Five Ways Parents Damage Their Kids
Without Even Realizing It
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One of the primary reasons God instituted marriage is so married couples could produce and nurture Godly offspring (Malachi 2:15)—that is, children trained in the ways of God. Christian parents are to diligently teach their children about God’s truths (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), discipline them in a loving manner (Proverbs 13:24) and provide for their needs (1 Timothy 5:8). God wants parents to take these responsibilities seriously.
But life gets busy. We might have stressful jobs and not have much energy left at the end of the day to deal with “kid problems.” Maybe we just go “on autopilot” when we’re home so we don’t even think about what we’re doing or saying, or how we might be coming across to other family members. Perhaps we just go along with what all the other parents are doing, or do what “feels right” at the moment, without stopping to think about what effect these actions might have on our children. The trouble is, when we get into these kind of mindsets, we can end up making some serious parenting blunders.
Probably most parents reading this can relate. No matter how conscientious and loving we may be, we all fall short at times. Very often our mistakes are unintentional. But even unintended slip-ups, if done repeatedly, can negatively impact a child’s emotional and moral development. Parents can be teaching their children the wrong lessons or missing out on teaching them the right lessons, without even realizing it.
On a positive note, most parenting mistakes can be prevented. The basic solution is to be aware of what the potential pitfalls are, so we can make the right adjustments before any problems develop. Obviously, there’s no end to the types of mistakes parents might make. However, certain parenting blunders are especially common today. Here are five big ones to avoid:
1. Skimping on quality time.
The first big mistake was alluded to in the introduction. Families today are pressed for time. Both Mom and Dad usually have jobs outside of the home, in addition to having household and childcare responsibilities. When time runs short, it’s usually the kids who suffer. Numerous studies have confirmed this trend. A 2019 survey commissioned by Crayola Experience found that 55 percent of American parents think they are “too busy” with other commitments to spend quality time with their kids.
One mom of two preteens admitted: “Most of the ‘interacting’ I do with my kids is when I’m rushing to them to school or sporting events, or when they’re doing their homework at the kitchen table and I’m trying to get them to focus on that while I hurry to get dinner made. There’s very little time to just sit down together and talk.”
Your children need to know they’re important to you. You’re not going to have strong bonds with them if you hardly give them any attention. Make sure you have some focused quality time with them each day (even just 15 minutes), to talk or do something enjoyable together, where you’re not only physically present with them, but emotionally connected as well. If you don’t think your schedule will allow this, take an honest assessment of your priorities and see what can be cut out.
2. Giving them what they should earn.
Every child likes presents, and it’s certainly nice to be able to give them. But too often parents overindulge their kids, showering them with all the toys, electronic gadgets and designer clothes they could ever want. Many times these are “guilty gifts”—given to kids by busy parents to try to make up for not spending time with them. Another common scenario occurs when a parent and her children are out shopping, and when the kids start begging for something, she caves in and puts the item in the cart to appease them.
These are huge mistakes. Studies have shown that giving children everything they want can foster an entitlement mentality and train them to be materialistic and expect immediate gratification. Moreover, if everything’s just handed to them, they won’t see the point in working hard to achieve goals.
While it’s certainly fine to give gifts with “no strings attached,” you shouldn’t finance all your children’s desires (even if you can afford to do so). Require them to make an effort to obtain at least some of these nonessential items on their own, rather than buying it all for them. They could save up allowance money to purchase items they want, or you could have them do some extra household chores to “earn” them. Teach them that working for the things we need and want is a biblical principle (Proverbs 12:11, Proverbs 12:27; Proverbs 13:4, Proverbs 14:23; and 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).
3. Not enforcing limits.
Kids need to understand what behaviors are and aren’t acceptable, and the consequences for noncompliance. They should know what the expectations are for chores, electronics usage, schoolwork, curfews, bedtimes, mealtimes and so on. When they’re aware of what’s required, it reduces confusion and uncertainty, which in turn decreases anxiety. Children feel safe and secure when they have clear boundaries and rules, because that tells them their parents are managing the household.
But truthfully, it’s not always fun being an authority figure. We can start worrying that our kids aren’t going to “like us” if we make too many rules. And frankly, it’s a lot easier to be permissive—to let the kids do as they please—rather than confront them about their behavior. If that’s been your thinking, remind yourself that everyone has to abide by rules. Kids need to get used to that. You’re not doing your kids any favors by letting them decide for themselves how they should live.
You need to establish and enforce limits for your kids not only because it helps your household run smoothly, it’s also an important life lesson. Ultimately, children who grow up with family rules learn that it’s normal and necessary to submit to authorities (Hebrews 13:17), whether that’s their parents, teachers, bosses, police officers, or most importantly, God.
4. Fixing their problems for them.
Some parents try to protect their children from all forms of hardship. A friend told me how when she was a teenager, whenever she faced any kind of difficulty or disappointment, her mother would step in and try to remedy the situation for her. “If I was excluded by the ‘in’ crowd, she’d go talk to the parents of those kids and insist I be included. If I didn’t make the cut for the cheerleading squad, she’d talk to the coach to see if I could get another chance at trying out,” my friend related. “I know my mom was trying to help. But what she really taught me was that I didn’t need to try to solve my own problems or take responsibility for my actions.”
Unless your kids are facing a difficulty that’s too big to manage on their own or could cause serious harm, you should resist the urge to “rescue” them. Definitely be there to offer support—to listen to their concerns and share your perspectives, but don’t take over and solve the problem for your children. Let them handle the situation for themselves. Remind yourself that someday they’re going to be on their own. Afflictions and struggles are part of life (1 Peter 4:12), and they need to learn to be ready for them.
5. Misusing praise.
Praise can be an effective tool to encourage kids and motivate them to “stay on the right path.” But it can also be misused. For instance, you might extend “inflated praise” (e.g., exclaiming “You’re the best swimmer I’ve ever seen!” or “What an incredibly beautiful painting!”) or overuse positive affirmations (e.g., blurting out “Great job!” or “You’re the best!” every time a child finishes a routine task). While you may be trying to make your kids feel good, these kinds of platitudes can come off as insincere or manipulative. Most kids can see through the exaggeration. They know that don’t deserve that kind of flattery and might conclude that you don’t really mean what you say.
Another mistake is to focus your praise on your children’s innate abilities or attributes (such as beauty, intelligence or natural talents), which they have no control over. Remarks like “You’ve got a photographic memory!” and “You’re brilliant!” send the message to your kids that their accomplishments are due to their inborn abilities, and therefore effort and hard work are not necessary.
To be an effective form of encouragement, praise should be directed at your children’s character (hard work, effort, perseverance, good moral choices, obedience, right attitudes, etc.), which is what is in their control. So rather than tell them “You’re a natural at math,” it’s more helpful to say, “I can tell you’ve been practicing those story problems!” When you point out what they’ve done right, they will start to see the connection between hard work and success, which will motivate them to continue putting out effort.
Granted, no parent handles every situation perfectly—especially when they’re stressed, tired or preoccupied with life’s challenges. It goes without saying that you should ask God daily for His help and guidance in rearing your children. If you do that—along with being aware of what the potential parenting pitfalls are and have a plan for dealing with them—you’ll likely make far fewer mistakes than if you just went on autopilot.