A therapist shares the 7 biggest parenting mistakes that destroy kids’ mental strength

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We live in an increasingly stressful world, which is why it has never been more important to foster emotional and mental resiliency in our children.

Not only are mentally strong kids better prepared to tackle future problems on their own, but studies have found that they’re also more likely to be engaged in school and in their future jobs.

It won’t be easy for parents, but avoiding these common mistakes can help.

1. Minimizing your kid’s feelings

Kids need to know that it’s healthy to express and talk about their emotions. When parents tell their kids things such as “don’t be so sad about it” or “it’s not a big deal,” they’re sending the message that feelings don’t matter and that it’s better to suppress them.

If your kid is displaying expressions of fear during a loud storm, for example, considering saying, “I know you’re scared right now.” Then ask them what they think would make them feel better. This teaches them how to manage and cope with emotions on their own.

The goal is to help them practice brainstorming solutions until they find something that works.

2. Always saving them from failure

As parents, it’s hard to watch our children struggle through challenges that we know we can easily fix for them.

But think of it this way: If your kid is doing poorly in school, you know that telling them the homework answers will only backfire, because you can’t be in the classroom when they have to complete those tests on their own. 

Failure is a big part of success. If kids are never given the chance to learn the lessons that come with failure, they’ll never develop the perseverance they need to rise back up after a setback.

3. Overindulging your kids

Kids love stuff, and parents love giving it to them. But research shows that when you give your kids whatever they desire, they miss out on skills related to mental strength, such as self-discipline.

You want your kids to grow up knowing that it’s possible to achieve what they want — if they work for it. Parents can teach their kids learn self-control by setting clear rules for things like finishing homework before screen time or doing chores to boost allowance (so they can buy things on their own, while knowing they earned it).

4. Expecting perfection

It’s natural to want your child to aim for big goals and be the best at everything. But that’s not how things work. Setting the bar too high leads can lead to self-esteem and confidence issues later in life.

Build mental strength in your kids by making sure expectations are realistic. And even if your kids don’t meet them, the setbacks they face will still teach them valuable life lessons and how to succeed the next time around.

5. Making sure they always feel comfortable

There are many things that might make your kid feel uncomfortable, especially when it involves doing something new: Trying new foods, making new friends, playing a new sport or moving homes and having to go to a new school.

But just like failure, embracing uncomfortable moments can boost mental strength. Encourage your kids to try new things. Help them get started, because that’s the hardest part. But once they take that first step, they might realize that it isn’t as difficult as they thought it’d be — and that they might even be good at it!

6. Not setting parent-child boundaries

You want your kids to make their own decisions, but they also need to know you’re the boss. For example, if you set a curfew for your 12-year-old, make sure they stick to it every night (or as much as possible).

Kids who are mentally strong have parents who understand the importance of boundaries and consistency. Caving in and allowing rules to be negotiated too often can lead to power struggles between you and your child.

7. Not taking care of yourself

The older we get, the harder it becomes to maintain healthy habits (e.g., eating healthy, exercising daily, taking time to restore). That’s why it’s important to model self-care habits for your kids.

It’s also critical to practice healthy coping skills in front of your children. For example, if you’re stressed about work, consider telling your child, “I had a very tiring day at work, and I’m going to relax with tea and a book.” 

Tracy Hutchinson, PhD, LMHC, is a therapist with over 18 years of clinical experience. She is a regular columnist for Psychology Today, and her research on positive psychology, mental health and emotional psychology has been published in dozens of peer reviewed academic journals and textbooks.

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