In my work with girls and parents around the world, I have found the following seven mistakes are the most common ones parents make that leave children feeling misunderstood and unsupported.
- Not really listening: Girls tell me their parents do a lot of interrupting and judging instead of just seeing things from their point of view and empathizing. Kids truly just want to be seen, heard and understood, not fixed.
- Not letting kids solve their own problems: Once you listen and your child feels heard, ask them what they will do about the problem. Let them think for themselves and come up with their own solutions. Resilience and grit are earned by working through challenges. Allow them to solve and handle problems with friends, teachers, siblings and coaches so they gain confidence in their ability to resolve conflicts and advocate for themselves.
- Teaching kids to become externally motivated: Instead of asking the question, “How can I motivate my child,” it would be better to ask, “How can I help them find their own intrinsic motivation.” Get in the habit of asking questions: Why do you want good grades? What is your interest in the diversity club? Tell me what you like about your new friend group. What are your thoughts about what you want to do after high school? If you want to go to college, why? What is it that you like about playing soccer? Being in the marching band? Playing guitar? You’ll be encouraging them to look inward for why they do what they do, and that intrinsic motivation will always be there to push them through tough times.
- Valuing achievement over character: Kids whose parents value achievement over character fare worse than kids whose parents focus on things like empathy, compassion, resilience and integrity. The excessive pressure to excel, be successful and to outdo everyone else puts kids at risk for higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
- Not sharing their own stories: Girls tell me all the time that their parents, especially their dads, don’t ‘get them’ because they never went through what they are experiencing. Being vulnerable and sharing some of your own challenging times growing up lets your children know you can understand their experiences and relate. Be sure you share these stories without becoming preachy.
- Misinterpreting the rising need for independence: No matter how hard kids seem to be pushing you away, they really do need you. Childhood is marked by a never-ending dance of kids going away and coming back. Toddlers toddle off and then come back periodically for reassurance. If parents have a history of being there in a warm supportive way, they become the safe base all kids require to feel confident to explore the world. Adolescents need more space and independence, but they also need you to remain their safe base for reassurance and guidance. It just needs to be at their behest, in their way and in their time.
- Being too distracted: Like their children, parents today are often distracted externally with phones, social media and work. In addition, adults can become internally distracted with worry and their own battles with depression, anxiety and addictions. Kids living with such distracted parents feel unloved, unimportant and rejected. All kids need parents who are fully present when they are together—whether it’s at meals, playing board games or shooting hoops in the backyard.
The goal isn’t to strive to become the perfect parent. But I do want you to be aware of some common parenting behaviors that can detract from your relationship with your kids and have deleterious effects on them and your ability to remain an influence in their lives.
Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who works with girls in grade school through college. Check out his new online course, Parenting girls: The challenges girls face today with their feelings and friends and what they need, at drtimjordan.com.