Parents teach you a lot, and sometimes those lessons you’d prefer not to pass on to your own children. Maybe they were emotionally or physically distant during your childhood. Perhaps your parents played favorites with your siblings or they were overly critical or lenient with you.
Parenting has long-term effects that last into adulthood. Still, you aren’t necessarily doomed to repeat your parents’ mistakes. Julaine Brent, a developmental psychologist from the Psychology Foundation of Canada, says changing learned behaviors takes awareness.
“A difficult childhood doesn’t mean that you are bound to re-create negative interactions with your own children,” writes Brent. “But it takes self-understanding, an inside-out approach to parenting, to break the negative patterns of family interactions from being passed down through the generations.”
For men in particular, taking fatherhood in a different direction than what they grew up with can be daunting. Here are a few parenting tips for avoiding making the same mistakes your parents made raising you.
Treat yourself kindly.
Children notice and copy what you do, so try your best to practice good self-care. Good habits like regularly seeing a doctor, maintaining your mental health, working out and getting enough sleep empower you to feel well and provide the best care you can get.
Avoid dropping negative comments and generalizations about yourself, especially in front of your children. Let them see you work through problems. Breaking habits is hard. Celebrate your successes vocally.
Praise and critique behavior, not people.
Your feedback for your child should reflect what they do, rather than who they are as a person. Consider telling a child who’s quick on the playground, “You run fast,” instead of, “You are a good athlete.”
Communicate clear expectations.
Have well defined rules and consequences for breaking them. Follow through on those consequences if the rules aren’t followed. Reward good behaviors. This will show that a parent’s attention comes from positive actions, not negative ones. This also sets children up for success, reduces any anxiety, and gives them the validation they need to feel confident in themselves. Try using phrases such as ‘I like it when your voice is a little more quiet’ and not ‘Stop being so loud.’
Be gracious with yourself.
When you’re stuck asking yourself, “Am I becoming my father?” it can be helpful to remember you are a distinct individual in charge of your own parenting choices. You aren’t your parents. You aren’t your children. You’re you. Furthermore, pay close attention to what criticisms and praises you give your kids, making sure you aren’t living vicariously through them.
Educate yourself on human development.
You know your child best, but keeping on your knowledge of developmental stages will help you know how to administer discipline and praise. As “How to Build Your Baby’s Brain” author Gail Gross notes, toddlers don’t understand time very well. In turn, toddlers might not benefit from a long-lasting punishment where they forget what they did wrong as more time passes.
Reflect on your own childhood.
Noticing the patterns you’ve picked up from your parents is the first step to breaking habits in your own parenting. The Psychology Foundation of Canada asks parents to consider what they liked and disliked about how they were parented, as well as how their relationships with their own parents have evolved over the years.
Use “trigger” thoughts and “anchor” actions.
What does your ideal fatherhood look like? Pick a thought that inspires you to be a good parent, and go back to it often. For example, think back to a teacher who boosted your confidence back in school. Hold on to that good feeling, and try to invoke it in your own parenting.
Reassure your child that everything is OK with an “anchor” action. This is something you do to show they’re still safe when things are getting tense, like touching them on the shoulder or speaking a comforting phrase.
Parenting doesn’t have to be done alone. For those with partners, establish a signal that shows you need a break in any particular situation, so they can take parenting control.
Reconsider what discipline entails.
Spanking has been linked to increased violence in children, as well as behavior problems as they grow. Seriously consider replacing corporal punishment with time-outs or other non-physical discipline. Discipline and punishment are different. Discipline should be an opportunity to learn from the natural consequences of a behavior, not encouragement to not get caught next time. Get more tips about compassionate discipline here.
Let go of binary thinking.
There’s no right or wrong way to parent, and even decisions that seem to have negative outcomes often have something positive to offer . Know that even the best parents make frequent mistakes. Take parenting day by day. Every day and every situation is new, and you and your family are learning together. Take the time to connect and strategize with your family members, and know that you can support each other during tough times as long as you remain honest and empathetic.
Still struggling with skills.
Chances are your physician has raised or is raising children of their own. They are a great resource for discussions about child rearing and developmental milestones. They always have a strong interest in keeping you in touch with good skills that will help your child grow into a healthy adult.