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The Mistake Good Parents Keep Making

You’re a good parent. A conscientious parent. You work at it; you care about it (and your kids) deeply. Yet you (and many others) keep making this mistake, and it costs you, and your kids.

What is it, you wonder?It’s pushing your kids outside their comfort zones and/or past their natural limits, and then being surprised (or frustrated, or aggravated) when things don’t go well.

An example of this with a toddler or preschooler is that you disrupt their usual routines (for example, skipping or shortening nap, going out when they’re used to staying home, etc.), and then you run into problems that you somehow failed to anticipate. The problem isn’t that you disrupted routines; it’s that you failed to anticipate the potential outcome. You somehow didn’t see the meltdown coming.

With older children, it probably won’t be a full meltdown. It’s likely to be something more subtle. They might be uncooperative, or surly. They might be passive-aggressive or spiteful.

Again, the problem isn’t that you pulled them out of a routine or a comfort zone. It’s that you did so while failing to anticipate what could result. You got annoyed with them, instead of being emotionally prepared yourself for the potential fallout of your own decisions.

Sometimes we blame our children when really, it comes down to us. It can be easy to think, “I’m the parent here, I make the decisions,” and yes, that’s true. You can make your child do a whole lot of things. But you can’t make them do it with a good attitude. Nor should you, because that’s just an unfair expectation.

Think of it this way: You have a lot of power, but the power your child has is to push back–to register their displeasure by making the task unpleasant for you. And it’s natural that they want to exert that power, the same as you wanted to exert yours.

You might be thinking: I didn’t make them do things because I wanted the power; I made them do it because it was necessary, because parenting is about making children do things at times for their own good, sometimes against their will.

You’re right. But put yourself in your child’s shoes, and think how disruptions feel to them. Think how it feels to have your desires overruled (kids are find it developmentally difficult to imagine that long-term good trumps short-term gratification.) If you take their point of view right from the start, you’ll have an easier time–trying to make the changes easier on them, but also being empathetic, explaining your reasoning, and otherwise enlisting your child’s cooperation.

Sure, you can get a lot of things done without cooperation, but how fun is that for either of you?

Yes, I know, a lot of things in life aren’t fun; they’re necessary. But how well did you accept that idea when you were five, or ten, or even fifteen?

It’s important to teach our children adaptability, but we do that through recognizing that our children are people, not drones, and showing respect for their feelings, even the negative ones. Let your child complain, let them feel heard, let them drag their feet sometimes, let them have some influence over the situation, let them come up with their own suggestions of how to make a task less onerous and more fun. You’ll both benefit.

Child having a tantrum photo available from Shutterstock

The Mistake Good Parents Keep Making

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2015). The Mistake Good Parents Keep Making. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Oct 2015
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