Photo Credit: Morguefile

As I navigate my way through all the parenting information currently available on the internet, I’m in awe of some of the parenting practices that are still being passed on without question from generation to generation, when we have lots of data to support the opposite.

Many of the old parenting practices that have been passed down, especially from our parents and grandparents, were all predicated on a few different ideas. One, that very young children are not and should not be a burden to mothers/parents.  And, that the adults/parents are the ones that need to be “in charge” of the relationship.  In other words, the parents should condition the child to not expect their needs to be met, so they’ll learn to be independent and not needy or “whiney”.  These “theories” on parenting are not only old, but there’s also plenty of studies that show these practices can negatively affect the child’s development.

Below are five common parenting mistakes most of us don’t even know we’re making. You’ll recognize many of these from your parents (mainly your mom nagging you about your own parenting style since you’ve become a parent). But, others may be new, and you might just find yourself questioning your own parenting style, which is obviously the point here. You’re parents might not have known best, after all.

5 Parenting Mistakes You may not Know You’re Making

1. Letting them “cry it out.”

I honestly can’t believe this one is still around. Since, we know now that ignoring crying babies, especially, can be more detrimental to a child’s development than almost anything else.

Credit: Morguefile

Credit: Morguefile

We know that babies grow from being held. Their bodies get dysregulated when they are physically separated from caregivers. That’s not good.  Babies cry because a need isn’t being met. But, babies experience these needs not being met as life-threatening, which causes great distress. You know they’ll live if they cry themselves to sleep, but they don’t.

What’s more, when babies are greatly distressed, conditions for damage to synapses are created — synapses are network construction which occur very rapidly in the infant brain.  The hormone cortisol is released. In excess, it’s a neuron killer which may not be apparent immediately (Thomas et al. 2007). I’d err on the side of caution if it were my child crying — who knows what connections may not be happening in their brain when they’re under extreme stress.

Some of you might be asking, “Isn’t it normal for babies to cry?”

No. A crying baby in our ancestral environment would clearly have invited predators to an easy meal. So our evolved parenting practices alleviated baby distress before crying, except in emergencies, of course. Babies are built to expect the equivalent of an “external womb” after birth (see Allan Schore). Basically, a baby needs to be held constantly, fed on demand, and have needs met without distress.  We know that these practices help brain and body development.

Parents who respond to the needs of their baby before the baby gets distressed, preventing crying, if possible, are more likely to have children who are independent than dependent (e.g., Stein & Newcomb, 1994).

Here are some links to help you with soothing your baby: How to Soothe Babies  | Soothing Babies Crying “For No Reason”:



2. Trying to make every thing into a “learning experience” for your kids.

Credit: Morguefile

Credit: Morguefile

Kids learn through what they live. While you’re “sitting there 15 feet away” at the playground refusing to help them climb a ladder, because you are trying to teach them to “self-soothe” or to to be “more independent”, you’re child is learning that mom won’t help, and that their behavior needs to change in order to get mom to help. Not to mention any negative associations to the emotions they feel while they’re supposed to be “learning a lesson”. Kids will learn with or without your agenda. Just imagine how difficult it will be to learn the things you want them to learn if you’re always throwing them into distressful situations to do so.

Though, I understand and agree with the motives behind this type of parenting practice (allowing kids to learn on their own through play and trial and error), the notion that kids will learn better when they are forced into distressful “learning” situations (by adults), stems from a misunderstanding of what psychologists call “the psychological sweet spot“.  When a child is in distress, cognitive function diminishes considerably, and children (as well as most adults) will revert to a “survival mode” — distressful stimuli, if prolonged and without resolve, will turn to anger — and we all know when we are angry or distressed, we aren’t learning new skills. Therefore, we need to remove the distress and allow the child to learn in the most optimal emotional state.

Not sure what to do instead? Try this: Instead of refusing help when the kids are scared to try something new, ask if you can try to show them. Then model the thing they’re having trouble with. Empathize with their feelings and show them you understand why they are having those feelings, then show and tell how you dealt with those same feelings. Then encourage and stand by. 



“Remember that “misbehavior” is only a symptom of an unmet need.”

3. Ignoring “bad behavior”.

One parenting trend that I’ve read one too many times on “mommy blogs” or in comments in response to parenting articles, is the idea that parenting children is no different than training a dog.  These people believe, I think, that because these things work for dogs, then they must work for kids. Mainly, the practice of ignoring the child when they are behaving in a way you don’t want them to. They think “ignore the behavior and it will stop”. Maybe. But, at what cost? I guess it really depends on what you want for your kids.  If you want your kids to fear you, hide their emotions when they’re not convenient for you to deal with, and be a subordinate for the rest of their lives, sure, keep ignoring them. But, if you want your child to be emotionally resilient and able to think for himself, then keep reading.

Remember that “misbehavior” is only a symptom of an unmet need. Does he need food? Sleep? More time with you? Time with you to release “icky feelings”? When you can address the need, the “misbehavior” is eliminated. I know this is way easier said than done, since we all have our own emotional baggage with unmet needs as well.  But, ignoring what your parents and strangers (usually people without children) call “bad behavior” is really just adding to the problem.  So, next time your neighbor tells you to “just ignore her” when your daughter is throwing a tantrum, just tell him you’ll remember that advice the next time your dog craps in his yard and he comes to you complaining. Then go tend to your screaming daughter.


4. Telling them to hide their emotions: “Don’t cry.” or “Don’t be sad.”

Now, this one may not seem serious, but it is, and of course we’ve all done it. What are we actually doing when we tell our kids to not be sad, or to not be afraid? Obviously, it’s natural to want to protect our kids from these feelings. But, telling kids “Don’t feel this way” isn’t necessarily helping them feel any better. Plus, it can tell them that their feelings aren’t valid — that it’s not ok to be sad or scared.

Rather than deny the feelings your child is having, simply acknowledge them with your words; “Yes, it can be scary climbing a ladder for the first time. But, I’ll go first and show you how, then I’ll do it with you. I promise I won’t let you fall.”

By doing and saying something like this, you’ll allow him to name the feeling (scared) next time by attaching a word to it, and you’re also showing him how to be empathic toward other people when they have feelings that are similar.


5. Comparing them to a sibling or friend.

We’ve all done this.  It seems helpful, in our minds, to offer an example of someone our child’s age who is exhibiting a behavior we would like them to do.  The problem is, our child isn’t the child we compared them to. It seems logical, but kids won’t see it that way, especially if you’re frustrated by them not learning a skill as fast as you’d like them to.  What they hear is “I wish you were different.”

Being pressured to do something that your child just isn’t ready to do, or doesn’t like to do, can be confusing and can undermine her self-confidence.  And depending on their age, you could be met with resentment and refusal to do the very thing you want so badly for them to do.

Instead, focus on what she can do, and encourage those achievements. Remember, when children feel good, they do better.  If they’re in a good state of mind, you can try scaling the skill or behavior you want them to do, and focus on the part they can do. — “Wow, you got both your feet on the second step of the ladder without my help!”



About The Author

Ryan P. Maier

Ryan is the co-owner and founder of DadLifts and an autism and fatherhood advocate. Ryan is also a Movement Coach and USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach in Minneapolis, MN. Ryan is a husband and father of three.