Parenting Pitfalls: Real Moms vs. the "Experts"
There is a vast world of child behavioral scientists and psychologists that most new parents turn to for advice. There are some with good points! But, unfortunately, it is mostly necessary to go against the conventional “wisdom” of today in order to raise well-behaved and happy children.
For example, here is the advice given on how to deal with toddler temper tantrums from a psychologist on the internet.
Five (Not-So-Great) Parenting Tips for Difficult Toddler Behavior (Temper Tantrums)
1. Empathize & Paraphrase
2. Give two options with the same outcome
3. Use logical consequences
4. Hug it out or hold space for their "big" feelings
5. Get present and get outside
Let’s go through each of these tips and see why they are not the way to handle an out-of-control child.
1. Empathize and paraphrase
It is important that a child knows the parent understands their desires or frustrations, but it is not the time to express that when they are misbehaving. By empathizing at the moment of disobedience or tantrums, the child is being given a message that this behavior is okay and acceptable. That it is normal for this expression of emotion to be displayed. The truth is, it is not okay and the time for showing understanding is after the discipline is applied. Well after… when they have complied with your instructions and gotten themselves under control.
Also, it leaves the tantrum to be dealt with by the parent and all others around until they wear themselves out or get what they want. This whole idea is misguided because it does not immediately address the bad behavior, but instead addresses the feelings at an inappropriate time.
2. Give two options with the same outcome
Giving two options with the same outcome is a very good strategy under different circumstances. For instance, giving them two options of acceptable clothing to wear, or before you cook a meal, giving them two options of vegetables to go with their meal, or two options of books to read before bed, etc. But, when a child is in the midst of a temper tantrum, this is not the time to give them options. The only option they should have is to get themselves under control and stop. That’s it. Then, to comply with your instructions and understand they are NOT in charge. They need to know that compliance is the pathway to happiness and the only choice they have to get there is to obey.
Additionally, you are giving them something… choice… for bad behavior. They are not in a deserving attitude to receive that gift.
3. Use Logical Consequences
This actually sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? I would agree with that, except for the following words that this psychologist added to it. “i.e. Hitting a friend with a toy, child loses toy until compliant.”
What that says is if a child hits a friend, and you tell them not to hit and take the toy away… and they begin a temper tantrum… all they have to do is stop screaming and they will get it back. In my view, this is not a logical consequence. A child should have their mouth covered when they are screaming (see "Effective Forms of Discipline")… and be put in time out if they hit another child… and not receive the toy back at all in these circumstances.
Putting the child in time out gives them time to reflect on their behavior. It also takes them away from the situation so they will understand if they do not treat others kindly, they do not get to interact with them. The toy should not be returned to them at all during that session of play. They have lost the privilege of using that toy because of how they used it. This teaches them to use items properly or they will lose them.
4. Hug it out or hold space for their big feelings
A hug is not appropriate when a child is misbehaving. A hug is to show acceptance of their behavior and not to coddle them when they are behaving badly.
Remember, the three parenting musts that should already be established? The first one is ---- your child knows they are loved.
If this is already established and in place, there is no need to worry about them not knowing it. When a toddler is having a tantrum, hugging is not appropriate. That would be giving a reward for bad behavior which is certainly a big no-no! You might wonder what it means by “big feelings”. The context is that the child is completely out of control on the floor crying and screaming. The psychologists suggests “giving them space” at this point.
A child who is out of control to the point of falling to the floor is a child who believes this behavior will result in their desires being given to them. They believe that if they throw enough of a fit, that they will get their way. This has been their experience in the past.
Instead, a child who is behaving this way should be trained to control themselves. They need you, as a parent, to take control since they clearly do not have it. There should not be a huge battle if we are talking about a toddler. A toddler is small and you as a parent should be able to take care of this situation. A training session is in order. Read “Effective Forms of Discipline” from this blog for more details on how to apply necessary actions to this behavior.
5. Get present and get outside
“Get present” is the only one of the things on this list I do agree with when a toddler is in a tantrum. This is referring to the constant distractions we have that cause us not to pay attention to our children. If a toddler is behaving badly, getting present is necessary to train them to do right. And, being on the phone and ignoring your child a lot can cause more problems anyway. You should be able to have a reasonable conversation with a friend on the phone without a child falling apart. But, it is true that parents should not spend long hours ignoring their children for their own entertainment or friendships outside of their family. If playing on a cell phone or computer, or talking to friends takes up too many hours in a day, you will likely see undesirable behaviors coming from your children. Change your own behavior in this area first if you think it is causing a problem.
