Parents are constantly concerned for the wellbeing and health of their children, but one pesky concern keeps rising. “What if I mess up my kid?” Fear not, because we’re going to give you step by step instructions on how to set up the best goals to make you and your child’s life a lot easier. But first, some helpful background info.
Do You Know the Two Types of Parenting?
World leading psychologist Alison Gopnik says there are two types of parents in the world — carpenters and gardeners.
Carpentry requires dedication, strength, and tools. Lots of tools. The carpenter uses their tools to pound their material into the foundation they want, eventually giving rise to a final product that seems to be wholly the carpenter’s creation.
Similarly, carpenter parents think children can be molded and shaped into the proper adult the parent wants. This type of parent would have strict rules for what the child can and cannot do, such as ways to dress and talk, making their child participate in activities the parent thinks the child should do, such as sports, science camps, or music lessons.
“The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you’re going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult,” she said in an interview with NPR.
This carpenter parent will typically have preconceived notions of how to raise a child and what parenting should be like. With strict rules and discipline, the parent will typically make the child conform to their standards — whether the child likes it or not.
Carpenter parents can have a detrimental impact on their children. According to Gopnik, “We’re so concerned about how these children are going to turn out that we’re unwilling to give them the autonomy that they need to be able to take risks and go out and explore the world,” she said to NPR.
Besides, carpenter parents may be reluctant to negotiate their views of how the child should be with who the child becomes, causing stress in the child.
Extreme carpenter parents may be called tiger parents, those who hold their children to high standards in terms of behavior, intelligence, hobbies, and academics. But as psychologists from the University of Berkeley find, such extreme parenting results in poor mental health in children, including depression, anxiety, and poor social skills.
As Gopnik points out, the fewer parents worry about outcomes in their children, the better children typically fare in life. Gopnik says parents should approach parenting like a gardener, but there may be dangers present here as well.
A gardener tending plants understands that the plant has its destiny. A gardener cannot make a rose become a tulip, no matter how hard the gardener tries. So it is the gardener’s role to simply provide the best environment for the plant to grow healthy and strong into what it was meant to become.
In much the same way, a gardener parent is not concerned with sculpting their child into an idea the parent has in their head. The gardener thinks a child will become who they’re meant to become and that it is the role of the gardener to provide a rich, substantive ecosystem for the child to explore and grow up in.
One great example of the benefits of garden parenting is from a 2011 study with preschool children. Scientists had a toy comprised of plastic tubes, each with a different function. One tube lit up, one squeaked, another made music, another had a hidden mirror.
The children were split into two groups. In the first group, an experimenter entered the room and “accidentally” bumped into the tube that squeaked. The experimenter laughed off their mistake and gave the toy to the children. They were more likely to play with it freely and randomly, discovering the tube’s different functions.
In the other group, the experimenter told the children they were going to explain how the tube worked, only focusing on one function — pressing the squeaking beeper. When left alone, the children only pressed the beeper in a limited and more repetitive way. They did not explore more and discover what the toy could do.
As you can see, telling children there’s only one way to do things limits their creativity, curiosity, and freedom. They’re less likely to take risks and follow what interests them. When you let children explore on their own, not only do they build a sense of independence and self-confidence but understand themselves and what they like, not follow the interests of others.
This is why taking a gardening approach to parenting is so important. The child grows up protected and nourished while also coming into who they are. They’re more likely to be happy and successful adults. But it may be a bit too easy to let your child have their way in the name of fostering independence.
Gardening does not mean being unattentive. It means paying close attention to proper growth and nipping any negative trait or behavior in the bud.
What’s the Proper Parenting Mindset?
Have you ever seen plants grow in wooden crates or wooden boxes? Those raised garden planters require a basis of carpentry for the garden to eventually take form.
This would be the best approach for parents to take. You’ve made the foundation for your children to grow, but once the foundation has been set, you step back. You tend the garden but let it grow into the results that were meant to happen. You raise happy and mentally healthy adults while ensuring a few of your standards are at the base of your child’s growth.
