10 Common Mistakes Parents Make
Think you’re a pretty good parent? Chances are, you’re right. But many of us make well-
intentioned mistakes in many areas of our lives–including raising children. No parent
intentionally does things wrong; we simply do the best we can with the knowledge we have.
With this in mind, here is a list of some common mistakes parents make. The list is not
exhaustive, nor is it The Final Word. The ideas here come from family psychologists, educators
and older parents and grandparents who have “been there, done that,” yet managed to raise
1. Inadequate Supervision
“Children get away with so much in contemporary society,” says Robert Billingham, professor
of Human Development and Family Studies at Indiana University, and the father of four. “It’s a
tragedy that there just isn’t the parental supervision there used to be.”
So how do you know if your child is being adequately supervised? “If your child is in daycare,
make frequent, unannounced visits. If supervision is lacking, find another daycare,” says
Billingham. For older children, in most states the legal age that children can be left by
themselves is 13, and most experts agree that the time of day when most kids get into trouble is
the after-school/before-parents-get-home-from-work window. How to avoid? Hire a sitter or
rearrange your work schedule. The bottom line: make sure someone is watching those kids.
2. Failing To Listen
“Many parents are in too much of a hurry to slow down and really listen to what their child has
to say,” says Charles Fay, Ph.D., a nationally certified school psychologist. For example, say
little Billy comes home with a black eye. A parent’s natural tendency may be to jump right in
and demand to know who hit little Billy, when the reality may be that a ball smacked him in the
eye, or maybe Billy started a fight. The fact is, parents don’t know what’s really going on until
their child tells them.
For very young children, a good way to find out what’s on their minds is to watch them play,
says Dr. Fay. Give them some dolls and just sit back and watch. “It takes a little time, but it’s one
of the most powerful tools a parent has for understanding what their child’s life is like when the
parents are not around.”
3. Short-sighted Parenting
“I tell parents to raise their 2-year-old not to be a successful toddler, but to be a successful adult,”
says Billingham. This means parents have to let their children make mistakes, have to let them
learn from mistakes and have to let them encounter situations parents would rather protect them
from. “When children face bullies, for example, there is a tendency for parents to rush in. But at
some point this 7-year-old will be 30 and will have a boss who is a bully, so the child has to learn
for himself how to cope.” This doesn’t mean that parents can’t help, but becoming too involved
can also be a mistake, says Billingham. “Help the child solve his problems, but don’t solve them
4. Over Scheduling
“Many parents today seem to be going 100 miles an hour with their hair on fire,” says Judy
Haire, co-founder of Liberty Christian School in Texas, mother of two and grandmother of five.
“Kids need down time, time to be bored, because that’s when their creativity kicks in.”
Instead of giving kids time to play in a relaxed, unstructured way, many parents rush their
children around from activity to activity, and this can create stress and anxiety in both parents
and kids. “I suggest that parents give each child one or two extracurricular activities, max, and
that parents make sure that children have several hours each week that are left completely
unscheduled. Just make sure they don’t fill those hours with TV!” says Haire.
5. Arguing in Front of Children
Parents arguing in front of their children is a very damaging behavior, according to Sara B.
Miller, Ph.D., a psychiatrist in Wayne, Pa., who specializes in marriage and family issues.
“When a couple argues in front of young children, especially boys, the end result is often an
extremely insensitive man who cannot relate to women in a healthy way,” says Miller.
Parents should save heated discussions for times when the kids aren’t around. That’s not to say
that kids should never see parents disagree; it’s healthy for kids to see Mom and Dad have a
difference of opinion, then work it out. But subjecting children to parents’ arguing can make
them insecure and fearful. “Use common sense,” says Miller.
You’ve seen it in the supermarket a thousand times: a mom in the checkout line tells her child he
cannot have candy. The child begins to whine, then beg, getting louder and louder, until the mom
finally caves in and buys the candy. Kid: 1, Mom: 0.
“Children need to feel that their parents are in control,” says Lisa Balch, a graphic designer and
mother of two. “When a parent gives in after having said no, then the child learns that whining
and begging are very effective tools for negotiation. I hear parents complain all the time about
their children whining, but in many cases the parents are reinforcing the very behavior they
would like to change.”
7. Ignoring Your Intuition
“I think that in many cases people are too trusting, both of their children and of the people their
children spend time with,” says Haire. “It’s easier to just go with the flow and ignore that still
small voice when it tells you that something isn’t quite right. I’ve learned, through the years, that
parents should pay attention to that intuition.”
8. Too Much TV
According to the Neilsen Media Research, the average American child ages 2-11 watches 3
hours and 22 minutes of television per day. The average number of minutes per week that
parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children? 38.5. Astoundingly, 25 percent of
children ages 2-5 have a television in their bedroom, and over half (52 percent) of kids ages 5-17
have a television in their bedroom.
9. Out-of-Control Materialism
“Kids today have way too much stuff,” says Lois Hodgson, mother of four and grandmother of
six. There’s nothing wrong with toys and gadgets and exotic vacations, but it seems that in many
cases what the children really want is quality time with their parents, says Hodgson. “When my
children were young I made it a point to sit down with them after school and hear about their
day, every day. Some of the neighborhood kids used to come, too–they just wanted an adult to
listen to them.”
10. Neglecting Your Spouse
“All too often I see parents who have made their children the center of their relationship,” says
Haire. “They lose sight of who they are as a couple, and once the kids are gone there isn’t much
left between them.” The remedy? “Spend some time together alone every day–even 10 minutes
at the end of the day. And make sure the kids know that this time is important and is not to be