Q: I'm a new parent. I've been reading lots of parenting magazines but there's so much to learn I feel overwhelmed. Could you just tell me what are the most common mistakes parents make? Maybe I could prevent some of them as my little one grows. -- M. M.
A: First, remember that we all make mistakes, no matter how much we study or learn or strive to be great parents. And it's OK to make mistakes; we are only human and we usually learn from these mistakes.
We all just do the best we can with what we know at the time, whenever our children challenge us. Then we usually try something new and keep learning as the children grow.
Here is a short list of the "mistakes" I think are the most common in parenting.
• Assuming that you know all there is to know about your child. This can lead to assumptions that can convey negative messages or create missed opportunities.
For example, you might say, "She is really, really shy and sensitive. I need to pave the way for her and help her with anything new because she's an introvert." Soon you'll believe what you are saying to be absolutely true when it may not be the case at all.
Some children who appear to be "shy" are strong-willed individuals who simply want to look things over before jumping in. Saying "she is shy" and expecting her to be an introvert can create anxiety about self-image and mixed feelings about how to relate to others.
• Overloading and overscheduling children. In our culture it seems that we need to be "busy" or appear to be busy all the time.
Parents sometimes think children need to be busy with constant scheduled activities, but children need to be children, not adults. They need balance and downtime.
Moreover, when parents send children off to spend time with other adults all week, children are likely to learn most of their values from these people, not from their parents.
• Forgetting that we need to use meaningful and descriptive praise with children and that praise usually works better than punishment in changing children's behaviors. Descriptive, calm and meaningful criticism can also be an important tool.
• Forgetting to spend more time listening to our children's ideas, dreams and feelings, instead of so much time talking "at" them. Studies have shown that in the course of a day, most parents' conversations with children focus only on what the parent wants the child to do or not do.
• Forgetting that laughter and enjoyment are vitally important. It's the best way to bond with your child or bond in any relationship. What happens in a relationship with no laughter or humor? It withers and dies. It does not grow and blossom.
Evelyn Petersen is an award-winning parenting columnist and early childhood educator and author who lives in Traverse City; see her website at askevelyn.com.