The foundation you should be building isn’t just ideas or habits to impart on your child. You should be working to improve yourself in addition to your child’s life. If you have a personality or mental health issue, you may stunt your child’s growth in addition to yours.
The best part of parenting is the constant challenge to improve yourself so you can improve your child. Therefore, you should instill a growth mindset in yourself before you think about handling your child’s life. As the saying goes, you should take care of yourself before you care about another person.
If you’re concerned on how to improve yourself, follow these tips:
Great Parents Continue Working on Self-Improvement
Self-improvement and a growth mindset are at the core of a successful life, as many CEOs, millionaires, and successful entrepreneurs will say. The same holds true with parenting. The best parents are those who continually strive to improve their mental and physical health in addition to making their child’s life the best possible.
Take stock of what you could improve in your life. Chances are, though, you could pay special attention to these areas.
Divorce in children leads to tremendous mental health implications in children. Depression and anxiety are higher in children with divorced parents and may raise the likelihood of negative behaviors such as delinquency, impulsive behavior, and conduct disorders.
Divorce may be unavoidable in certain cases, such as with a manipulative or abusive partner. However, if there are no major toxic red flags, you should make sure your relationship with your partner is the healthiest possible.
For example, a sociologist Terry Hatkoff from California State University found that there are six main types of love found in close relationships.
- Logical: A pragmatic relationship based on shared values, religion, interests, financial goals, etc.
- Playful: Evoked during flirtation or feeling challenged.
- Altruistic: Unselfish kindness and nurturing for those in this relationship.
- Possessive: Feel loved by having others feel jealous or obsessed over you.
- Best Friends: A relationship founded on deep tenderness toward each other.
- Romantic: Based on adoration, excitement, and sexual attraction.
By knowing your partner’s romantic love type, you can understand how they best view relationships and how love works. In turn, you also know when to make your partner feel loved, such as thanking them for doing a selfless act for you or introducing more playfulness into the relationship.
Handling relationships with mutual respect, communication, and love will trickle down into how your child views the standards of relationships. If you maintain poor relationship health, your child will also practice such poor romantic or platonic hygiene. Be sure to put more effort into improving your interpersonal relationships.
Do you dislike particular parts of your body or personality? Do you lack self-confidence and subconsciously act in ways that betray that fact?
How you relate to yourself is how your child will relate to him- or herself. For example, if you have body issues, your child may pick up unhealthy attitudes toward their body as well. Of course, culture and media play a large role in body acceptance, but you can mitigate your child disliking their body by maintaining a positive family culture around body acceptance.
It takes time and effort to work toward accepting yourself, but the process is made much easier through therapy. Antioch University estimates that 1 out of 5 adults in the United States, around 43.8 million people, have a diagnosable mental illness. Therapy makes understanding and living with mental illnesses much easier with a trained professional guiding your way.
Aversion toward therapy may be pride-based or cultural. Whatever the case is, you could benefit from guided or self-explored intrapersonal inspection as a way to make you a better parent, in addition to a better person journeying through life.
Be mindful of how you not only speak to people but how you communicate. Do you practice active listening, or do you brush people off? Do you empathetic toward other people’s emotional states, or are you cold and unfeeling?
Communication is one of the best ways to maintain positive relationships, and the same goes for familial ones. As with intrapersonal improvement, strive to boost your communication skills to the people around your life. Your children will be sure to take notes from you.
Some tips on how to communicate with loved ones effectively:
- Speak In-Person. While text communication may take the stress off, bringing up subjects, face to face communication is the best way to go. You can hear each other’s tones and body language when expressing feelings, so you get the context within which people speak versus just their dry words.
We’ve all experienced a text miscommunication, so gathering up the courage to speak in-person is the best way to not only get your point across but build effective communication skills.
- Adopt the 48 Hour Rule. Sometimes our partners, friends, or coworkers make us angry. You should tell them why you’re upset, but it’s not necessary to tell them immediately. If you wait 48 hours to bring up something that majorly hurt you, you can give yourself to formulate your thoughts and feelings and express yourself in a calm, collected tone.
