If you are a parent, chances are you would agree that parenting is one of the toughest jobs. Parenting is challenging, especially in this day and age. I cringe recalling things I have done. Raising mini versions of myself means casting away negative habits I have been accustomed to in order to be a better role model. Dismal as it may sound, the journey can, on the contrary, be fun, fulfilling and full of wonderful memories. There is no perfect “one size fits all” manual to follow since one method that works for one child might not work for others. It is a universal struggle to parent well. The good news is, you are not alone in your journey.
Like any other responsibilities, parenting is something we earnestly want to perfect as parents. We spend the most on our children, nurture them, give them what they want and push them towards performing their best. We might have the best intentions, but does this translate to the best for our children? As with the divergent views on raising children right, there are also common mistakes that every parent may make. These mistakes may be detrimental to our child’s well-being and development and may create an unhealthy home environment.
Here, I share the five common mistakes that parents make. Perhaps you might find these familiar.
Mistake #1: Parenting the child we want, not the child we have
We might have been forced to make certain choices we did not like when we were little. Now that we are parents, we do the same to our kids too. Do you hope your children would pursue specific professions (e.g. medicine, law, accountancy) when they grow up? Did you bring them to classes you wish you had attended as a child, against their wishes? Perhaps unwittingly, we forget how our children are like, what they enjoy doing, what they might be good at, their personality and aspirations. Pushing children into a mould they do not fit could have good intent. But if children do not share the same aspirations, they might not yield the ideal outcome you would have liked. This can affect the parent-child relationship in the long run.
Remedy: Take the time to observe your child and his/her strengths and talents. Encourage your child to pursue their interests and support their journey in learning. You may be surprised at what you discover.
Mistake #2: Not letting children fail
At the start of the school year during primary school, parents would receive a memo from the head of the school reminding us not to bring forgotten bags, books, water bottles, wallets to our children. I am guilty of rushing to the school on a few occasions to send my son his forgotten wallet or homework. I didn’t think it was anything “unordinary” or wrong until my husband pointed it out to me. In retrospect, this “rescue” mentality is often instinctive but unnecessary. My son should learn to cope with the consequences of forgetting things or making mistakes, just as how we did.
What do you do when you see your baby trying to walk but fails? Do you pick your baby up or do you encourage him/her to keep trying? It is more likely the latter – children fall in order to learn. Before we attempt to help our children or remove the obstacle ahead whenever they face a challenge, we need to remember that our coddling may prevent our children from developing the skills that would help them succeed. According to parenting counsellor John Rosemond, “Almost all learning is accomplished through trial and error. If error is prevented, so is learning.”
Remedy: Empathise and acknowledge the challenge your child is facing, listen without jumping in. Allow the child to make his or her own decisions to solve the problem. They need age-appropriate decision-making practice, room to develop initiative, resourcefulness and effective problem-solving skills. This process allows the child to experience the frustration inherent to the learning of any skill. Witnessing a child’s growth as a parent who learns to let go, is a rich learning experience in itself. My six-year-old recently came running home exclaiming “Mama, I know how to climb the monkey bars, let me show you!” I was especially amazed at his perseverance and initiative in attempting and trying the bars even though he had a fear of heights. This was indeed learning with his own rhythm that I could have unknowingly prevented had I been too cautious about his safety.
Mistake #3: Reacting instead of responding
Spilt milk, temper tantrums and public meltdowns – familiar scenarios? What do these incidences trigger? Usually, plenty of emotional reactions and regret. Every child is unique and raising each one presents different challenges. We often forget that these are just mini beings not adequately capable of self-regulation. And we often forget to respond in a calm, empathetic way. Perhaps your child is having a bad day, just like anyone else, tantrums are thrown, a sibling’s toy broken out of anger – this may easily set us off especially after a sleepless night or a long day at work. Yelling, screaming, nagging would communicate much emotion, break the spirit rather than connect with the child. Easier said than done, we know!
Remedy: Take a step back and identify the triggers for your reactions. Perhaps it’s the lack of quality rest, or other stressors in life. Leave the room, count to ten, calm down before responding to your child who is distressed or angry. After reassuring and correcting the child, don’t forget a hug to reconnect.
Mistake #4: Giving too much, too soon
While we acknowledge the benefits of certain gadgets, we need to examine how we gift our children material possessions very carefully. Indulging our children too much too often can result in a false sense of entitlement. A comparison of the number of toys our parents or we had back in our days, to how much our children possess from infancy would suffice to show just how much more material goods they have. Research from the University of Toledo in Ohio suggests that an abundance of toys present reduced the quality of toddlers’ play, while fewer toys led to richer play experiences. Lead Researcher Dr Metz said that in the 16-toy environment, many of the children played with ten or more toys but didn’t explore each toy thoroughly. This impacts the kind of focus each child has on his or her possessions and can even indicate a lack of appreciation for them. A reduced amount of possessions can help the child learn to be contented, instead of finding joy only in the number of toys and gadgets he or she owns.
Parents unknowingly build an environment that thrives on instant gratification if they give too much, too soon. I experienced this in my household – there were so many toys, incomplete LEGO sets, missing figurine parts and brand new ones strewn all over. Toys were not cared for properly because there were many others to play with. Requests for new toys were never-ending until I put a stop to the accumulation of toys. Do our children really need so much stuff? It is a challenge to stand firm and say no to increasing the collection, but an essential challenge no less.
Remedy: We can reduce the amount of clutter and untouched toys and gadgets. Giving our children less does not mean we love them any less, in turn, we encourage contentment and even a giving spirit by donating some toys to worthy causes. Differentiate between wants and needs. If there is a toy on the “want” list, there could be some effort to work towards “earning” the toy or waiting for a special occasion to receive it. In addition, boredom is a great way to get children thinking of what else they can do, rather than being stimulated by screens and gadgets all the time. Children can be empowered to be creative with simple objects, crayons, building blocks and puzzles!
Mistake #5: Not enjoying parenthood
Parenting today has morphed into a relentless pursuit of ideals. There are so many jokes and Internet memes about being parents that it is seen as a negative responsibility many have sworn not to have. In a New York Times’ article about the relentlessness of modern parenting, the role of a parent is said to be labour-intensive, emotionally exhausting and financially draining. From the days of conception to our kids graduating and getting a job, parents seem to be hyper-involved and more anxious than before. Children attend brain-training classes from the tender age of two, get fed organic food, get enrolled in top schools, be coached by sporting celebrities and get raised in toxic-free environments. The proliferation of knowledge has increased expectations on parents today. However, while parenting is definitely hard work, it should also be enjoyable and coupled with countless memories and opportunities to laugh at our children and ourselves.
Childhood is not about achievements, but character building and learning to regulate emotions and behaviour. It is okay when children fail, they will find their way. Little ones are meant to push your buttons – hard, but they also help you learn to be more patient and more forgiving. Parenting is the most effective character-building journey. Boy, we should know how tough it is to manage mini versions of ourselves!
Remedy: Do it your way, not what others tell you. Don’t let the society dictate the number of extra classes your children should attend. Nor refrain from putting up your feet and giving free rein to the child for the day (as long as you know it’s within safe boundaries). Set aside some time for yourself and your spouse, take breaks to recharge now and then.
Parenting is a learning journey
Truth of the matter is everyone trips in this parenting journey. We just need to pick ourselves up, learn from our fall and try again. Be less hard on yourself and your children, more love and forgiveness goes a long way.
Ee Jia is a parent of two highly energetic boys, runs a health food distribution startup, writes a lot and bakes her parenting stress away. She has been trying her best not to yell but to whisper into ears – it’s a lot scarier that way.