3 Most Common Mistakes: Child Psychology
Expert advice on your child’s emotions. by the Babble Editors
What are the three most common mistakes parents make when it comes to kids’ emotional development?
Expert: Dr. Lawrence Shapiro, child psychologist and author of The Baby Emergency Handbook: Lifesaving Information Every Parent Needs to Know
1. Not wanting to be the bad guy
Generally parents are too permissive. Most parents today don’t realize that kids need limits, and they don’t develop well when those limits either aren’t put in place or they aren’t consistent. Being strict seems to imply being mean, but all the studies say that kids being raised in stricter homes tend to do better. Because kids need structure. For example, bedtime is at 7 o’clock. It’s always at 7 o’clock, it’s not at 7:30 because they have to watch a TV show or Bobby down the street has an 8 o’clock bed time.
Every age of child should have that number of rules in the house – a three-year old has three rules, a five-year old has five rules, write them down. And if the child breaks them, there’s some consequence, like a time out, or something else.
Parents often think they can just talk to their kids, and they ignore the fact that the kids don’t listen, they do the exact same thing they did last time. Another mistake parents make is making idle threats to their kids. “If you’re not quiet, I’m gonna turn this car around and we’re never going to the playground again.” Well that’s ridiculous, they don’t turn the car around, and of course they’re going to the playground again. Discipline is very straightforward; they just don’t seem to want to do it. They need to get over it. It’s in the best interest of their child. It’s hard. It’s not fun. Nobody likes time-outs, parents don’t like putting their kids on time-outs, nobody likes reprimanding their kids, but you’ve gotta do it. The child says, “I hate you,” and parents can’t deal with being rejected. Well, kids say “I hate you” sometimes; it’s okay.
2. Downplaying “emotional intelligence”
When it comes to emotional health, parents seem to think that it’s going to come from the air. It doesn’t come that way. I wrote a whole book about it, How to Prevent Emotional Problems Before They Start. And my prescription for it is you’ve got to spend ten minutes a day on teaching your child about all the different things we call emotional intelligence: self control, talking about your feelings, learning empathy, all of those things we don’t spend any time on. And the analogy is when it comes to physical health, imagine if your child says, “I don’t feel like brushing my teeth,” and you say, “Alright, maybe next week.” You need to do that every day. You wash your hands every meal, you wear your seatbelt every time you get in the car, there’s no exceptions. You better spend ten minutes a day talking about values, talking about feelings, talking about controlling your temper, talking about how to behave. It’s not just about being reactive, which is what discipline is, it’s about being proactive.
3. Thinking it’s just a phase
I think that the biggest mistake parents make is that they think symptoms will go away. They want them to go away, but they see all symptoms as stage-specific, and certain symptoms are not. In other words, the kid is throwing tantrums at three, and the parent figures he’ll grow out of it. Well, that’s not necessarily true. The litmus test I use is if you’re embarrassed in front of your friends, it’s a problem. If it’s normal, then everyone just recognizes it that way. So if you’re concerned, you really need to just talk to someone, read a book; doesn’t necessarily mean the child has to go to therapy. But parents tend to think that certain symptoms just go away and they don’t.
Mental health is not that different from physical health. If your child was throwing up for three days, you wouldn’t wait, so really parents should err on the side of caution. Anger problems are the most pervasive. And I think it’s because of this limit-setting problem, and parents not teaching them how to control their anger. But we see kids with so much anger, and hitting other kids, and talking back, and throwing tantrums. At three years old, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, at four it’s a really absurd problem, at five you make the appointment with the therapist. Parents need to know that the earlier they address these issues, the easier it’s gonna be. If they wait, yes the kid may grow out of it, but they may not. It’s always easier to address things when they’re young.
Interview by Meghan Pleticha