Mental strength is something we all hope our kids will develop. Yet, it could be us parents that are holding our kids back.
“Quite often, parents inadvertently inhibit their child’s growth. It takes only a few bad parenting habits to interfere with a child’s ability to gain mental muscle,” says psychotherapist Amy Morin in her book 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do.
Curious about what these poor parenting habits could be? Read on to find out!
Perpetuating A Victim Mentality
Do you believe that you’re generally unlucky in life, or that many of your problems are due to external circumstances? For instance, do you:
- Wonder why “bad things” are always happening to you?
- Look back on your past and blame others for preventing you from being your best?
- Feel that many are more fortunate than you?
- Frequently complain about others?
- Reject solutions, because you believe they don’t apply to your situation?
- Feel that your child needs a lot of help and support?
- Find ways to justify your child’s failures or weaknesses?
These may be signs that you feel powerless against your circumstances, and your feelings may stem from your past experiences, especially the way you were brought up. As a result, you may be reluctant to watch your child struggle — just as you did — or you may underestimate your child’s abilities because “success” has not been a part of your personal or family narrative.
Children who are raised in a family environment that condones victimhood may shy away from pursuing challenges, or even from fulfilling their basic responsibilities, such as homework. On your part, watch out for what you do and say that may contribute to the lingering perception that your family is being mistreated, and aim to reframe situations in a way that doesn’t leave everyone feeling powerless.
One way to do this is to track the number of positive statements that you make in a day, versus negative statements. If the majority of your statements are complaints, whether it’s about traffic conditions or your financial constraints, you may want to look at how you can better appreciate what’s working in your life.
Another way to empower yourself is to make a difference in someone else’s life — perhaps, you could turn this into a family project, where everyone gets to learn and benefit from the experience.
Letting Fear Rule Your Life
During Covid-19, we’ve had to accept some level of fear and uncertainty in our lives. What’s normal and what’s potentially unhealthy? Here are some red-flag behaviours to watch out for:
- Constantly worrying about your child, or imagining worst-case scenarios
- Saying “no” to many activities because you’re afraid your child will be hurt, either physically or emotionally
- Going to great lengths to minimise risks for your child
In her book 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, Morin warns that parenting out of fear results in overprotective parenting, which limits the exposure opportunities for your child. Fearful parents tend to micromanage their children’s lives, leaving little room for their children to form their own opinions or make independent decisions. And finally, fearful parents tend to make decisions based on their comfort zones, rather than thinking about growth or long-term benefits for their children.
Like many emotions, fear is contagious, and your fears can affect your children. The next time a situation causes you anxiety, take a pause to ask yourself, what do you know for a fact? Educating yourself, be it via Google or talking to an expert or professional, is a good way to check if your concerns are based on reality. And instead of immediately calculating the risks of saying “yes” to an activity for your child, try asking yourself, “What are the losses for my child if I say no?” These may include social exposure, leadership, and teamwork opportunities, as well as personal development opportunities, where your child has a chance to hone qualities such as independence and resilience.
We should strive to be our best, but not at the expense of our emotional health. If you have perfectionist tendencies, you might find the following familiar:
- I’m highly critical of my mistakes, big or small
- I want to do things well, or not at all — I may procrastinate on a task that I find challenging
- I’m willing to make major sacrifices to achieve my goals
- I tend to criticise my children more often than I praise them
- I inflate the importance of situations, by making statements such as, “You must do well on this exam, if not it’s all over!”
- When my children succeed, I feel validated too
If you would rather not deal with weaknesses and failures in your life, this could have repercussions on your children. They may feel that they’re only worthy or valuable when they perform to expectations, and this has been linked to mental health issues such as depression, or self-sabotaging behaviours such as binge-eating.
Take a good look at your interactions with your children — could you shift towards praising effort, and not outcomes? When your child shows you a project that he or she is proud of, can you be enthusiastic with your praise, instead of immediately giving suggestions for improvement? Can you accept that no one is the best at everything, and that being imperfect is a part of life?
By changing your own attitudes and expectations, you’ll be helping your children to be kinder to themselves, and to others around them.
Settling For Shortcuts
We can think of parenting shortcuts as anything that seems like the easy choice today, but may have negative long-term consequences. It can range from avoiding discussions with your preteens about sexuality issues, to giving in to kiddy tantrums just to have some peace and quiet.
Shortcuts also involve making problems disappear on behalf of your child. For instance, you may do chores that have been assigned to your child, simply because you can get them done quickly. But in the long run, what you’ll get is a child who learns it’s OK to shirk responsibilities. Or, you may be your child’s designated problem solver, which prevents him or her from facing up to difficult situations and learning from them.
The most common shortcut that many of today’s parents are guilty of? Not setting firm rules for digital devices, and this is often because we need an easy way to keep our children occupied and entertained while we work or take a breather.
Every household is unique, so it’s up to you to take a good look at your family’s interactions to assess if there are shortcut behaviours that you might want to change. With regards to digital devices, many children would often be just as happy to play a game with their parents — whether this is possible on a regular basis is entirely up to you.
Not Prioritising Values
Do you know what really matters to you? Is it achievement, spirituality, or trying to make a positive difference in the world?
Our core values should determine the choices that we make and the lives that we lead. But although we may say that we prioritise kindness and compassion, if you asked our children, they could very well think that success matters most to us, because it’s what we talk about all the time.
Here are some questions to help you consider your values:
- If your child has a choice between being a volunteer tutor and getting paid for a tutoring assignment, which would you advise him to take up?
- Would you rather hear others say that your child is smart, or kind?
- If your child gave something away to help a friend, would you be glad that she was compassionate, or would you worry that she was being taken advantage of?
As a meaningful exercise, you could create a family mission statement that reflects your core values. It should be a simple statement (no more than 2–3 sentences), which encapsulates the life that you hope to lead. Write out your mission statement and put it in a prominent place, where it can serve as a visual reminder. Let these values guide your family’s major decisions, but don’t be afraid to reassess your mission statement periodically, to ensure that it’s still relevant to your life.
Staying true to your values will help your children to define their moral compass — which they will need in adulthood, especially when facing ethical dilemmas.