By Vicki Little
Parenting is hard stuff. We are constantly second guessing our decisions, feeling guilty for anything that may go wrong, and simply wondering if we are raising our children to be happy, healthy, and relatively functional individuals. Despite our best efforts, simple everyday habits that seem so insignificant can actually hurt our children. We can unintentionally make them feel bad about themselves or others, teach them bad habits that will last a lifetime, and make them question what you really think about them. Here are four habits parents should try to avoid to prevent hurting their children.
1) Talking about others. It doesn’t really seem like a big deal, and you certainly aren’t intending to do it with any malice. Maybe you’re just hanging out at the playground with other parents discussing how the school bully must have it rough at home, or how Sally’s mom’s skirt was a little risque at the school dance, or even just how you got into a disagreement with the room mom. Whatever you’re discussing, your kids hear your thoughts about their friends and the parents of their classmates. They are learning that it is OK to talk behind people’s backs, and they may even form judgments about others based on comments that you make. Further, it is difficult for us to encourage our children not to gossip and not to worry about what others may think when our actions speak so differently.
2) Making comparisons of any kind. You do it without thinking. You say that you wish you had hair like that woman over there. You vent to your friends that your husband must be lazy because he doesn’t do what XYZ’s husband does. And you offhandedly say to your child: “Seriously, if everyone else in your class can get it done, you should be able to as well.” Or maybe something like: “Can’t you just sit quietly like your sister?” You certainly don’t want to hurt your child in any way, and these comments seem harmless. But they aren’t. When you compare, your child learns it is normal to not like yourself for you who are. Appreciating the qualities of others is a good thing, comparing what you have is not. When you compare your child, they begin to feel as if they aren’t good enough for you, and that you may wish they were more like their siblings or other children.
3) Labeling your children. You are most likely doing it out of pride because of something that your child is good at. She is amazing at gymnastics so naturally she is your little athlete. Or he gets really good grades so, of course, you want to brag about what a great student he is! But the problem is that when you label your kids like this, you not only put pressure on them to continue performing at a certain level but you also make them feel like they don’t measure up in other areas of their life.
4) Discussing personal things with your friends. We have a tendency to talk about our kids with other people. It is natural. And when they were super young, we had no problem talking about everything from their first words to how they peed in the backyard during potty training. We have even felt OK sharing pictures that our children would kill us for sharing if they understood what was happening. But as they get older, kids need to have a sense of privacy and trust. They don’t want you to share their secret crush (no matter how cute it is), and though you may be offering discipline techniques, they don’t want the entire neighborhood to know the trouble they got into last weekend. It is embarrassing, and it damages the trust they have with you. They certainly aren’t going to share their first kiss…. because they’re afraid you might put that on the intercom system at school!
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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