There’s no certification for becoming a parent. Every parent learns from experience, and no matter how many kids you have or what their ages are, making mistakes is just part of parenting.
But some parenting mistakes are easy to avoid. Here are nine you may not know you’re making.
1. Avoiding “-Isms”
You want your child to grow up free of prejudice and stereotypes, so you might avoid talking about inequalities of race and gender. If you never point out differences in skin color, your child will understand that racial differences are unimportant — right?
But in fact, the opposite may be true. According the National Association of Independent Schools, keeping silent about social stereotypes won’t prevent your child from noticing them and drawing their own conclusions. Instead of avoiding the topics of gender and race, try explicitly teaching your kid about prejudice, stereotypes, and the importance of equality.
2. Praising Too Much
You probably already know that bribes can reduce your child’s internal motivation. So even though a sticker might convince your kid to go to bed tonight, it won’t help him learn to appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep.
But what you might not know is that praise can have the same effect. General, unspecific praise can act like a bribe and make your child less likely to want to do the action you’re trying to encourage. According to a study published in Psychological Bulletin, you can avoid that effect by offering specific, sincere praise.
So instead of tossing your kid a generic “good job,” try a specific, appreciative statement like, “You got ready for bed so quickly tonight!”
3. Delaying “The Talk”
Talking with kids about sex is terrifying for most parents. But reducing sex education to a single conversation will only make the topic more taboo. And the more uncomfortable you feel about discussing it, the less likely your teen will be to come to you with questions when they’re older.
Instead of cramming everything into a single “talk,” teach your child the facts about sex through an ongoing conversation. Start teaching your child the basics of how babies are made from a young age by answering questions in an age-appropriate way, without going into more detail than your child asks for. Teach preschoolers the proper names for all of their body parts, even the ones they keep covered by clothes.
Keeping the conversation ongoing will give you plenty of opportunities to share your values with your kids.
4. Discouraging Negative Emotions
When your child is sad, your instinct is to do whatever it takes to make them feel better in the moment. But sometimes, they need to experience negative emotions fully before they can feel better.
Discouraging your child from expressing negative emotions can make them feel invalidated instead of supported. This is associated with a higher risk of depression and difficulty regulating emotions, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies. Instead of trying to make them feel better fast, name and validate whatever emotion they’re feeling — even the negative ones.
5. Always Saving the Day
When your child makes a mistake, it’s natural to want to jump to the rescue. But dealing with their own mistakes can help them develop resilience.
When you’re too quick to help, you can undermine your child’s confidence. Even being too eager to give your preschooler a boost on the climbing gym at the playground can send the message that they can’t do it on their own. And for older kids, overparenting is associated with poorer communication and an attitude of entitlement, according to a study in Family Relations. Instead, let your kid experience failure, and teach them how to work through mistakes.
6. Giving Your Partner the Silent Treatment
Fighting between parents is stressful for kids, but not all conflict is created equal.
Yelling and violence are unacceptable. But if you try to avoid conflict by silently stonewalling your partner, that can be just as destructive for your kids’ emotional health. A study in Psychological Bulletin found that unresolved hostility could be just as destructive as violent fights.
Instead, learn good conflict resolution so you can talk through conflict with your co-parent. If you can, resolve it in front of the kids so they can see a healthy way to work through disagreements.
7. Scheduling Educational Activities
Lots of scheduled activities are par for the course for most kids these days, even at young ages. Signing your preschooler up for ballet, soccer, and piano isn’t necessarily a mistake — but it could do as much harm as good.
A study in Frontiers in Psychology indicated that kids who have more free time develop better executive function. Executive function is the skill that enables kids to set goals and meet them, and it’s a key predictor of success. So it’s possible that dropping ballet in favor of free time at the playground could actually be better for your child’s development.
Instead of scheduling nonstop activities, try making time for regular free play, too.
8. Breaking Your Own Rules
“Do as I say, not as I do” may have sounded good when your parents said it, but it doesn’t necessarily work.
Kids imitate your actions more than your words. Whether you hope your kids will read more or eat healthier, the example you set will have much more impact than the rules you enforce. So practice what you preach — at least when your kids are watching.
9. Believing You Have Total Control
Ultimately, there’s a limit to how much impact your parenting will have on your kids. You’ll influence some of your child’s success, but some of it depends their temperaments, experiences, and choices.
Believing that your parenting is the deciding factor in your kids’ lives may be one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a parent. At some point, it’s better to just let go and trust that your best is good enough.