If you don’t speak up after these 48 hours, you’re likely to not get in the habit of expressing issues as they come up. Instead, you’ll bottle up your emotions, which leads to worse communication outcomes in the future since you’re agitated, potentially blowing up at your partner or even leading your death. Communication is crucial to a healthy life.
- Pick the Best Time. In addition to speaking with your partner relatively quickly, be sure to find a time that you and your partner are relaxed, secure, and open to discussion. Sometimes people want to bring up bad news when their partner is already in a bad mood to avoid ruining their partner’s future good mood.
However, ensuring both parties are in a neutral mood ensures a clear-headed and rational conversation — the best time to resolve conflict and smooth things over.
- Be honest. Vow to your partner that no matter what you say, you will be truthful to the best of your knowledge. Lies, even white lies, create a culture of distrust between you and whoever you talk to. It degrades your integrity and your trustworthiness and could lead to trust issues in the relationship depending on the severity of the lies.
No matter what, be sure to remain completely honest between you and your partner. Even if the truth hurts you, it would be better than lying.
Communication with yourself and other people is a strong foundation for setting up a successful life. Start implementing positive habits that you can hopefully give to your children.
Here’s How to Avoid the Top Parenting Mistakes
Parents may have the best intentions, but some of their behavior, desires, or discipline may cause more harm than good to their children. Here are a few of the top parenting mistakes you should avoid.
Asking for Perfection
Impossibly high standards may spur your child to do well in school or sports, but research shows that perfectionism is linked to poor overall health and increased risk of death. These negative health outcomes result from increased anxiety as to not meeting the impossibly high standard your child has set for him- or herself.
Perfectionism isn’t just a personality trait — it can be clinically diagnosed. Below are the three main traits of perfectionism.
- An unceasing expectation that you or others meet high standards that may seem extreme or unreasonable to other people.
- A continued effort to aim for these standards despite persistent negative outcomes.
- Judging your self-worth or self-esteem based on your ability to obtain these high standards.
As you can see, perfectionism entangles itself with your child’s self-esteem, which could lead to personality hindrances such as sensitivity toward feedback or seeking validation in others. Not only that, but perfectionism has been shown to correlate intensely with eating disorders, especially among girls.
At the core of instilling perfectionism in your child is the belief that nothing they do is good enough for you. From that, you teach the child that you predict they will fail in almost everything they do since they can never live up to your standards. This could make the child give up trying completely or go above and beyond to the point they damage their mental or physical health.
Further, perfectionism could cause your child to distance themselves from you. You’re associated with feelings of disappointment and shame, and so having to act stoic around such a source of distress could become too much for your child, especially once they become teenagers or adults.
A solution to perfectionism is motivating your child to perform to the best of their limits but to not push themselves too far beyond that. Impart healthy and rational criticism and express realistic standards rather than idealistic ones. Always promote a room for growth rather than an atmosphere of shame.
Raising Your Voice
Of course, never hit, slap, or physically hurt your child in any way. Further, avoid physically intimidating your child to get your way.
However, there are other ways to harm your child’s psyche and damage your relationship with your child. It may seem inevitable that parents will scream at their children if the parent is extremely frustrated or exhausted. Losing your temper will not create a positive change in your child.
If anything, losing your cool will show your child that you’re not in control, so your position as an authority figure will be jeopardized. You’ve brought yourself down to your child’s level by resorting to their behavior, which is something a parent should never do. A child can minimize their behavior based on how their parents are acting.
No matter what, always maintain a steady level of cool around your child. Practice anger management techniques, such as breathing slowly before you speak and expressing that you are angry at your child in a controlled tone. Children can be annoying and frustrating, but it is the role of the parent to not succumb to hot-headedness. Maintain clear control and authority.
Not Setting Boundaries
Boundaries mean many things, but they boil down to the limit of your comfort in a particular aspect, behavior, or situation. A privacy boundary would mean that you can sometimes enter your child’s room unannounced but that you would never read their journal.
