The world is wild and increasingly stressful, and parents can worry about messing up a kid. It’s as if more is being asked of parents than ever before: Be strong so your kids can be strong! But in a world where so many difficult challenges face us, can parents really be blamed if a child gets “messed up?” And what’s a “messed-up kid,” anyway?
A psychologically troubled youth. An unhappy person with a feeling of not quite fitting in or being understood by others.
From the time your baby is born, you work around the clock to keep everything copacetic, get everything tackled, dote on, love on and everything else and maybe even carve out a little personal time for yourselves, too.
Is it possible to not mess up a kid?
First, if you’re asking this question, you’re probably doing a much better job than you’re giving yourself credit for. “Am I messing up my kid?” is a question that can leave you sleepless. It can also fill you with insecurity in your parenting that isn’t helpful at all. See, there are no “grades” for parenting and it’s not pass/fail. Just because you yell or your child has an adverse reaction to something you do doesn’t mean your kids will have permanent problems all tied to mom and dad’s behavior.
But being OK with YOU is a big tip off to whether or not your kids will fare OK, also.
“Not all children from two-parent homes come from emotionally stable homes, and some children from one-parent homes come from very stable homes,” said Adele Faber years ago, before writing the best-selling How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Scribner; 2013). “These are stressful times for all parents. It’s important that parents know how to take care of their own emotional needs, so that they can help their children take care of theirs,” she added.
How to Mess Up Your Kids
It’s super easy to feel overwhelmed by raising kids no matter what year it is. Working parents are stretched thin; lots of times there’s no additional support with family living far away; and then there’s the guilt found in taking time for yourself when you could be helping with the baby. Here are the areas where “things” can go south in your parenting with input from the parenting books, Screamfree Parenting by Hal Edward Runkel (Broadway; 2007); Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Seventh Edition; The American Academy of Pediatrics); and the aforementioned How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.
1. Doing Everything For Them
In an effort to make your day-to-day life easier, you may be doing your child a disservice by doing everything they could do for themselves. The best way to raise independent children is to allow them to practice being independent. So what if milk gets spilled onto the counter instead of making it into the glass because you didn’t step in to help? Kids learn a lot by trying things on their own. Get used to saying, “You can do it.”
2. Passing Negative Judgement on Them
Many of the ways parents try to guide their kids can provoke shame. Saying things like, “You’d lose your head if it wasn’t glued on!” or “Can’t you stop giving me trouble for one minute?!” makes a kid feel ashamed. Resist the urge to ridicule. i
3. Speaking for Your Child
Each time you solve your child’s problems and speak up in their place, you take away some of their power. While you may be filling in blanks to speed things up, resist that. Speaking for your child prevents them from gaining confidence and learning to stand up for themselves.
4. Allowing Unlimited Time on Tech
Research says too much time on electronics can cause behavior issues. Establish family rules for your electronics and stick to them. No devices during meals; no electronics during family night; no screens in bedrooms. Also consider a digital detox for the family one night a week.
5. Arguing Excessively in Front of the Kids
Whether you like it or not, you are a role model for your children 100 percent of the time. Kids will mimic your relationship patterns later in life. While one, two or several arguments with your spouse (in front of your kids) isn’t devastating, chronic fighting and conflict are. If your marriage is filled with strife, consider couples therapy because being able to calmly communicate in front of children is imperative to their future relationships and happiness — and yours.
6. Spanking Your Kids
Research has long shown the negative effects of spaning on children’s social-emotional development, self-regulation and cognitive development. New research shows that spanking alters children’s brain response in ways similar to severe maltreatment and increases the perception of threats.
7. Not Teaching Social Skills
Social skills are linked to greater success in school and better relationships with peers. Role play and teach your kids how to introduce themselves, make eye contact, ask questions, follow directions, follow through. These simple basics will be used all through life.
8. Doing Your Kids’ Homework for Them
When you do your child’s homework for them, the teacher actually ends up working with compromised information. The homework may show that your child understands when he really doesn’t. It’s better for your child to submit incorrect, incomplete work than to pretend that they understand and are ready to move on.
9. Being Inconsistent with Discipline
Kids will test you to see how far they can go to get away with stuff and that’s why you instill house rules and limits. Yet, if you don’t enforce them consistently your kids will walk all over you. When you are inconsistent about what’s OK and what’s not, you undermine your authority with wishy washy boundaries. While is may be impossible to be consistent 100 percent of the time, aim for it. Kids need to know what you expect, because it helps them to make good decisions and to understand what they can and cannot do.
10. Witholding Affection
This is huge. Science supports the idea that warmth and affection expressed by parents to their children results in life-long positive outcomes. Children who do not have affectionate parents tend to have lower self-esteem and to feel more alienated, hostile, aggressive and anti-social. From the moment you bring a baby home from the hospital, be sure to hold, touch and rock them. As they get older, be playful by doing fun activities like dancing together or creating silly games like “kissing monster.” Make hugging a part of your daily routine and use affection while disciplining your child, too, by giving a hug to ensure them that even if you’re not happy with their behavior, you still love them. Snuggle when they want too, but also be aware of each child’s individual comfort level so you don’t smother!
Parenting — in its essence — is training your child on how to be a future adult and it really isn’t about you. It’s about how they learn from you and through you, your daily actions — even your slip-ups, momentary anger, moments of regret and more. These 10 examples of how you can mess up a child are only that — examples. Your children are a part of your life, not an accessory, and they want to live life with you.
As you go along through the days and years, remember that there’s always a new opportunity to teach — even when you make a mistake. Even if you feel like you have already screwed up your kids, it’s never too late to make a change in your parenting style in order to connect more with your family. Keep trying. And if parenting is so much of a challenge that you don’t feel equipped to handle it, seek individual help. Kids need their parents to be present, healthy and loving. That may be a big ask — but it’s the most important one.
Susan Day is editor of this publication and a mom of four.