The worst part is: You probably think you're helping.
We all want to do what's best for our child, and between TV, social media, mommy blogs, doctors, teachers and the Internet, there's no shortage of parenting advice out there. However, it turns out that some of the most intuitive concepts many parents take for granted are wrong.
1. You answer your child's questions.
How many times have you heard the cliché saying that children are naturally curious? Indeed, anyone who's raised a first-grader is all too familiar with that never-ending stream of Whats, Whys and Hows. While it can be tiring, most parents embrace these questions as a chance to teach their children by answering their questions about plants, animals, cars, toilets, Mrs. Watkin's birthmark, and whatever else pops into their hungry little minds.
Resist the temptation to answer their questions! Instead, redirect the question back to your child: "That's a great question, Ruby! What's your hypothesis? What do you think that truck is for? Why do you think that? What evidence did you use to come up with your hypothesis?"
Use this as a chance to teach your child how to think. Teach them how to look for evidence. Teach them how to test out their ideas. Teach them that it's OK not to get the "right" answer on your first try.
If your child needs help, walk them through the process. Encourage them to use sequence words: "What is the first thing you would have to do to find out if you're right? What's the second thing? Then what? What else would you need to do? What other clues can you look for?"
The ability to solve problems will make them more intelligent than the ability to listen to you answer their questions. Plus, chances are, you'll be astounded by their creativity.
2. You hire a tutor.
All the other parents are doing it, so you should too, right? Wrong! As I wrote in 4 Reasons a Tutor is the WORST Thing You Can Do For Your Kid, tutors cause your child's confidence to plummet. It teaches them dependence. It prevents them from learning valuable life skills, like time management, autonomy and accountability.
It stunts your child's resilience and coping skills. And it can even diminish the joy they feel at a job well done. After all, they didn't do it on their own. Someone walked them through it every step of the way.
It's fine for your child to get a B, or even a C. If they genuinely seem to be struggling in a class, that might be a sign they need a little extra help. But if you hire them tutors when they're already doing just fine, you send your child a powerful message: I don't believe in you. I don't think you can do it on your own. You don't need to work hard to solve the problem.
What you should be telling them is, "If you ask for extra help, I'll find a way to support you. But I'm going to let you work on it on your own first, because I know you can do it."
3. You're hyper-vigilant about making sure your kids don't get hurt.
If parents aren't hovering constantly over their child at the playground, holding their child's hand and guiding them through "play" time, they're watching very closely nearby, shouting:
"Not too fast!"
"Not too high!"
"Not so rough!"
"Put the stick down!"
If this sounds like you, you need to pause. Take a breath. Remind yourself that playgrounds are designed for children. Unless there's something very dangerous in the vicinity, like a freeway running through the middle of the sandbox, the odds of your child getting hurt are extremely small.
According to statistics, serious playground injuries — and especially playground deaths — are exceedingly rare. In fact, fewer than 13 children die per year on playgrounds, and among those, runaway motorcycles or equally freakish, unpredictable, unpreventable horrors are the cause of death.
And minor injuries are just that: minor. In fact, research suggests that our minor childhood injuries are actually really important for our mental health. Research by Ellen Sandseter found that kids who spent more time exploring on their own before the age of nine were less likely to have anxiety and separation issues as adults. Likewise, kids who got hurt falling from heights when they were between five and nine years old were less likely to be afraid of heights at age 18.
Our minor injuries actually give us confidence. They teach us what our limits are. They help us develop body awareness, so we're less likely to get seriously hurt in the future. If you constantly hover over your child, you teach them that they need you. You teach them to be dependent, and you preventing them from learning what it's like to fall, and how to avoid getting hurt when they're on their own.
4. You help out with homework.
You're not a tutor, so it's OK for you to help your child with their homework, right? WRONG. When you help your child with their homework, you teach them many of the same lessons they'd learn if you hired them a tutor: I don't believe in you. I don't think you can do it on your own. You don't need to work hard to solve the problem.
What can you do instead? Ask your child great questions about what they're learning about in school. Ask them what's their favorite subject, and why. Ask them who their favorite teacher is, and why. Then look for books, toys, kits, museums and other non-academic ways to support their interests. Some of the most valuable learning happens outside the classroom, when the child thinks they're "playing."
5. You stress "perfect attendance."
If your kid's sick, they shouldn't be in school. It's bad for them and it spreads the disease. And if an interesting learning opportunity comes up that conflicts with school, it might be something worth missing school for. Or, in the words of Jack Rossi (who received this note after his kids missed a few days of school last spring):
Dear Madam Principal,
While I appreciate your concern for our children's education, I can promise you they learned as much in the five days we were in Boston as they would in an entire year in school. Our children had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that can't be duplicated in a classroom or read in a book.
In the three days of school they missed (which consisted of standardized testing that they could take any time) they learned about dedication, commitment, love, perseverance, overcoming adversity, civic pride, patriotism, American history culinary arts and physical education.
Next time you're thinking about taking your kid out of school for a day, remember this.
Parents, what do you want your child to get out of their education, and what do you do to help?