“Get outside” means taking the child away from the situation, outside for some fresh air. Is this addressing the problem or is it distracting the child? In my view, this is distracting the child and it is in no way teaching them to behave. The next time a situation comes along and this child feels out of control, the problem of them not knowing what to do has not been solved… only delayed. They still will behave badly.
Getting outside is sometimes a reward. For instance, if they are in church and throwing a tantrum, taking them outside to look at the grass and flowers is a reward. They wanted to go away from the sanctuary and by screaming or crying, they get to. Then again, we don’t want the child making noise to distract others. Right? What to do?
If the child is misbehaving enough that they need to go outside, make going outside at that time unpleasant. The next time they will not want to go outside, but will decide behaving themselves is a better option.
A child needs to learn how to behave and distractions are not teaching that. Keep the child in the moment and teach them how to behave.
More Parenting Pitfalls
What’s wrong with Counting?
One of the methods you have likely seen many parents use is counting down to a possible “blastoff”. This is when a child is told to do something and the parent says, “I’m going to count to ten and if you don’t do it…..” What usually happens with this scenario is the child disobeys until the last second. Then they either comply or ignore the parent completely.
What is this telling the child? It is saying that you will watch them disobey for a certain amount of time, and after that time if they don’t comply, then you will do something. Follow through is not always consistent either. Sometimes a parent will even count “8 and a half, 9, nine and a half,” etc. This is leaving even more time for the child to disobey!
If you tell your child to do something and they don’t do it, what are you waiting for? As a parent, your job is to teach your child to obey for their own good and safety and for the good and safety of others. By counting, you are allowing them to disobey. This is not acceptable and it does not teach your children to listen to your instructions for the sake of listening. It teaches them to listen only if they know there will be a consequence.
When a child is told what to do, they should quickly and happily obey. Yes, it is quite possible and it is what is best for them and others.
Let me give you an example. You are in your front yard and your child starts to run into the street to get a ball. You see a car coming and shout, “Stop!” Would counting be a good idea at this point? Of course not. They need to obey immediately. If they have not been trained to listen to you the first time you tell them something and without counting, they would likely ignore you and be hit by the car. Is counting ever appropriate? Yes! Sometimes I will tell my grandchildren to run downstairs to fetch something for me. I will say, “Try to get back here to me by the count of 10!” This is a game! They enjoy trying to make it on time. But it has nothing to do with obedience.
Mimacking Bad Behavior
If your child does something inappropriate, repeating the behavior yourself to show them how this makes others feel is usually not a good idea. You are supposed to be an example of good behavior for your child. They should never hear you use words you don’t want them to use, or see you behave in ways you do not want them to emulate. That is difficult, I know. But, it is better to discuss the way it makes others feel and have them think about it rather than do it yourself.
Rewarding Bad Behavior
Keep in mind that when a child is acting out, the only response should be a negative one. There should be no coddling them when they behave badly. They should never receive the object of their desire by using bad behavior to get it. Their bad behavior should rule out the possibility of the very thing they wanted.
Sometimes the reward comes by being taken away from the situation. Sometimes it comes by receiving the exact object they wanted, or something similar. Sometimes it comes by getting attention. No matter what, make sure that the response is unpleasant in some way enough that the child realizes it wasn’t worth their effort to disobey.
I am all for giving a lot of praise where praise is due. A child needs to know they are accepted and that they are valued for the things they do, especially things that contribute to the welfare of others.
But, if praise is given when there is no extra effort expelled by the child, the praise starts to mean less. For instance, if a child scribbles on a paper without effort and does not stay in the lines when they are capable, and then they are praised for doing a great job, they will not value the praise as much at other times when they make a good effort to stay in the lines. Praise will mean so little that they will almost resent it. There will be no real effort to do a good job.
Instead, give praise for true efforts made and it will mean much more. It will also be a bigger motivator to work harder at doing a good job.
Yelling or Screaming in Anger
This is one of the hardest pitfalls to avoid. But, it is much easier when your children are trained to behave and have a happy spirit! We all resort to raising our voices when we are frustrated and in the end, it doesn’t result in a good outcome. If we want our children to keep themselves under control, we need to do the same thing. Train your children and there will be little or no temptation to lose your own temper.
It is better to let your older child know you are going to leave the room for a few minutes and come back in control and with a plan as to how to continue the discussion.
