Parenting is basically on-the-job training for the world's most important work — raising another human. And while it can be fulfilling, amazing and joyous, it can also be frustrating, exhausting and totally baffling. On top of all that, it's 24/7.
The few guideposts we have along the way tend to come from our own parents, who may or may not have been the best examples. But the plain truth is, nothing can really prepare you for the monumental task of having children.
Is it any wonder that we all have less-than-stellar moments (or maybe even days and weeks) when we lose our way and end up asking ourselves, "Am I a bad parent?"
The bright side is that only good parents tend to ask themselves that question. But the reality is that even well-intentioned parents can develop bad habits that could have a negative impact on their kids.
Let's face it, there's no such thing as a perfect parent, and we're all going to make mistakes. But if we can take an honest look at our parenting style and point out any signs of bad parenting for ourselves while also staying open to change, it will be better for our kids and possibly easier on us in the long run.
So while falling into these mistakes on an off day doesn't make you a bad parent overall, here are 10 signs of bad parenting that you don't want to become long-lasting habits, according to mental health experts.
Habits to Avoid in Your Parenting Style
Not all parents agree on how to raise their children, but some things can be labeled as truly inadequate parenting. Neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse are seriously damaging to children and are never acceptable under any circumstances.
There are also other habits that are much less extreme but can still harm children over the long haul. Most of us have strong points and weak points as parents, even when we're trying our best.
That's why it's healthy to take a look at ourselves and acknowledge what we do right and try to improve some of our not-so-great habits.
Here are a few points to be aware of:
Shaming a child for bad behavior can include name-calling or disciplining them too harshly in front of other children or adults. And while it's a tactic that some people use to discourage negative habits in their child's life, it can have long-term effects if done consistently.
In other words, they create an internal dialogue that matches how they've been spoken to and become overly critical of themselves. In later life, they may even seek relationships that reinforce their low self-image.
We all want to protect and shield our children from anything that can hurt them. And while we may feel like watching over their every move may help them avoid making mistakes and feeling any pain, it does more harm than good in the long-run.
The reality is that we learn from making our own decisions and mistakes. When our parenting behavior becomes overprotective and full of pampering, we take away our child's ability to learn by doing — which can lead to a lack of self-confidence, antisocial tendencies, fearfulness and difficulty in decision making down the road.
In fact, a 2010 study by Neil Montgomery at Keene State College in New Hampshire found that this style of parenting prolongs childhood adolescence and kids of these parents are less open to new ideas. They're also more vulnerable, anxious, dependent and self-conscious.
3. Lack of Discipline
Kids look to their parents to set boundaries and to learn what happens when you cross them. And although you may find it hard to say "no" to your child, sometimes it's necessary. In fact, the boundaries they learn at home help kids understand the written and unwritten rules of modern society and help them integrate themselves into social situations.
A child without boundaries may run into trouble in school or cause them to have difficulty forming social relationships with other children or groups of children.
4. Overly Rigid Discipline
On the other end of the spectrum, children with no boundaries have an overly authoritarian parent.
Authoritarian parents are extremely strict and refuse to give reasons for their rules, or the harsh consequences children suffer for breaking them. While it may be effective to harshly scold or threaten physical violence (i.e., spanking) in the short term for curbing bad behavior, this parenting style can have serious long-term effects on a child's well-being in their young age and adulthood.
When children aren't allowed to explore their world and make mistakes, they can later become fearful, anxious, throw tantrums or start to rebel by breaking the rules and engaging in destructive behavior.
5. Withholding Affection
When you punish a child for poor behavior by ignoring them or withholding affection, they begin to learn that your love is conditional.
Psychotherapist Sharron Frederick warns us that this type of discipline can lead to low self-esteem and codependency. If the pattern continues, the child will learn to adapt their behavior to how people want them to act instead of expressing their own wants and needs — putting them at risk for abusive relationships.
6. Constant Criticism
We all have wisdom that we want to share with our children so that they'll succeed in the world. But when it turns into a constant haranguing about how they dress, brush their hair, play a sport, keep their room, etc., it can have negative consequences.
When we only notice the things that our children do wrong (and give them little to no praise for what they do right), it can undermine their self-confidence and breed resentment and defiance.
A study in The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology found that children with overly critical parents learn to ignore facial expressions (both positive and negative) as a coping mechanism. Later in life, this can limit their capacity to "read" people and build healthy relationships.
7. Comparing Your Child
Children are individuals who grow at their own pace and have unique talents and personalities. But when we compare our kids to their siblings, other classmates or friends (as in, "Why can't you be as well-behaved, studious, neat as your sister, etc.), it can lead to anxiety.
