Seven Key Parenting Pitfalls: Traps to Avoid

Table of contents

In this article, you will find:

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Pitfall 3: Sermonizing and Dramatizing at the Point of Infraction
Sharon: Punishment can interrupt the behavior for the moment. Your child may (if you're lucky) make the connection between the penalty and his own behavior--but not if he attributes it to your outburst. The more talking you do when a child misbehaves, the less likely your message will get through. Emotion diminishes the capacity to think, let alone speak. And since this isn't one of those Hallmark moments, when your child is interested in hearing what you have to say, why say anything? As Will Durant said, "Nothing is often a good thing to do and always a good thing to say."

Pointer for Effective Parenting
When misbehavior occurs, the less said, the better.

Jan: Resisting my natural inclination to lecture and simply say, "You used 'bad' language. That's ten cents in the fine jar," took discipline, but resulted in a lot less yelling and a calmer household.

Pitfall 4: Punishing Without Warning
Sharon: Imposing punishment without previously having told your child exactly what the consequences of his behavior would be invites meltdown. Your child can only make the connection between his behavior and the punishment if he knows what the punishment will be in advance. Otherwise, he believes you're being unfair.

Prevent meltdowns by posting lists of infractions with specific penalties that will be imposed every time. This eliminates arguments and helps your child make the connection between punishment and his own behavior.

Pointer for Effective Parenting
Punishment without warning is unfair and perpetuates your child's notion that the punishment is a function of parental whim rather than a consequence of his own behavior.

The Perils of Punishment without Warning
Jan: We were frequently guilty of punishment without warning. Getting Theodore to bed was difficult enough; getting him to stay there was even tougher. One night after he had wandered out repeatedly, finally announcing, "I'm just not tired," I snapped in exasperation: "I don't care! Just go to bed!" Shortly thereafter, I glimpsed light under his door, pushed it open, and discovered him reading with a jacket blocking the light under the door. I thundered in, yanked the book out of his hands, unscrewed his light-bulb, and stormed out of the room.

In retrospect, I think he'd been pretty clever. His solution had fixed my problem (that I was weary of him coming out and bothering me) and it had solved his problem (that he wasn't tired). My response, however, was dreadful. I had doled out punishment without warning. Since I'd made no threats ahead of time, he had no idea this was what I'd do. Worse, I'd unsolved both his and my problems. I'm not sure who was punished more that night.

Pitfall 5: Extending Punishment Too Long
Sharon: Taking away a toy or privilege for an extended time only teaches your child to do without it. This may not be bad, but it probably isn't what you'd intended. Moreover, the longer he goes without, the more likely he will focus his resentment on you rather than connecting its loss to his own behavior. Punishments that last too long usually end up punishing the parent and the whole family as much or more than the child.

Moreover, extended loss of a toy or privilege doesn't make sense. There's no logical relationship beween leaving a bicycle outside and not being allowed to ride it, because the penalty doesn't teach the child to put it away. Short-term loss of bike-riding privileges paired with the following procedure will more likely teach him to put it away. If your child leaves his bike out he 1) loses the privilege to ride for the next twenty-four hours and 2) can't ride again until he has practiced ten times walking the bike between the point where he left it and where it belongs, parking it with the kickstand down each time. He can't ride any bike (not just his own) until he fulfills both requirements.

When you take something away for a long time, you deny your child the opportunity to handle that item or privilege appropriately. Grounding a teen for being late precludes the possibility of practicing checking his watch and coming in on time. Taking away toys for a month when your child fails to put them away doesn't give him practice at tidying up. Eventually, he'll be adept at putting his toy away because that's all he will have--one toy. You will have taken the rest away.

Pointer for Effective Parenting
Extended punishment doesn't allow your child the chance to practice doing something right. Such punishment only teaches him to do without the toy or privilege.