When it comes to parenting advice, well, there's never a lack of the stuff. As soon as you have a baby, every person and their dog is ready to supply you with opinions about feeding, sleep schedules, and potty training. So when it comes to the subtle things that parents do that screw up kids the most, well, people have plenty of opinions. In fact, the sheer number of opinions on this topic kind of overwhelmed me as I began researching this piece.
To be clear, this article isn't meant to shame or blame any parents. Most everybody is doing their level best to raise wonderful kids, and it's just a really freaking difficult job sometimes. For the most part, I think people need to cut parents more slack, and say things like "How can I help you?" instead of "You're doing this wrong."
So to help you find advice that's actually useful, and not just some randoms putting parents on blast, I turned to all kinds of experts for this topic. People who are professional life coaches, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, midwives, and eating counselors gave their exclusive insights to Romper. Their wisdom is provided with compassion for both parents and their children.
1. Saying "You Are Perfect Just The Way You Are"
Sure, it's a well-meaning statement. But be careful about how you use the P-word. "The meaning behind this phrase is pure, but the message received can lead to anxiety. Telling a child that they are perfect gives them a label that they have to live up to. And perfection is impossible to obtain," says Coach Sheri, a teen life coach, parent educator, and motivational speaker at Teen Wise Seattle. Because perfection is anxiety-inducing, encouraging your child to aim for personal growth is more realistic and achievable.
2. Expecting Your Child To Be Best At Everything
Of course parents want kids to try their best, but no one person is going to be amazing at everything. "Currently, parents push their kids to reach their full potential in every sport, class, activity, hobby that they do," says Coach Sheri. "This isn't realistic and it isn't necessary. I'm ok at bowling but I'm not going to spend hours bowling to step into my full potential. Parents should really encourage kids to reach their full potential in the areas that also peak their interest and inner joy." In other words, it's OK to be just OK at some things.
3. Forbidding Failure
Failing at something definitely stings, but kids need to experience that feeling from time to time. "If we can teach a child to embrace a failure as a strength, to learn and move forward, we can get them to see life as a place to double one's failures in order to increase one's successes which can build true confidence," says Paul DePompo, who is board certified in cognitive behavioral therapy and works as a psychologist. Trying to prevent your child from ever experiencing failure is probably not going to help build that confidence.
4. Being Their Friend
Save friendship for the other adults in your life. "We love our children but we are not their friends," says Paul DePompo. Treating your kid like a friend can blur the lines of hierarchy, making it difficult for the child to respect the authority of future teachers and bosses, as DePompo further explains.
5. Not Separating The Behavior From The Child
This is a subtle point, but a powerful one. "When we do not separate the behavior from the child, some children internalize any mistakes as them being 'bad,'" says clinical social worker Courtney Hart of Healing Hart Wellness. Mistakes are just a part of being human.
6. Treating Them Like Adults
Kids can be savvy in many ways, and sometimes it's easy to forget that they're still kids. "Also, parents often treat their young children like 30-year-old adults. Parents who expect too much from their children end up damaging their development because they grow up too fast," says Katie Ziskind, licensed marriage and family therapist and yoga therapist at Wisdom Within Counseling. Instead of processing their feelings verbally, kids are likely to turn to play, as Ziskind further explains.
7. Emphasizing Grades
Of course parents want their children to do well academically, but too much emphasis can backfire. "Some teens feel that they are letting their families down by getting anything less than an A or even that they may not succeed in life when they don't earn an A," says school counselor and therapist Brandi Lewis of Reach Counseling Solutions. This intense anxiety can become its own problem.
8. Fighting Their Battles For Them
Yes, parents wish they could protect their kids from the world, but kids have to learn problem solving and coping skills as well. "I have seen many clients and students who often use their parents as a crutch when faced with a problem," says Brandi Lewis. The child may struggle with decision-making skills in the future.
9. Comparing Siblings
It's so easy to make comparisons about siblings, but these offhand remarks can have lasting effects. "In my experience, it's possible for these types of comparisons can lead to resentments or feelings of inadequacy for some people in their adult lives," says Brandi Lewis. Children notice these comparisons.
10. Making Strict Food Rules
Parents who have warped relationships with food may pass these issues along to their children, without ever intending to create problems for the kid. For instance, eating issues can be caused by "strict rules around food, such as not allowing the child to have sugar or certain so-called bad foods," says exercise physiologist and certified Intuitive Eating Counselor Gillian Hood of Healthier Outcomes. Although these rules probably come from a well-meaning place, they can create a difficult relationship with food.
11. Forcing Kids To Kiss Or Hug Others
Sure, it can be a little embarrassing when your kid doesn't want to hug her great aunt during a family gathering. But it's important to respect the kid's wishes. "By making children kiss and hug family and/or friends, it sends the message to children that they have to do things that they may not be comfortable with. Children learn to dismiss their boundaries for the sake of pleasing others," says licensed psychotherapist Shirin Peykar. And really, healthy boundaries are kind of everything. Also, freely given hugs are best.
12. Saying "Don't Talk To Strangers"
Is this phrase more harmful than helpful? "'Don't talk to strangers.' Every kid hears it all the time and it scars our social abilities for life because most of us stick with it way beyond childhood," says negotiation trainer Claudia Winkler of the Negotiation Academy. It's an interesting perspective from someone who focuses on high-stakes communication for a living.
13. Believing Your Kid Would Never Act Out
Believing your child's side to every story absolutely could backfire. "In my observation, the most suckered-in parents often have some of the WORST bullies for children, whereas parents that actively intensively *question* their child (in somewhat of a guilty-until-proven-innocent methodology) have kids who respect authority because they know for sure there's not much they can get away with," says Kathy Fray, a midwife, best-selling author, and award-winning international private maternity consultant.
14. Bailing Kids Out Of Trouble In School
Sometimes it's best to let kids fight their own battles. "It starts from wanting to prevent your child from failing or being left out or bullied. And it ends up with your child lacking abilities to handle challenges and build resilience," says Ana Jovanovic, clinical psychologist and life coach at ParentingPod.com. Encouraging your kid to reach out for help as needed, instead of solving every problem for them, is another approach.
15. Not Apologizing
If you screw up, say sorry. "We can’t think just because we are adults we are too big to apologize to our children. If we are wrong on an issue it is important that we apologize to our kids," says licensed marriage and family therapist Michael Bouciquot. It's a chance to teach humility and empathy. After all, it's OK for parents to make mistakes, too.