream is an acceptable daily snack is probably storing up problems for that kid.
Unless it’s an erudite and preferably witty professor who really knows their stuff, few people like being lectured. Most quickly tune out and stop listening, even if they’re trying to pay attention. Kids are no different. If you want to share important information with them, you need to find another way to do so.
Not monitoring their social media accounts
A kid alone in social media-land is like a non-swimmer in a shark tank. The non-swimmer may make it out alive but they’ll probably sustain bites along the way. Similarly, kids need help and oversight in navigating the social media landscape. The potential for bullying is ever-present and, sadly, so too is the risk of them being targeted by an adult with inappropriate intentions.
Your preferred tactic for dealing with people who upset you or who are rude to you may be to ignore them. With kids, however, this tactic needs immense care. There’s a difference between taking yourself off for five minutes to calm down and ignoring them for hours. The former can be sanity-saving for all concerned. The latter can harm the child’s own emotional coping techniques.
Criticizing the child
No matter how angry you are, it’s important to direct your ire at your kid’s behavior. If they feel that you dislike, or are disgusted by, them as a person, you damage their developing self-esteem and risk the health of your long-term relationship with them
Treating them like a “mini me”
No kid is a replica of their parent. Yes, your son might be your spitting image and your daughter might share your childhood enthusiasm for ice-skating. However, that doesn’t mean that your son should be forced to cut his hair the same way as you and that your daughter should be made to quit baseball to concentrate on ice-skating.
It’s not just the preserve of the wealthy. Most parents have the potential to over-indulge their child. Taken to extreme, it results in spoiled kids becoming over-entitled and frequently unpopular adults who believe the world owes them something. The occasional “no” and, once they’re old enough, encouraging a kid to take a part-time job can go a long way towards counteracting any such tendencies.
Even if you’re teetotal and live in a Prohibition Era-style “no alcohol” home, stigmatizing it risks making it much more attractive to a kid. That’s absolutely not to say you should buy your kid a keg of beer and be done with it. Rather, it’s important to have as many open and honest conversations on the topic as are needed.
Not making time for them
Not spending enough time with kids isn’t necessarily a deliberate decision by the parents. Whatever the reason for it, not spending enough time (particularly quality time) with your kids threatens their mental and emotional well-being. It also increases the chances of them engaging in risky behavior, like drug-taking and underage sex.
Choosing their career
A child who isn’t allowed to choose their own career path, even if this parental direction is so subtle that the kid doesn’t clock it, may end up resenting their parents. Supportive parents recognize that the ultimate decision is their child’s. They give their kid the freedom and encouragement to discover their own talents and decide on their own preferred path.
Family is important to children but so is a wider community. Ensuring that a kid grows up as part of a community helps steer their social and emotional development in the right direction. What’s more, a child’s community should include a similarly-aged peer group. This can be tricky for home-educated kids, whose parents must make extra effort to provide appropriate social contact elsewhere.
Ignoring their opinions
Wisdom may accrue along with age but everyone, regardless of the number of years under their belt, has opinions and is entitled to hold them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that parents must automatically acquiesce to their kids’ opinions. Rather, for the sake of a child’s sense of self-worth, parents should ensure their kids feel listened to and that they know their opinions matter.
Hugs and kisses
Many adults welcome hugs and kisses although they usually do so on their own terms. Kids, on the other hand, are often cajoled or guilted into accepting embraces. While parents are sometimes motivated by fear of hurting a relative’s feelings, not allowing their kid to say “no” to physical contact minimises the child’s feelings. It also puts a question mark over their bodily autonomy.
Ignoring mental health issues
A parent who was taught to “tough it out” as a kid or was told “real boys don’t cry” may be more likely to treat their own child in a similar way. Sometimes the kid may reach adulthood relatively unscathed. Other times, the approach may result in eating disorders, depression, anxiety and the like going unacknowledged and untreated.
Forcing them into religion
It’s natural to want your children to share in the things that are important to you. And, while religion is clearly a very important framework for many people’s lives, children should have the space and chance to make their own choices. Perhaps most importantly, they should be able to make those choices without fearing a negative reaction from their parents.
No sex education
Girls who don’t learn about periods are ill-equipped to deal with their own menses. Boys who don’t learn about periods are ill-equipped to be understanding, helpful future partners. Meanwhile, girls and boys who aren’t taught the mechanics of reproduction, contraception and safe sex are at increased risk of becoming young parents and of contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Failing to teach empathy
A kid who grows up without learning to give gifts at Christmas as well as to receive them, or who isn’t encouraged to think about what it might be like to be homeless or hungry is unlikely to become an empathetic adult. Empathy is the foundation for human relationships. Empathetic individuals generally have better mental wellbeing and stronger social connections.