Parenting is tough and we all make mistakes. But learning from them can make us better dads.
All parents make mistakes. Babies don’t come with instructions, and every child is different. Show us a perfect parent and we’ll show you a unicorn!
But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our own mistakes and those of others. Here we look at 20 classic parenting mistakes, and explain how to avoid or undo them.
We all have a tendency to label our kids. He’s the clever one, she’s the good looking one, he’s got the artistic talent, she’s sporty. But labels are unfair, and lead us to treat children differently. The message labelling gives kids is that they are good at one thing, rather than possessing a whole range of (perhaps as yet undiscovered) talents and interests. Don’t pigeonhole your children: let them discover their talents for themselves.
2. Letting yourself go
We make our children the centre of our worlds. But doing so at the expense of our health, fitness, friends and relationships is a common mistake. Take time for yourself and your own interests, and you’ll recharge yourself to be the best dad you can be.
3. Doing too much
You want the best for your children, which can lead you to do everything for them. That’s fine when they’re three, less so at 13. If you do too much for your kids then they will not learn to do things for themselves. Give them a level of freedom and self-determination appropriate to their age.
4. Being a bad role model
It’s simple really. If you don’t want your kids to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation, don’t fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. If you don’t want your kids to eat junk food every day, don’t eat junk food every day. If you want your kids to exercise, exercise. In their formative years you are one of the people who, more than anyone, shape the people they will become.
By bullying, we mean threats, violence, and punishments out of all proportion to the ‘crime’. We don’t really need to spell this out. Bullying parents raise anxious, unhappy children who may become bullies themselves.
We’ve all done it. We threaten a forfeit for bad behaviour – losing screen time, for instance – and then fail to apply the punishment when it is warranted. It makes our lives easier, in the short term. In the long term we store up problems for ourselves and do our children a disservice. Proper and policed boundaries add to a child’s sense of security and love.
“Why can’t you be more like your sister/friend/cousin!” When regularly used as a criticism, unfavourable comparisons can lead to poor self-esteem and rock bottom self-confidence. Do it often enough and your child will think they are never good enough, leading to withdrawal and underachievement.
8. Lack of routine
Letting your children do what they want, when they want, as free as birds, sounds an enticing idea. It isn’t an enticing reality. Children need routine as much as they need boundaries. They may complain bitterly at bedtime, but routine prepares them for a life outside the home. It also makes them feel grounded and safe. Routines aren’t laws – you should be free to break them from time to time – but they are important.
Very few people seriously neglect their children, but it’s easy to get into a situation where your kids are squeezed entirely into the margins of your time. Try not to miss important events in your child’s life unless it really can’t be helped (and then make sure you’re around for the next one) and most of all, spend time listening to your children. Never taking time to have a conversation with your child is a form of emotional neglect that we can all easily avoid.
10. Over scheduling
It’s great for kids to have after school activities. What’s not so great is when every spare second of their free time is taken up with sports, music, dance, drama, volunteering or one of a host of other classes and activities available to children in the evenings and at weekends. Kids need time to be kids too, being bored, reading a book, playing a video game or hanging out with friends. Not every part of the their day should follow a strict timetable.
11. Not reading to your children
View this post on Instagram
Read to your children. Just do. The benefits are huge.
12. Too much choice
Especially when they’re young, giving children loads of choice in what they do, what they eat, where they go (and so on) isn’t necessarily a good thing. A four-year-old wants certainty, not endless decisions to make. As the adult, it’s part of your job to make many of those choices for them.
Or spoiling them, as it’s also known. Treats happen on treat day. Expensive toys arrive at Christmas or birthdays. Give in to pester power too often and too easily and you create a monster, forever chasing the next consumer high.
14. Being over critical
Yes, you want them to be the best they can be. Yes, they sometimes underachieve. But scrutinising your kid’s every misplaced pass or incorrect exam question will lead them to believe that only perfection is acceptable, likely leading to a lifetime of disappointment. Cut them some slack. If they’re trying, they’re winning.
15. Not setting screen rules
Screens can be great – entertaining, educational, lots of fun. But if you let them, screens will take over, and can be damaging if not properly policed. Limit screen time to certain times of the day or week.
16. Providing constant stimulation
When kids say “I’m bored” parents have a tendency to panic. A bored child is an unhappy child, we think, so we rush to fill his or her time with stimulating activities. That’s OK, sometimes. But on other occasions children should be allowed to be bored, so they develop creative ways to escape boredom for themselves.
17. Being overprotective
View this post on Instagram
It can seem like a scary world, but to keep kids inside, protected from all dangers and outside influences, is a bigger problem. Let your children play outdoors, climbing, jumping, hiding and discovering the world for themselves. Children who spend lots of time outdoors get along better, in a number of ways, than children who don’t.
18. Public humiliation
Sometimes your children behave badly. Sometimes you have to make them understand that such behaviour won’t be tolerated. Sometimes that understanding needs to happen right now. But balling them out in front of friends or peers is not the way to do it. The humiliated child is the resentful child. Take them to a quiet corner, away from everyone else, and explain the situation calmly and rationally. If they then continue to act badly, take them out of the situation altogether.
19. Not showing an interest
At bathtime, dinnertime, bedtime or when they get in from school, just ask: “What did you do today?” Listen to the answer and ask follow up questions. It’s simple – and brilliant. Your child sees that you’re interested in his or her life, and feels all the more loved and significant.
20. Being over critical (2)
This time, we mean being over critical with yourself. This looks like a long, scary list of potential parenting errors, but don’t sweat it too much. If your child is happy, healthy and progressing, you’re doing most things right.