This article first appeared in the July-August 2003 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
Sometimes, the best of intentions make for the worst of mistakes -- and that’s true even for parents. We are only human, after all.
Here are some of the more common mistakes that even the best of parents make, and how you can start correcting them.
1. Being overprotective Children are eager to learn, test and explore. From age two to seven, they start learning about cause and effect. “If they are not allowed to observe, or to test and experiment, they will not learn the effects of certain actions. They will become afraid to explore,” explains J.M. Castillo-Carcereny, M.D., psychiatrist at Medical Plaza in Makati City.
According to psychologist Erik Erikson’s developmental theory, this is the stage of initiative versus guilt. If we prevent him from exploring for fear he might get hurt, “He will become afraid to take any initiative, grow to be dependent on his parents, unable to assert himself and will always seek assurance from others,” she adds. Give your child the freedom to explore his little world. Sit back and let him make his own mistakes. That’s how he really starts learning.
2. Giving in to whines and tantrums Very young children cannot tell us what they want or need. When they cry, we try to find out if they’re wet, hungry, sick or just want to be held. In a sense, we give in to their cries because they need us to do so.
When a child reaches the age of two, parents need to be more discriminating of their child’s cries and tantrums. Although it’s easier, simply giving in to every whim and fancy does the child more harm than good. He will not learn self-control. He will continue to depend on other people to provide him with every-thing big and small, and he may even carry this into adulthood.
“Teach your child to compromise,” says Castillo-Carcereny. When he wants an expensive toy, offer to buy a less expensive, but equally fun, item. Tell him that it’s not only fun to play with, it’s also something the family can better afford.
“Teach your child the importance of reward and punishment, and the choice they have between the two,” adds Castillo-Carcereny. Offering a toy as an incentive to do well in school teaches him positive reinforcement. If he does something good, he’ll see that it comes back to him.
However, be wary of negative reinforcement. This happens when you unintentionally reward your child for doing something wrong. For example, when you let your child play without cleaning up his mess because he wouldn’t stop crying, you’re actually rewarding his non-stop cries.
3. Criticizing Kids need patience and understanding more than regulation and criticism. “Children who are constantly criticized may develop low self-esteem. These children may also develop obsessive–compulsive personality disorder in adulthood. They become perfectionists. They always doubt themselves and feel that whatever they do is never good enough for their parents,” Castillo-Carcereny explains.
Set your expectations depending on your child’s developmental stage. Don’t criticize a toddler for making a mess on the table. Instead, congratulate him for being able to feed himself. Don’t ask your young daughter why she’s not on the honor roll like her older sister. Instead, tell her that all the effort she’s been putting into varsity soccer is great. Encourage her to put just as much, if not more effort into her academics.
4. Ignoring a child’s questions Most children are curious and inquisitive. They want to learn about everything around them. Toddlers are particularly noted for being very inquisitive or, as most would say, makulit. They ask a thousand questions. Some parents ignore these queries because they think the child’s concern is too petty or too sensitive. This is particularly true of issues regarding sex.
“If a parent often ignores a child’s questioning, or simply answers “basta” to keep him quiet, he is teaching the child to not express himself. He will learn to keep his feelings to himself and develop poor communication skills. This will soon destroy the trust between parent and child,” says Castillo-Carcereny. Eventually, the child will stop talking to his parents and turn to his friends, becoming more susceptible to peer pressure.
When you’re at a loss for answers to your child’s questions, tell her that you don’t know the answer yet but would find out as soon as you can.
5. Telling white lies Telling white lies is a common reaction of parents when their young children ask about sex and genitalia-related issues. A young boy would ask about his penis or play with it. Or he may want to stop using his diapers. Or he may refuse to use it even if he’s not yet toilet-trained. Castillo-Carcereny says, “Some parents threaten that the penis will fall off or that it will be bitten if the boy continues his behavior. This may lead to unwanted personality traits when they grow up.”
Children should be taught the true consequences of actions, explained in a manner they can understand. If a toddler asks what sex is, just say that sex is what a man and woman do to have a baby. You don’t have to go into details. If a parent starts lying to his child, his credibility in things big and small will be undermined.
6. Yelling Your children talk like you. They use your vocabulary and imitate your tone and manner of speaking. If you shout, whether at them or at other people, your children will learn to shout. If you curse, they will learn to curse as well.
It is acceptable to raise your voice or talk in a stern manner when you wish to reprimand your children or impart something very important to them, as you need to speak differently from your usual manner to catch their attention. However, you must refrain from screaming at your children or cursing them.
7. Leaving the child too often with the in-laws This becomes negative when the child begins to see the grandparent as the head of the family. Says Castillo-Carcereny, “This confuses the child because he sees his grandparent playing the role that his father should be fulfilling. He starts to question, ‘What kind of a father do I have? Why is he not the one providing for me?’”
This displacement is most pronounced when it comes to making rules. For example, if the child asks permission to go out, and the grandfather says yes but the father says no, the child will follow the grandfather whom he considers the head of the family. Later on, especially in his teenage years, the child will experience confusion. Whoever agrees to what the child wants is whom he will follow.
There is often conflict between the parent and grandparent living under one roof. When an argument arises in front of the child and the parent answers back to the grandparent, the impressionable child sees that it is allowed. He can talk back to his parents, just like what his parent is doing.
8. Leaving the child alone with yaya Unless the yaya has undergone and passed psychological testing, it is not advisable to leave your child in the solitary care of a yaya, especially for prolonged and frequent periods. Castillo-Carcereny has had cases where the yaya punished the child by locking him up inside a room or cabinet for misbehaving. She also had a case where the yaya would light up a match and threaten to burn the child if he didn’t behave properly.
She strongly advises parents to have their child’s yaya undergo psychological testing before they leave their child in her care. Sometimes a yaya can put on her best behavior in front of her employer, and be a different person when there’s no one watching. If possible, arrange to always have at least one parent with the child.
At the end of the day, talk to your child. Ask him how his day went and what happened while you were away. Ask if he was hurt in any way. Castillo-Carcereny advises, “Your child will tell the truth. Just ask and empower him. Let your child know that you are on his side. Tell him that if his yaya is hurting him, you will tell her to go.”
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If you’ve been guilty of any of the mistakes above (most of us are at one point or another), don’t fret. It’s never too late to start changing for the better. Take baby steps towards becoming better and soon you’ll get the hang of it.