As an educator and school leader for more than a decade, I have seen thousands of children learn, develop, and grow into the best versions of themselves. Through this time, I’ve noticed that some students develop faster than others. They engage in progressive behaviors such as taking risks, communicating respectfully with peers, problem-solving complex challenges, leading projects, and showing valuable dispositions like grit, integrity, empathy, and compassion. There are many reasons why certain children develop progressive behaviors or dispositions, too many reasons to cover in one article, but one thing is certain: parents and caregivers play a pivotal role.
Parents often ask me what they can do to help their child develop important dispositions like critical thinking, grit, and leadership capability, and I usually share actions I encourage the parents to engage in, but also actions to strongly avoid. This article will focus on 10 common mistakes parents should avoid when working with their child.
1. Not being patient.
Patience is critical because challenging work takes time. Learning takes time. Most things worth doing take time. At All Aboard, our teachers and staff recognize the importance of patience when working with our staff and students.
Exercise: Next time you are working with your child on a challenging task, use a timer or stopwatch to allow your child time to think and problem-solve before you intervene with support. Depending on the complexity of the task, allowing 1 to 5 minutes of “think time” is important.
2. Not allowing the child to do the thinking.
Learning happens when an individual is allowed the opportunity to think. Too often I see parents solving their child’s problems instead of giving their child the valuable opportunity of learning how to work through difficult issues. Whether your child is working on a challenging homework assignment, confronted with a challenging social dilemma, or dealing with an emotional struggle, allowing them the opportunity to do the thinking is a valuable experience that will improve confidence, competence, and emotional and social maturity. Allowing your child to tackle their own problems without you giving them the answers, sends a powerful and positive message that they are capable of handling real-life problems.
Exercise: Next time your child approaches you with an issue she is facing, refrain from telling her what she should do. Instead, show empathy and ask questions. “Geez, that sounds like a tough situation. What’s your plan to figure it out?” If a child needs help, offer support by sharing stories of how you overcame a similar challenging situation.
3. Focusing only on mistakes
People make mistakes, and this will be no different for your child. Mistakes are important because they demonstrate areas that can be improved, which can lead to emotional, social, and academic growth. This growth is developed using the process of noticing mistakes, reflecting on the experiences, and ultimately figuring out ways to improve. While reflecting on mistakes as a means to improve is a necessary process for success, focusing primarily on mistakes rather than on things your child is doing well will hinder the development of dispositions you want your child to develop. Additionally, if your primary focus is on the mistakes your child is doing, he will be resistant to work with you, learn from you, and share experiences with you. Look at it this way: if you had a boss that was constantly commenting on all the mistakes you were making, would you want to share the progress you were making on an innovative work project with her? Probably not!
Exercise: Next time your child shows you something she is working on, whether it’s a story, science project, or presentation, notice the things that are working. Additionally, notice the effort that your child put into the work. Comments like, “Wow! It looks like you put a lot of time and effort into this project!” will go a long way in encouraging your child to continue working hard and sharing progress with you. If you’d like to guide improvement, ask nonjudgmental questions like, “What was your favorite part about this project? What was your biggest challenge? Now that you’ve worked hard to create this, what is one valuable lesson you have learned that might help you on your next project?”
4. Giving the child the answers
Some tasks are challenging for children and learning is required. Sometimes, lots of learning and practice is required. Giving your child the answer to a challenging task does nothing for their growth. Giving answers is not teaching and your child is not learning. Think of it like this: Catch a fish for your children and they eat for a day. Teach them how to fish and they eat for the rest of their life!
Exercise: When your child approaches you with a challenging task and asks for your help (or the answer), refrain from giving them the answer. Instead, ask them what solutions they have tried. What information do they know that can help them? What ideas do they have? Remind them that challenging tasks take time!
5. Allowing anger and frustration to lead to yelling and disparaging rhetoric
Several years ago, when I was teaching full time, I held a meeting with a parent whose child was having difficulty adjusting to class. As the meeting was wrapping up, I remember thinking I was glad I had decided to hold the meeting, and I was excited for the mom to integrate some of the ideas we had discussed. My excitement quickly turned to despair when the mom left the room, found her son building with LEGOs in the library, and started yelling and shouting at him!
Everybody gets frustrated and angry from time to time. I am not suggesting that as a parent you should never get frustrated or angry. What is important to pay attention to is how you respond when you are frustrated or angry. Yelling or saying mean things to your child is not a sustainable or productive way to teach. It will only teach them that they are difficult and frustrating to deal with, which could hurt their self-concept. Also, yelling or saying mean things will teach them that yelling is an appropriate way to handle frustrations, but since this is not the way we want kids to handle their own frustrations, we must model alternatives.
Exercise: Next time you find yourself getting angry or frustrated with your child, give yourself time and separation. First, remove yourself, if possible, from the space that is bothering you. If you are unable to do this, that’s okay! Next, take several deep breaths and focus entirely on those breaths. Do not speak until you’ve counted 15 deep breaths. If you still feel the urge to raise your voice, take another 10 deep breaths.