Even the most wonderful parents can benefit from taking a critical look at themselves in the mirror every now and then. You are a model for your kids in every sense of the word, and there are several common parenting pitfalls you should guard against:

Are you a 5-alarm parent?

Watch how you react to daily stressors, and try to be the example of a calm and cool character yourself. Kids will develop anxiety issues if you’re constantly overreacting to everything: “Can you believe this traffic?” “We’ll never get there on time!” “Oh my God, can you believe he did that?” “You spilled your juice, are you kidding me!”

The result of constantly sounding the siren like this is that it gives a child the message that every little setback is an emergency. And since kids also feed off your anxiety, this conditions them towards overreaction and anxiety problems themselves.

Are you judgmental?

Watch the judgments you make in your everyday life, especially when children are around. It doesn’t matter whether it’s directed at people you know or some figure or person seen on TV, the more judgmental you are towards others, the more intolerant and quick to judge children will become. This not only impacts their social relationships, but people who are quick to judge others tend to turn the same harsh criticism against themselves. Judgmental people experience more stress, and when others wrong them, they are more likely to experience lingering pain, because they interpret those actions to be harsher and more sinister in nature than they actually are.

Children are learning about judgment by observing the manner in which you condemn, judge, or ridicule others for what you perceive as their flawed behavior. If throughout these instances you can forego condemnation and model a healthier approach, you’ll be giving kids a valuable gift for the future.

  • Make a distinction between abhorring hurtful actions and condemning the imperfect people who commit them.
  • When the opportunity to condemn arises, rather than passing judgment, instead use that opportunity to talk about how everyone sees things differently and how people most frequently hurt others because they are imperfect people who make mistakes, not because they are bad or evil. Don’t judge the person in question, discuss what they might have been thinking.
  • Talk about how we all make mistakes, each person in their own unique ways.
  • Watch the statements you make when angry. Rather than proclaiming “what a stupid thing to do” when someone makes a mistake, say something like “I can’t imagine what he was thinking” or “that was rather careless behavior.”

Be conscientious of the way you and other adults resolve conflict around the kids

Children’s emotional regulatory abilities are forged by how parents resolve conflict. (Katz & Gottman, 1993) In homes where conflict is expressed constructively and resolutions occur, children learn valuable lessons in handling conflict. (Davies & Cummings, 1994) In homes where it isn’t, children suffer the effects of this far into the future.

This doesn’t mean that you never argue or have disputes. It simply means that when conflicts do arise, you do your best to resolve the situation in a productive way:

  1. No shouting or name-calling.
  2. Talking openly to each other about what you feel and what is upsetting you.
  3. Resolving disputes in a back and forth discussion that works towards a solution, and doing so without sulking, withdrawing, or engaging in passive-aggressive behavior for days.
  4. Working to respect the other person’s needs or desires, even if you don’t agree with them.

Is your attention divided?

Limit your own technology use when around kids. Just as it’s been shown that texting while driving can be lethal, multitasking with technology while parenting is not only dangerous, but it vastly reduces your quality of parenting. “Parents have to really listen to children,” points out psychologist Mary Alvord. “If you are always multitasking, it’s not the same kind of listening.” Moreover, jumping up to constantly answer your cell phone or respond to a text message “suggests to the kids that your iphone is a higher priority than they are.” (Helmich, 5-30-2012)

Model self-control

Exercise delayed gratification, handle your own disappointments with grace, and emphasize how good you feel when you played but didn’t win. Talk about what you might like to have but are foregoing. Modeling these behaviors in real life teaches children an awful lot about how to cope with disappointments themselves.