Children always want to please their parents, and when they feel that they can't, it can be very stressful for them. Over time, it can even lead to low self-esteem, resentment and a lack of confidence in social situations.
8. Lack of Positive Attention and Support
When we think of neglected kids, the image of children without food, clean clothes or proper care is what tends to arise in our minds. But even if their basic needs are covered, not giving our children enough positive attention is a form of emotional neglect that we can be unaware of.
Positive attention includes things like listening to our children with our undivided attention, showing interest in their activities and achievements, smiling at them, hugging them, praising them and spending quality time with them.
This kind of attention helps them know that they're valued and helps them build a sense of self-confidence and self-worth. And if they don't get enough of it, their self-esteem can suffer and eventually affect their relationships with other people.
9. Not Respecting Your Child's Feelings
Children are straightforward about their feelings. When they're happy, they light up and jump up and down when they're excited and hug and kiss you when they feel joyful.
But sometimes, it's harder to deal with their sadness, anger, jealousy or fear. In fact, we may try to sweep these emotions away by telling them how to feel (i.e., stop crying, don't be afraid, etc.)
But according to Leslie E. Greenberg, one of the founders of emotion-focused therapy, an emotionally intelligent person knows how to move in and out of emotions. In order to teach our children emotional intelligence, it's important to:
1: Help them identify and acknowledge their feelings. For example, "You're crying because your sister won't let you play. I understand. That would make me feel sad too."
2: Help them to make an appropriate verbal or behavioral choice. For example, "You're angry because your sister took your toy. I understand, but it's not okay to hit your sister."
Then you can help them express their anger in a way that's not destructive such as squeezing a pillow, jumping or using appropriate words.
When we acknowledge how a child feels instead of dictating how they feel, it helps them learn that their feelings are valuable while also helping them communicate their emotions. This kind of intelligence will help them build intimacy in their relationships and work well with others (instead of resorting to unhealthy ways of coping with their emotions).
10. Setting A Bad Example
Children learn not only through what we say but also through our own behavior and actions.
Bad examples for our kids could include yelling or hitting to express anger or engaging in substance abuse. But beyond these obviously destructive behaviors, there are other ways we may not be modeling the best behavior,
Are you constantly glued to technology? Do you listen while other people are talking? Are you able to admit your mistakes and say you're sorry? Do you have a negative attitude about life? Are you polite?
If there's something we want to teach our kids, it's important to remember to practice the behavior ourselves. Otherwise, our kids could get the wrong message no matter what we're telling them with words.
Making Positive Parental Choices
With the demands and stresses of modern life, it's easy for any of us to fall into some of the negative habits described above. But remember that having a bad moment or a bad day doesn't make you a bad parent.
Learning to be a parent is a process, and we're all going to make mistakes. The important thing is to become aware of our parenting style and be willing to change if we find ourselves falling into bad habits.
Here are few suggestions for some positive habits to start creating:
- Give your children positive attention in the form of hugs, warm words, praise, interest in their activities and by listening to them.
- Acknowledge your children's feelings. Tell them you understand why they feel the way they do and help them find an appropriate outlet.
- If your child needs to cry, allow them to do it until they're finished.
- If you're angry with your child, tell them how you feel, but also let them know that you still love them (but never withhold affection or ignore them).
- Set boundaries, but be sure to give them reasons for your rules instead of using the "because I said so" approach.
- Give your child the space to make mistakes. When they make a mistake, ask them what they might have done differently instead of criticizing them for it.
- Admit your own mistakes and say you're sorry when it's appropriate.
- When a child does need to be disciplined, make sure the consequence is appropriate and not overly harsh compared with what they did.
- Be sure not to name-call or shame your kids when you're alone with them or around other people.
- Set a good example by modeling the behaviors you want your children to learn.
Let's All Grow Together
Good parenting really is the world's toughest job. And even if we have times when we feel like we're doing it all wrong, it's important to be patient with ourselves as well as with our children.
It's also important to be honest with ourselves about our parenting choices and stay open to change. Let's face it... we're probably all going to yell at our kids from time to time. But if we let ourselves fall consistently into negative patterns to get short-term results, it could do long-lasting harm to our kids when they are grown up.
If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't be afraid to reach out to other parents, friends or professionals. Remember, it takes a village to raise a child and remain a sane (or at least semi-sane) parent.
So take heart, everyone. And remember that every day is a fresh start when it comes to being a better parent.
You might also be interested in: 43 Easy Ways To Childproof Your Home [Protect Your Children]
10 Signs of Bad Parenting:
- Lack of Discipline
- Overly Rigid Discipline
- Withholding Affection
- Constant Criticism
- Comparing Your Child
- Lack of Positive Attention and Support
- Not Respecting Your Child's Feelings
- Setting A Bad Example