5 Toxic Parenting Behaviors That Ruin Your Kid’s Confidence

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child covering her ears

Parenting is a series of twists and turns. 

As parents of five children, we are aware that all five are completely different. If we follow Mr. Rogers' mindset, all of our kids would be considered special. Unicorns.

But what if we look at the scientifically and examine the disparate parts of each of them that reveal their individuality? And what if we, instead of comparing them with their brothers and sisters, embraced their separateness and originality?

Knowing the reason why parents compare siblings is essential to understand so that conscious preventative measures can be put into place.

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No matter if you're a two-parent household, single-parent, or blended family (where remarriage brings same-age and gender kids to the family unit), keeping parental minds clear and confident is daunting.

Comparing brothers and sisters with each other seems to sneak in amid the laundry piles, food-smudged breakfast plates, and the witnessing of freshly-attired children in the school carpool line.

Often, parents compare their offspring with each other in addition to their children's cousins and peers.

And the only source of comparison for parents of one child is outside of the family nucleus. "Comparenting" occurs at the bus stop, the soccer fields, the office, on social media, and at social gatherings.

Parents compare because we all compare.

Comparison is wired into our biological brains. Our minds are continually working to sort and problem-solve. Unfortunately, comparison is a tactic used to logically make decisions and gain value in our lives.

And comparing our children — those treasured beings whom we love most in the world — not only leads to sibling rivalry but also gives comparison a whole lot of power in how we make meaning in our lives.

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Here are five toxic parenting behaviors that ruin a child's confidence:

1. Sending subliminal messages

Building confidence in kids can be tricky. Kids can see through the veil of authenticity and truth…your truth. These silent messages are sent unwittingly.

The dad on the soccer field smiles and cheers when his kid’s best friend steals the ball and breaks away down the field. At the end of the game, he tussles his kid’s damp head, and says, “Good game, Colin.”

Only Colin knows — and feels — that that is empty praise because he witnessed his dad cheering for Jason, his best friend.

To combat this, develop a conscious awareness of your behavior when your kid is in a group of their peers. Even though your stomach lurches a bit when the same (other) kid is also lauded for being the valedictorian, MVP, and community service winner, resist the dangerous urge to compare.

Pause and redirect your own inner thoughts to the blocked kick on goal that Colin masterfully executed, and praise the heck out of that.

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2. Matching your child's energy

Your kids pick up on your positive — and negative — energy. If one child is more outgoing than their sibling, a parent with the same energy type may respond more fluidly and animatedly than to the child who is more reserved.

The quieter child could erroneously perceive this "lessened energy" as less loving.

To stay aware of your kids' energy type, know the Myers Briggs and the personality preferences of your children.

When you have this knowledge, you can adapt and even customize your responses to your child, which will open a deep and loving connection for all of you.

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3. Giving empty compliments

When a child overhears their parent gush to another adult about their pride in another sibling’s accomplishment and there are crickets when the parent has gone through all of the children except one.

Wracking their brain to find something worthwhile to mention to their friend, they come up with a generic three-word platitude like "Kylie is great."

And then the parent immediately shifts the conversation.

To avoid empty compliments, pick three things about your child that you find amazing to remind yourself and others of why you are so proud and inspired by your child. Repeat often.

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4. Embracing their individuality

This is one of the most damaging questions a parent can ask their child. Not only does it lay a thick foundation for low self-worth for your child, it can also evoke resentment and even contempt toward the sibling.

To avoid making unrealistic comparisons, be "positivity spotters." Practice in a mirror, if you have to, but never utter these five words: "Why can’t you be like … ?"

Instead, replace these five words with these five: "I’m so proud of you …"

Embrace the individuality of your children and others (whether cousins or peers), and talk openly about the uniqueness of your children, without labels or judgments.

Be an "attribute detective" and celebrate your children’s uniqueness.

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5. Avoiding displaying age and gender bias

Many parents do not realize that they project age and gender prejudices on their offspring. Birth order and gender should have no bearing on family harmony. Yet, often, age and gender threaten to dismantle a family’s well-being.

For example, the baby of the family might think: "If I were the firstborn, Mom or Dad wouldn't place these comparisons on me." Or, "I can’t possibly do what William III accomplished, so I won’t even try."

Or, your firstborn son might say, "Lexi gets away with everything because she's a girl."

To stay neutral regarding age and gender make a parenting plan that you will follow, where you have outlined the healthy structures you want in your family life, and also, read up on birth order. Understand where you might be projecting your own assumptions and judgments on your children.

Be aware of gender inequities, where devaluation and deprivation occur.

Education and awareness is the first step to thwarting comparison weeds from overtaking your family’s figurative garden.

Building self-esteem and confidence in all your kids means recognizing the strengths of each child and tapping into what makes them shine. 

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Poppy and Geoff Spencer, M.S., CPC, are certified counselors, nationally syndicated writers, and relationship and parenting experts, certified in Myers Briggs (personality). Poppy and Geoff are a highly-credentialed husband and wife team who have made it their life’s passion to help people immediately identify and address communication barriers. 

This article was originally published at Poppy and Geoff's website. Reprinted with permission from the author.