Over Indulging or Discounting Feelings
It may sound like some of the methods I have advocated at times disregard a child’s feelings. This is actually not true at all. Everyone has feelings and sometimes they are inappropriate ones. Every feeling we have is not necessarily one to be expressed or acted upon.
Sometimes, we need to think out how we feel, evaluate whether or not this feeling should be cultivated into action, or if it is inappropriate and needs to be put under control.
For instance, it is not appropriate for a husband to have romantic feelings toward a co-worker. If he begins to have those feelings, should he cultivate and act upon them? Or should he re-evaluate his feelings and reason out that these are inappropriate and take action to avoid them further? These are choices we make as adults. Children need to learn all feelings are not good and appropriate. Some need to be changed and brought under control until they can be discarded.
But, feelings are there and every child should have a way to let you know how they are feeling without acting inappropriately. Give them the ability to talk to you often about how things are going in their lives and what they are feeling. Do not allow them to misbehave as a result.
Making things too personal
It is very important not to make your actions toward your child’s disobedience reflect on them as a person. They need to know that you believe in their good character. That you believe they will do better. That each time they are corrected, you see a bright and happy future in regards to them changing this behavior. Never tell a child that this behavior reflects in who they are as a person.
Direct your corrections toward the actions they have done and not toward them. This will assure them of your love and acceptance even in at the time of discipline.
When your child is misbehaving, making excuses, especially in front of them, is counterproductive to teaching them to do the right thing. Many of you have heard a mom telling others that her child is tired when they are having a melt-down. This may be true. But the behavior should not be excused. The mother should address the behavior and then take the child where they need to go to get some rest.
By saying that they are tired as an excuse, the mother has just taught the child that it is okay if they behave this way when they feel tired. It isn’t okay. Remember these two definitions:
Reason – why something happens
Excuse – saying the reason makes it okay
Let your child know bad behavior is never acceptable. We all get tired, we get hungry, we feel bad. But acting bratty is not ok in response to those situations.
Being the good mom you must be in order to be reading about how to be a better one… you probably are very aware of things that could hurt your child. You are constantly looking for ways to protect them. The pitfall can be when children are overprotected.
Even science says some viruses and bacteria are a good thing. Without them, our immune systems do not learn how to defend against harmful organisms that cause diseases. It’s the same with other aspects of life. Keeping our children away from harmful things both physically and spiritually is essential in raising them up in safety. But, we have to know when to allow them to fall. When to allow them to learn from their mistakes, and certainly to receive the consequences for bad decisions.
Also, to allow them to understand the world and have enough experience to be able to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil. Some movies, books and video games are obviously going too far. But too much hovering and caution can lead to a child feeling like they are in a prison whenever they are around you. Instead, find ways to introduce your children to things in the world that you disagree within a safe and secure environment where you can immediately have a discussion about what is right and wrong. Teach them to discern. Teach them your beliefs and values so when they are exposed to things that are against your morals, they will know the truths you have taught. They will have a spiritual defense that has built up in their own minds already.
Over-stimulation I had an experience a few years ago with a new mom. She was frantic because her 11 month old daughter was having a melt-down at the social event we were sharing together. The child was inconsolable. No matter what she did, this little one was crying.
So much activity was going on that this little girl couldn’t handle it. She was tired and overstimulated. People were constantly in her face talking to her and telling her how cute she was…etc. Of course, the child had no idea why she was uncomfortable and the mom hadn’t a clue what was wrong. Mom thought she wasn’t tired because when laid down, she wouldn’t go to sleep and when she held her she wouldn’t settle down either.
Mom kept bouncing her up and down trying to calm her… which just added to the stimulation that was already causing the problem.
This is an example of over-stimulation. The mom didn’t realize that the child doesn’t know why she felt uncomfortable, so putting her down to go to sleep in the midst of a social event wasn’t helpful. The child wouldn’t understand that if she would rest, she would feel better. All she didn’t want was the “N” word… nap. Trying to distract her would do no good either. This child had to be given no choice but to go to sleep. I asked the mom if I could help and that I would get the baby under control. All I did was take her to a quieter spot, sat down and held her head on my chest until she fell asleep. Yes, she fussed and fought for a few minutes at first. She cried and screamed…to which I gently covered her mouth. But within about 15 minutes, she was fast asleep.
It is important to be aware that all children need quiet time. No computer, no TV, no music, no loud toys or things to build. Just quiet time to sit and reflect or read a book. Every day, children need this to allow their minds to dream, imagine and reflect on their day. If they are old enough, time to pray and commune with God.
