Academics are only part of the picture when it comes to educating children. Reading Amy Morin’s book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, reminds me of this truth.
Morin highlights 13 things for parents to keep in mind:
- Do not condone a victim mentality.
When your child experiences hardships, acknowledge his struggles but don’t be overly sympathetic. Help him focus on what he CAN control as opposed to what he can’t. You can always control your thoughts, effort, and attitude, even if you can’t control your environment.
- Do not parent out of guilt.
No parent is perfect. Feeling guilty after you’ve done something hurtful is a good sign, but carrying around excessive guilt is not. Make sure your parenting and actions don’t stem from guilt.
- Do not make your child the center of the universe.
Strive to cultivate a child who recognizes the needs of others and thinks about others’ feelings. Praise compassionate choices. Praise efforts instead of results. Praise things your child can control: what she does, rather than who she is.
- Do not allow fear to dictate your choices.
“Sometimes your parenting decisions might be more about reducing your own stress rather than doing what is best for your child,” according to Morin. It is better to equip your child to deal with danger than to always assume you can protect him from hazards. Fear is contagious and can be passed down to your kids.
- Do not give your children power over you.
Include children in decisions, and let them know their concerns will be heard, but also make it clear that you are the ultimate decision maker. Refuse to argue and get into power struggles.
- Do not expect perfection.
When goal-setting with children, ask them what they think are reasonable goals for themselves. Encourage them to try to do slightly better than they expect. When your child believes she is good enough, even when she is not perfect, she will be more willing to take risks, and bounce back from failure.
- Do not let your child avoid responsibility.
Letting kids shirk responsibility allows kids to stay immature. Irresponsible kids become irresponsible adults. Don’t do things for your child he can do for himself. If kids make excuses, ask them, “What was your role in that?” Don’t allow them to shift blame, but help them take responsibility.
- Don’t shield your child from pain.
Parents just want their kids to be happy, but if kids are sheltered from all pain, they will never be able to deal with problems and will never be truly happy. Give kids age-appropriate and concrete information. Acknowledge the pain and help kids express their feelings.
- Don’t feel responsible for your child’s emotions.
If you take charge of trying to control your child’s emotions, he will never learn to do it for himself. Kids need to learn they are 100-percent in control of their own emotions and they can handle feeling bad. Instead of telling a child to suppress emotion, teach him how to cope.
- Don’t prevent your child from making mistakes.
Don’t try to keep your kids from messing up—this will only hurt them in the long run. Let kids know that mistakes should be something to learn from. Talk about your own failures, how you recovered from your mistakes, and why it was okay that you weren’t perfect. Tell kids you felt bad at the time, but things turned out okay.
- Don’t confuse discipline with punishment.
“Discipline is about training and teaching your child in a way that prepares him for the future,” says Morin. “Punishment, however, is about inflicting a penalty that causes suffering.” Punishments focus on a mistake and making a child feel bad. Discipline is constructive and teaches a child to do better.
- Don’t take shortcuts to avoid discomfort.
Whenever you feel like you don’t have enough time or energy, you might be tempted to take shortcuts, despite the long-term ramifications. Unhealthy shortcuts can involve punishing rather than disciplining (see above), ignoring behavior problems, and doing things for kids—and solving their problems for them—rather than teaching them how to do those things for themselves.
- Don’t lose sight of your values.
Many parents emphasize achievement over values. Kids hear this loud and clear. Families need to identify their values and make sure their priorities align with how they choose to spend their time and their money. Decide how to pass on your values, and when you lose sight of your values, make sure to apologize along the way. When kids complain about things not being fair, talk about other people’s values, and how they might contrast with your own.
Ultimately, Morin’s book is an encouragement to not lose sight of what my ultimate goals for my kids are, as dictated by my values. When life is hard, I should not take easy shortcuts, but rather make sure my decisions are stemming from a balanced and healthy place, and take ownership of my actions, emotions, and also my mistakes. When I model this, and expect this of myself, I can be more mentally strong and positively influence my kids’ mental health.
Photo Credit: iStock. Following image courtesy of author.