By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Are you struggling with a parenting challenge? Do you receive parenting advice from friends, family and other sources but question whether it is accurate or if it is really best for your child?
The following parenting myths are based on my clinical and teaching experience,
and my experience raising my own four boys, as well as research into the literature on parenting and the wise guidance of my mentors.
Please bear in mind that these principles represent parenting myths and ideals, and I don’t expect anyone to fulfil them perfectly. Therefore, have patience with yourself and try to implement new ideas gradually.
Parenting Myth #1: Facing Adversity
Myth: Facing adversity in childhood prepares you to face adversity in adulthood. Letting children experience failure and unhappiness will strengthen them to tolerate more of the inevitable same later in life.
Truth: Making children happy and successful when they are young prepares them to weather adversity, failure and unhappiness in the future. The best way to prepare for a period of starvation in the future is not to starve now, but to eat well! Good experiences fill children up with positive feelings and memories and gives them the reserves they need to endure future hardships. Failure, adversity and unhappiness harms and discourages children and they should be shielded from it as much as possible. Even the best childhood is full of many disappointments and failures, as children are still learning how to navigate and engage with the world. They don't need any extra ones. Making them happy will make them tough!
Parenting Myth #2: Parent Leniency
Myth: Parents today are too lenient, permissive and indulgent of their children. They let them get away with murder. Kids today are spoiled!
Truth: We are actually in the middle of an epidemic of parents who are too strict. Most parents err on the side of being too demanding or restrictive, and this controlling relationship is the source of many children’s problems. I recommend that most parents try to be 15 percent less demanding across the board. Reducing the number of commands you give and being more lenient can have a tremendously beneficial effect on your child. Don't fear that being generous with your child will spoil him. No one comes into my office suffering from overly generous, kind lenient parents! They all come in with parents who are too strict.
Parenting Myth #3: Grade Inflation
Myth: Schools widely engage in grade inflation nowadays.
Truth: Educators and parents have been complaining about supposed grade inflation even 125 years ago. Grades are overall stable.
Parenting Myth #4: Spoiled Generation
Myth: In the good old days children were less spoiled than they are today.
Truth: Every generation has complained that their juniors are coddled and overindulged. Kids seem to be spoiled because they lack the mature discipline that older people have. But in truth, our children are no more spoiled than previous generations. There may be less physical hardship nowadays, but there are a devastating number of demands and emotional difficulties. For our children, the good old days never existed.
Parenting Myth #5: Parent Expectations
Myth: Parents expect too little from kids. Children have the ability to do better and to behave more maturely.
Truth: Parents usually make the mistake of expecting a higher level of maturity and achievement than a particular age warrants. “He should know better at his age!” is a common complaint from parents and caretakers. But, we need to be patient with our children so they can learn to be mature and, just as importantly, so they can be kids. Children are fully children until they’re 18, and they need to be treated as such.
Parenting Myth #6: Excessive Homework
Myth: More homework = more learning.
Truth: The only thing excessive homework teaches kids is to hate learning. Forcing them to do even a little bit too much makes learning unpleasant, and they learn to hate and avoid it. The best way to teach children to be successful, lifelong learners is to teach them to enjoy learning, to appreciate the bliss of study. This can only be done if we gently and gradually introduce them to the material in a pleasant way.
Parenting Myth #7: Learning How to Earn
Myth: In order to learn how to earn things in the future, children need to be taught now that they will only get good things if they earn them.
Truth: Rewards and treats are expressions of our affection and love. Getting these things without conditions only fortifies our children, making them more secure and well-adjusted which will, in turn, make them better earners in the future. Giving your child rewards for free is like giving them capital to invest in a business. You are investing in his or her success. For a detailed discussion of this issue, click here.
Parenting Myth #8: Competition is Healthy
Myth: Competition is healthy and breeds excellence.
Truth: Competition discourages and defeats the losers and causes the winners to become obsessed with winning. The desire to win can cause many children to lose genuine interest and enjoyment in the task itself. Competition also causes selfishness and a lack of empathy. If competitors and peers are obstacles to a child’s success, why should he or she be kind and generous to them? For more information about the pitfalls of competition, click here.
Parenting Myth #9: Reasons to Feel Good
Myth: Children should only be praised and feel good about themselves when they have done something good or accomplished something.
Truth: This attitude is terrible for children and creates unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies. They should be taught to feel good about themselves especially when they mess up or fall short! Kids need unconditional self-acceptance and self-esteem. A child’s self-worth is not based on conditional achievements but on the authenticity and awareness of his or her own feelings and desires. Your child’s default setting should be, “I’m a decent and worthwhile person, no matter what I achieve.” You can help foster this self-value by being generously accepting of your child, even when he or she displays faults. For information on the healthy way to praise a child and build true self-esteem, click here.
Parenting Myth #10: Delaying Enjoyment
Myth: Decreased or delayed enjoyment teaches self-discipline and is good for children.
Truth: Denial of pleasure and happiness, especially if it’s done on purpose, is frustrating, discouraging and harmful to children. They need a certain amount of pleasure to function in life and without it they become desperate. Children are completely dependent on their parents to provide them this pleasure, and if it is taken away in the name of self-discipline it can impact their self-esteem and emotional development. Pleasure, satisfaction and happiness are what’s good for them and, in turn, makes them givers. Good experiences fill your child up with positive feelings that overflow into kindness towards others. In addition, it gives them the strength to teach themselves self-discipline when they are older. For more information about how pleasure and happiness cures misbehavior, click here.
Remember, kids don’t come with an instruction book. Even though parenting is the most important job in the world, there are no courses taught in college on how to be a parent. We, therefore, need to do research and educate ourselves about how to raise our children. For additional parenting information, I invite you to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on this website, or download one of my informative free reports. If you have a child with behavioral or emotional difficulties and would like guidance and treatment from a child psychotherapist in lower Manhattan, you may give me a call at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!