11 Common Parenting Mistakes to Avoid

Small boy cries
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Being a parent can be a nerve-wracking experience—especially if you are worried that you will not do everything right. But you are only human, and you will make parenting mistakes. Remind yourself that you are not alone. Every parent makes mistakes.

You can avoid some common parenting mistakes if you know what to look for. By learning to overcome these common parenting mistakes, you will be one step closer to becoming a more effective parent. Here are 11 parenting mistakes to watch out for.

Neglecting to Fix Problems

Either because they think that certain problems can't be fixed or they simply are quick to accept them, many parents endure months or years of frustration. These common problems might include bedtime battles, frequent night wakings, or temper tantrums and behavior problems in older children.

Although it may take some hard work, most problems that you face as a parent can be worked through and changed or fixed. You may need some help, though. Your baby may not have come with instructions, but there are plenty of books, websites, and people that can help guide you through the challenges of parenting.

Your pediatrician or another healthcare professional can be helpful when you face difficult or persistent problems.

Overestimating or Underestimating Problems

Before you try to fix problems, you have to first decide what is and isn't a problem. Unfortunately, parents sometimes overestimate or underestimate the problems they are facing with their kids.

"Parents who underestimate problems with their children may accidentally miss important information, like if their child is struggling with depression or substance use," says Emily Guarnotta, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in parenting, maternal mental health, and more. "On the other hand, overestimating usually comes from anxiety and can cause children to feel smothered by parents."

When parents underestimate problems, they can potentially invalidate their child's emotions and inadvertently teach them to avoid problems or issues, says Jaclyn Gulotta, PhD, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor and psychologist who specializes in parenting, family relationships, and child development.

"Parents who overestimate problems or issues are creating learned behaviors to catastrophize and emphasize negative situations," Dr. Gulotta says.

Having Unrealistic Expectations

If you have unrealistic expectations of what your kids should be doing, you can actually create problems. This often happens when parents get frustrated or impatient with a 2 1/2-year-old who still isn't interested in potty training, a 6-year-old who is wetting the bed, or a moody teenager. Make sure that your expectations match your child's developmental level.

"When parents have unrealistic expectations of their kids, it places unrealistic standards of perfectionism," says Dr. Gulotta. "Most children want to feel accepted, especially by their parents.

"If they feel they will disappoint them by not meeting these unrealistic expectations, they will become stressed and anxious. They may also struggle with low levels of self-esteem and seek validation from negative behaviors," Dr. Gulotta explains.

According to Dr. Guarnotta, having unrealistic expectations of your children also can cause kids to feel shame if they are unable to live up to those expectations. They also may develop negative beliefs about themselves as not being “good enough.” It can even lead them to develop anxiety.

Being Inconsistent

Few things can harm your children more than an inconsistent parenting style. If you are sometimes very strict, but give in other times, or simply don't seem to care what your kids are doing, they will have a very hard time knowing what is expected of them and how to act.

"When parents are inconsistent with their parenting or discipline it creates miscommunication and mixed signals," says Dr. Gulotta. "Children will not take their parents’ authority seriously if parents do not follow through. This may lead to lack of respect. With inconsistency, children also may become anxious and feel uncertainty."

Avoiding Rules or Limits

You may think that you are doing your kids a favor by letting them do whatever they want, but most children, especially younger ones, find it hard to live without any guidelines. Having rules, setting limits, following consistent routines, and offering limited choices will help your child know and expect what is coming throughout the day.

"When parents do not have rules or set limits, the risks include negative behavior, temper tantrums, hostility, defiance, and attention seeking behaviors," says Dr. Gulotta.

"This impacts kids both short- and long-term in how they learn to respond to situations. In the short-term, children may overstep boundaries and have little to no respect for their parents. In the long-term, children may feel they are entitled and expect to get what they want even with poor behavior," she says.

Fighting Back

In the book "Setting Limits With Your Strong-Willed Child," author Robert MacKenzie describes fighting back as the "family dance," in which you can become stuck in destructive patterns of communication. We aren't talking about physically fighting with your child; fighting back can take other forms, like getting mad, yelling, and repeating yourself over and over.

Fighting or arguing with your kids gives them negative attention and a lot of power over you because they are able to trigger such strong reactions. Instead of stopping problem behaviors, fighting back will lead you to unintentionally reward the behavior you're trying to stop.

Rather than fighting back, stop power struggles and learn more effective discipline techniques, like time-out and using logical and natural consequences. Then, don't waste time fighting before you use them.

