Mistakes to avoid when raising kids

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 5:52pm

A journalist recently asked: "What is the biggest mistake parents make?" I had to think about that. There are several. The biggest mistake made by some parents is that they pay too much attention to and do too much for their children. These children usually, but not always, end up as spoiled brats. Why not always? Because some children, by mysterious means, manage to do well in spite of less-than-optimal parenting. The notion that one is produced by the manner in which one is raised is belied by the many exceptions, including children who do well despite a bad upbringing and children who do badly despite a good upbringing.

On the other hand, some parents don't pay enough attention to their kids. Those folks are not generally found reading parenting columns, so I will not belabour their misdeeds.

The biggest mistake made by still other parents is that they think the misbehaviour of a toddler is cute, or they rationalise their unwillingness to discipline at that critical stage by saying such things as "He's only 20 months old, after all" and "It's just a stage. He'll grow out of it". Parents of the pre-psychological era understood the need to nip misbehaviour in the proverbial bud when it first showed up.

Today's parents use fluffy, largely meaningless homilies such as "Don't sweat the small stuff" when, in fact, all of the big stuff begins as small stuff. Without early correction, tantrums grow into rages, disobedience grows into defiance, occasional disrespect grows into belligerence, and not picking up their toys grows into refusal to do their schoolwork.

And some parents combine instructions with wordy explanations, such as: "Honey, a friend of mine is coming over and I'd like to serve coffee in this room, so I need you to pick up these toys and move them somewhere else, OK?" Such explanations invite push-back, as in "I was here first. Why can't you and your friend use the kitchen?" Under those conditions, all children, being clever, will seize the opportunity to push back. In this example, the proper form is "I want you to pick up these toys and move them somewhere else, right now," and the proper response to "Why?" is "Because I said so."


Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his website at