A boundary could also mean communication, such as promising to communicate feelings with your child when it’s just you and them, not with your spouse or any siblings involved. Boundaries ensure you know what your child is comfortable with, and if you go beyond their boundary, you know that’s something that could upset your child.
In short, boundaries let you know what your child is comfortable and uncomfortable with, giving you a set of behaviors to which you should conform to make your child the happiest. The same is true vice versa.
The problem with not setting boundaries is that it does not set up a rigid system in which your child can understand how you, parenting, or their household operates. Further, a lack of boundaries may lead to an eventual worsening of behavior.
For example, let’s say your child wants to buy a toy every time you go to the supermarket. You set a boundary that your child can only ask for one toy below $10. Your child knows the limitations they’re existing in and, after trying to squirm out of it by choosing two toys or a more expensive toy, will operate within their limitations if you’re consistent.
But if you don’t enforce boundaries, your child will ask for more and more. They’ll not respect you. You in return could get uncomfortable giving into your child’s wants but would feel bad if you reversed your previous leniency and feel like a bad parent.
Not setting boundaries means someone gets their way at the expense of another person’s comfort. It could operate in many different ways — you breaking your child boundaries, your child breaking yours. Establish and follow everyone’s boundaries to facilitate trust and comfort around each other.
For both you and your child. You should respect your child’s boundaries for privacy or communication. For example, if your child keeps a diary, resist the temptation to read it. Crossing a boundary leads to devastating fractures in trust.
Top Parenting Goals You Should Follow
Set Up Family Goals
That’s right; your goal should be to set up goals with your children.
Think about it. When you set up goals as a family, you’re not only giving yourselves a direction in which to improve, such as chores, communication, savings, family time, but you can hold each other accountable since it’s your collective goals.
Here’s what you can do. Have a whiteboard somewhere everyone will see, such as in the kitchen or living room. Write down a simple goal you and your children would be motivated to do, such as eating vegetables every day of the week or walking for at least 30 minutes every Tuesday for a month.
Family goals get you and the kids into a growth-mindset, asking yourselves how you can improve yourselves and how you can improve your family’s living situations. With family goals, you make growth a priority all while bonding over it.
Make a Safe Space for Communication
When your child feels comfortable talking to you, they’ll be more likely to bring up tough topics they would otherwise feel embarrassed to say, such as issues with school, friendships, or relationships.
However, you have to make sure you’re not doing anything to harm how safe your child feels talking around you. Be sure you’re not reacting negatively to things your child feels tension around.
For example, if your child is in their teenage years and is experimenting with sex, don’t shame your child for doing so for whatever reason. Listen to your child with an open mind and understand where they’re coming from. From there, offer advice you think fits your child’s personality or anything else you want to do.
Your child’s well being should be your priority, but don’t blow up or criticize your child. Maintaining a safe space for future conversation should come second.
Instill a Growth Mindset
Forget a trust fund, heirlooms, or family business. One of the best things you can give to your child is a growth mindset.
Do not let your child stay stagnant. Do not let them settle with their “natural” abilities or think they can’t rise above any challenge. A growth mindset means that no matter the circumstances, a child will work toward the skills they need to accomplish their goals. It’s the best way to gain success in life.
To help your child get a growth mindset:
- Push them to work a little past their comfort zone each time. For example, if they can only read for 30 minutes at a time, urge them to read for 35 minutes and so on, expanding the time periodically.
- Tell them that there’s no such thing as talent or natural ability. The only thing there is hard work.
- Tell them they cannot play or watch television or play games until they’ve done their chores or homework. You tell them to do the important work first before they can play, teaching them discipline, willpower, and self-control.
Improvement Comes with Observation and Motivation
We can’t tell you how to raise your child, as we don’t know the circumstances in which you live. But we can tell you this sage piece of advice: observe your living situation and your child. No matter where you live or what socio-economic level you reside in, there’s always something you can improve, so there’s always a way to make your child’s life better.
That’s the goal of parenting: to make your child’s life better than yours. How you deem “better” is up to you. It could be your financial stability, emotional health, family functionality, whatever. As long as you see things you can improve upon and are motivated to make things better, you will set you and your child up for success.