Neglecting to Change What Doesn't Work

Not recognizing or changing parenting techniques that aren't working is almost as big of a problem as not trying to fix problems in the first place. For instance, you may think that time-out is an effective form of discipline, but if you have to use it each day to correct the same problem or behavior, then it is not effective for your child.

Or, if your bedtime routine involves your child repeatedly getting out of bed, stretches out to an hour, and leaves you frustrated and your child tired the next morning, then you likely need a new way to help your child go to bed. Talk to a healthcare provider or a mental health professional if what you are trying is not working and you are not sure what to do next.

Failing to Lead by Example

Children look to models in their environment to learn what is acceptable and what isn’t, says Dr. Guarnotta. Because children are exposed to their parents the most, leading by example is very important.

Being a good role model also allows kids to learn positive behaviors. For instance, it is beneficial for kids to see healthy communication and conflict resolution skills in action.

"When parents lead with positive and healthy behaviors, children learn how to handle challenges or stressful situations with good coping skills," says Dr. Gulotta. "They also learn positive interpersonal skills and how to interact with others."

Fighting Your Child's Battles

While there are some situations where parents should step in to help their child navigate conflict, always fighting a child’s battles keeps them from learning how to interact with others, says Dr. Guarnotta.

With young children, parents should model how to handle conflict and assert themselves. But as kids get older, parents should gradually encourage children to take on more conflict resolution, she adds.

"When parents fight their children’s battles it teaches them that they do not have a voice," Dr. Gulotta says. "Children should be encouraged to be direct and assertive in a positive way. This helps them to create their own healthy boundaries with others."

Rescuing Your Child Before They Make Mistakes

It’s normal to want to protect your children from the pain of making mistakes, but children need to make mistakes to learn and grow. Mistakes are an opportunity to reevaluate what you did and what you could do differently in the future and to take responsibility, says Dr. Guarnotta. These are important skills.

"Constantly rescuing your children keeps them from learning in this way," she adds. "It may also cause children to develop unhealthy beliefs about themselves."

It can impact their resilience as well as their development of emotional and self-soothing skills, Dr. Gulotta adds. They also can start to struggle with low self-confidence and a fear of failure if you are consistently rescuing them or not allowing them to make mistakes.

Failing to Listen to Your Child

When listening to your child, you are validating their thoughts and feelings. Listening also shows your child that they are important to you and helps to build a stronger connection between you, says Dr. Gulotta. Listening attentively to your child helps them develop a healthy self-concept as well as showing them that listening to others is important.

"When parents do not listen, children may feel dismissed and have self-esteem issues," she adds. "Children may grow up feeling they never live up to anyone’s approval and live in constant state of feeling like a disappointment."

A Word From Verywell

Most parents enter their parenting journey with the goal of being the best parents they can be. But despite how hard they try, they are going to stumble along the way. The key is recognizing that parenting is a constantly evolving journey that requires adaptation.

By recognizing common parenting mistakes and trying to address them before they become an issue, you can ensure that you becoming the most effective parent you can be. The first step is often to be open and flexible enough to recognize when you need to take a different direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which parenting style is most effective?

    According to one study, having authoritative parents is associated with the most favorable outcomes among children. For instance, kids with authoritative parents have more psychosocial competence, resilience, optimism, self-reliance, social competence, and self-esteem. They also have higher academic achievement.

  • What is the difference between authoritative and authoritarian parenting?

    Authoritative parents tend to create close, nurturing relationships with their children. They also establish clear guidelines and explain their reasons for discipline. With this type of parenting, children can offer input and there is frequent communication between the parent and their child.

    Meanwhile, authoritarian parents tend to establish strict rules with little room for negotiation. There also may not be adequate explanations, yet kids are expected to uphold high standards and not make mistakes. Authoritarian parents are typically less nurturing with high expectations and very little flexibility.

  • What are the most effective discipline strategies?

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics there are at least 10 strategies that are effective in disciplining your child. These include setting limits, giving consequences, time-outs, redirection, catching them being good, hearing them out, being prepared, giving them attention, and knowing when to respond. Effective discipline also involves teaching kids right from wrong with calm words and modeling appropriate behavior in your own life.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Kuppens S, Ceulemans E. Parenting styles: A closer look at a well-known conceptJ Child Fam Stud. 2019;28(1):168-181. doi:10.1007/s10826-018-1242-x

  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Types of parenting styles and their effects on children.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. What is the best way to discipline my child?.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.