I have started having my children, age 14 & 16, be quiet in the car on the way to school in the mornings. If they want to talk to me, that is fine. But otherwise, we don’t listen to the radio, they are not allowed to have earbuds in their ears listening to music, and no other distractions. Just quiet time and prayer before school.
There are new studies coming out all the time telling about the problems with over-stimulation and screen time for children. They lose the interaction and social skills as well as have a hard time sitting without entertainment because their brains are addicted to the digital stimulation they experience constantly.
Limit your children’s time on computers and even time with any kind of noise. Give them a gift of having quiet time while they are awake and alert so they can learn to reflect on life.
Too many rules
A common pitfall for parents is having too many rules. Remember… every rule you make you will need to enforce. So, limiting the rules helps in your relationship with your children and your own sanity! Don’t make a rule that is unnecessary for the welfare of your household or your child’s life skills or safety. Try to allow as much freedom for your children as possible without sacrificing their spiritual or physical growth.
I once had a conversation with a mom because she was frustrated that her children seemed to want to be away from her as much as possible. When we talked further, I realized that the problem was she had a rule for everything! When they should get up, what they should eat, what they should do after breakfast, where they could go on what days of the week, what they could watch on TV, who they could talk to… and who they couldn’t, etc. She was rigid and inflexible. And, she was tired from enforcing all the rules she had set in place.
She was mothering in fear. Fear of just about everything that might in any way influence her children in some way that would cause them to see or hear something for which she might disagree. Her children longed to get out of prison!
Her thought was she was being a good mom. Well, she was being a good mom, but her pitfall was making too many rules. Her children felt trapped whenever she was near. The truth is, she was treating them the same way she did when they were toddlers. She did not loosen her grip as they grew, little by little allowing them more freedom as they showed more and more maturity. She kept the grip and no matter what they did, they could not escape it.
Be sure that as your children grow, you teach them to use freedom responsibly, and allow them to fail. Sometimes the reins will have to be brought back in until they have learned a lesson. Keep your rules only to those things necessary and age appropriate.
Too Many Activities
I had a friend once who didn’t know what it meant to have a reasonably full schedule. To her, a full schedule meant every moment in her day was filled with some kind of activity or responsibility. To me, that is an over-full schedule. When she was asked if she had time to do something, she would usually say “yes” even if she had several things already going on that day.
Then, she would come to me complaining of how she is so tired, over stressed and having a hard time being patient with her children. No wonder!
Scheduling down time should ALWAYS be a priority in the life of a mom. In fact, in my view, in everyone’s life. When my children were little, I determined that after 6 pm I was done for the day. Yes, I still gave the children baths if they hadn’t had them yet. I still put them to bed… but that was no big deal because I had learned that bedtime doesn’t need to bea battle and should only take a few minutes.
No doing laundry, dishes, projects, cleaning, etc., in the evening. NONE. My evening was already scheduled! It was my down time which I needed every single day. When they were really little, I napped when they did too. I have had SO many people ask me how I did it. What was my secret? How could I stay so calm and not feel over-stressed with so many little children to care for?
Besides teaching them to behave… my other secret was scheduling down time. It was a priority.
Children need this too. Moms sometimes feel they have to have so many activities for their children to be involved in or they are somehow missing out. Piano lessons, soccer, t-ball, parties, school activities, church activities, scouts or girl’s groups, art lessons, play dates….the activities are endless. Not only do too many activities stress out the children, they also stress out the mom and dad. I have had several children who are social butterflies. They want to be involved in every activity possible, even if it takes up all their evenings and causes me to drive too and fro every day. The answer is…. No. I have decided to let my children do one play at school a year. They can have one activity going on outside of school and scouting at a time. They cannot be in the play, on the basketball team, in scouts, and doing a side project with the church youth group all at the same time. They are still young enough that they might not understand how important down time is to them and our family, but I do. I am THE MOM and I know it is important.
Don’t get me wrong! All these activities are good things! And I believe children should have plenty of outlets to do lots of fun things and enjoy time with friends. But, don’t over schedule. Have at least two days a week where all they do is go to school and come home… with a free evening to relax.
Make a priority of having down time. Schedule it for you and for your children. It will make your life so much better!
These are not all the parenting pitfalls, but a few that seem to be more common. If you have any questions about these or other concerns, feel free to contact me! I’d love to correspond with you and find ways to help as you raise up your children to be happy and successful adults. Moms, you can do this!