7 Parenting Mistakes We All Make (and Should Forgive Ourselves for)

How to recover from common parenting mistakes

Fighting in front of the kids is a parenting mistake we've all made. iStockphoto

Parenting is one of the toughest jobs there is. It's a role that requires patience (sometimes in massive quantities), the ability to perform well on little sleep (sometimes very small amounts of it), and the ability to juggle jobs, housework, and childcare tasks, all while whipping up yummy and nutritious meals.

And while we want to make the right decisions and provide the best examples for our kids to follow at all times, the truth is that parents, like all human beings, can make mistakes (sometimes lots of them).

The secret to getting past parenting mistakes is knowing and admitting when you've made an error, figuring out how to do it better the next time, and last but not least, forgiving yourself.

One of the most helpful hints for how to tell when you are making a mistake is to think of yourself as being filmed, and to imagine yourself reviewing your actions and words later, when you are more removed from the problem and things have settled down. For instance, if you find yourself losing your cool and launching into a screaming fit, try to stop and think about what this might look like to you later on. If you know that you'd view this scene and think, "I could have handled that better," then it's time to stop and change course.

By the same token, if someone took a snapshot of you mid-yell, it wouldn't give a complete picture of your normal calm, cool, and collected parenting skills. And the next time you lose your temper or make another parenting mistake and you feel like the worst parent in the world, remind yourself of the many things you do right every day.

And remember, too, that every parent out there has faced a similar situation, and just about everyone has made a slip up now and again.

Here are some common parenting mistakes, and what you can do to get back on track when something goes awry.

Parenting Mistake # 1: Yelling
Raise your hand if you've never, ever yelled at your child.

Unless you are one of those super-patient and unceasingly calm parents who never raise their voices--and I know maybe one or two among the hundreds of parents I know--you've probably spoken sharply and, yes, yelled at your child at one time or another. It happens. Kids naturally push boundaries, or can be unaware that they are doing something that drives you crazy.

When you feel your patience start to fray, keep in mind some reasons why yelling at kids is not a great form of discipline. For one thing, it teaches kids that aggression is a good way to handle a problem. It also shows kids that you are not in control, which is the last thing you want when you want to teach your child to be more thoughtful and have better control over his actions.

What to Do the Next Time:
Give yourself some time to cool down before engaging with your child, and try to find ways to steer him toward making better choices so that you won't get upset with him the next time. (For more tips, read, "How to Discipline Without Yelling at Kids.")

Parenting Mistake # 2: Bribing
Who among us hasn't resorted to a little bribing to get a reluctant or uncooperative child to do something? Whether it's a lollipop or a video game, bribing can certainly be effective--in the short term.

The problem with bribing is that kids get used to expecting a reward for something they're supposed to do, like chores or getting ready for school on time without dawdling. Bribing sets up a pattern that can lead to kids obeying parents only to get things, instead of doing things they're supposed to do to feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in their work. It can also lead to spoiling kids, with emphasis being put on the material reward instead of the sense of accomplishment or pride kids can develop by doing a good job with something they should be responsible for doing.

What to Do the Next Time:
If bribing is a constant thing in your house, taper back by asking kids to do several tasks in exchange for a treat that's not a material thing (such as a toy, game, or treats) and is something your family can do together (board game night, a trip to the movies, etc.). Gradually stop linking behavior and tasks with rewards, and praise your child instead.

Parenting Mistake # 3: Spoiling Your Child
Given how busy so many parents are these days, it's easy to see why many of us may fall so easily into a pattern of spoiling our kids. We feel guilty that we aren't able to spend more time with them, and try to make up for it by giving kids more things and by giving in more often to what they want when they want it.

The problem is that when kids get too much of what they want, they often end up miserable, unpleasant, and unhappy. They generally lack self-control and empathy, and think only of themselves and their needs. In other words, spoiled kids end up being unhappy and unpopular.

What to Do the Next Time:
Get your child into the habit of being thankful for the people and things in his life, and expressing his gratitude. Teach them the value of money, encourage them to be charitable and volunteer, and have empathy for others. Give kids chores and responsibilities and steer clear of affluenza and emphasis on material posessions.

Parenting Mistake # 4: Comparing Your Child to Someone Else
You know you shouldn't but it happens: You slip and find yourself saying words like, "Your Cousin Mary doesn't have to be told ten times to brush her teeth." Whether you are looking at your child in relation to a sibling, a friend, a classmate, or someone else you know, try to avoid making comparisons that can hurt your child's feelings or make her feel inferior.

What to Do the Next Time:
Unless it's helpful to your child and can help her in some way (for example, pointing out to your child that her older brother had trouble learning to ride a bike or memorizing multiplication tables when he was her age but that practicing eventually paid off), avoid making comparisons. Instead, try to see whatever your child is trying to change, achieve, or learn in terms of her own obstacles and strengths, and work with her to figure out how to accomplish the goal.

Parenting Mistake # 5: Cursing, Lying, or Engaging in Other Bad Behavior
When it comes to slip-ups like uttering a curse word or telling a small fib, kids seem to have some sort of super-radar that picks up even the most minor offenses their parents make. We can't always be perfect, and may say [beep!] when we stub our toe or lie to a chatty neighbor about having an appointment to get out of a long conversation.

What to Do the Next Time:
Sometimes parents can slip and do something they tell their kids not to do. Explain to your child that you will work on doing better next time just as he does when he makes a mistake. Own up to your mistake and talk about what you could have done better and what you can do the next time you are in a similar situation. This is an excellent opportunity for you to show your child that parents make mistakes, too, and can learn from them just like they do when they do something wrong.

Parenting Mistake # 6: Fighting in Front of the Kids
Every couple has flare ups and disagreements now and then, and the fact is that kids are sometimes in the room when it happens. Family members who love each other can have fights and get angry with each other, and mom and dad are no exception.

For kids, it can be upsetting and scary for kids when parents fight. When things have calmed down, reassure your child that disagreements don't mean that you and your spouse love each other any less, and be sure to emphasize that expressing different opinions can help people communicate better and strengthen a relationship.

What to Do the Next Time:
Make an agreement with your spouse to try not to express anger with each other in front of the kids, and to speak in a respectful and loving way to each other, even when you disagree. Never, ever put kids in the middle or ask them to take a side in an argument. Never.

Parenting Mistake # 7: Not Disciplining Enough, and Making Other Discipline Mistakes
Whether it's being inconsistent, over-explaining, or not disciplining at all, parents routinely make common discipline mistakes. Sometimes parents are just too busy or too tired to deal with disciplining kids. Or they may worry that confronting their child may negatively impact their bond.

But the harsh reality is that children who are not disciplined are unhappy, unpleasant, spoiled, and self-centered. Disciplining, which is teaching kids how to have better self-control and make better choices, is not only important for kids, but it's good for them, too.

What to Do the Next Time:
You won't do everything perfectly as you discipline your child. But acting with love and gentle but firm and consistent rules, boundaries, and consequences will help your child behave better in time. Be calm, never punish in anger, and if you use corporal punishment, read about why it is not effective and may be very harmful.

Whatever parenting mistake you make, admit to yourself and your child that you are not perfect. And hug your child and be grateful, for kids are naturally forgiving and loving, especially when we set an example of how to do that when they do something wrong.

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