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7 ways parents harm their children without even realizing it.

7 ways parents harm their children without even realizing it. August 3, 2014

As a parent, I “blow it” pretty much everyday in some way. Sometimes it’s when I lose my temper and yell at the kids. Other times, it’s when I burp out loud at the dinner table right after I’ve scolded one of my boys for doing the same thing.

With most of my parenting blunders, I’m instantly aware of the mistake which gives me the opportunity to apologize and try to correct it, but I’ve found that some of the most dangerous parenting mistakes aren’t obvious. They’re subtle and stealthy. This makes them even more dangerous, because we can go on doing them for years without even realizing we’re harming our kids in the process!

As I worked with families from all walks of life, I’m convinced that the list below represents some of the most common and most destructive parenting mistakes. I’m not writing this as an “expert,” but just as a Dad who is in the trenches of parenthood and desperately trying to get this right for the sake of my kids and future generations of my family.

If you’re a parent too, let’s commit to stopping these behaviors and being the best we can be for our kids!

Dave Willis Ashley Willis family kids

This is my family: Ashley, Cooper, Connor, Chandler and a baby on the way! The picture is black and white, but in real life, we’re in color. 🙂

(In no particular order)

1. Subtle dishonesty.

Kids are human lie detectors, and we can’t teach them the value of honesty and integrity when we’re willing to be dishonest. One of the most common examples of this is when parents will lie about their child’s age right in front of their son or daughter just to save a few bucks on a kids’ meal or theme park admission ticket. Saving those few extra bucks will cost you a huge amount in the long run with the negative lessons you’re teaching your child about “selective honesty.”

2. Emotional sabotage. 

It’s easy to fly-off-the-handle when one of our children isn’t listening or when they’re being careless or disobedient. Sometimes we’ll even use our emotions just to get a reaction from our kids. This is dangerous, because when we can’t control our emotional reactions to our children, we’re teaching our children that THEY are in control of our emotions (instead of teaching them that WE are in control of our own emotions). This can create  a longterm pattern of emotional dysfunction in the home.

3. The Comparison Trap.

In an attempt to encourage or correct our children, we might point out the example of another child (often a sibling) as a reference point. While this is usually a harmless attempt to bring context to the situation, most children won’t see past the comparison. This can subconsciously train children not to be the best they can be, but rather to find a way to simply “seem better” than their peers and siblings.

For tools to help you build a stronger marriage and family, you can check out my new book “The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships” (by clicking here).

Dave Willis quote seven laws of love #7lawsoflove book relationships

4. Guilty gifts.

In our culture (I’m writing from an American perspective), we’ve developed a bad habit of buying our kids’ affection with gifts. When we’ve made a mistake or had to work late, we’re much more likely to repay the relational debt with money. This cycle can teach our kids to be materialistic and to see love as a transactional relationship which can be manipulated by money. We all know (or should know) that real love is something much more valuable than that.

5. Putting the happiness of your children ahead of the health of your marriage.

Many couples won’t even go on a Date Night because they’re afraid the children will cry, so to pacify the kids, they never invest in their relationship with each other. Ironically, many of these kids end up crying anyways after divorce rips the family in two. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is the security that comes from seeing their parents in a loving, committed marriage.

For a HUGE collection of tools to help you build a stronger marriage, you can download our new Marriage App for iPhones and iPads by clicking here. A Facebook login is required to access the app.

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6. Digital babysitters.

I’ve been guilty of this one a lot. In our technology-driven world, it’s easy to plop the kids down in front of a screen so we can get some stuff done. In small doses, this is okay, but it can develop into a dangerous habit where we’re delegating our most sacred duty to TV shows and video games to raise our kids for us. For more on this, check out my post on How to be the biggest influence in your kids’ lives.

7. Hiding your flaws.

We all want our kids to see us as superheroes who never make mistakes, but our kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for authenticity. When you’ve blown it, own it! Use it as a teaching moment. Remember that God is the only “Perfect Parent” and His Grace has got you covered on those moments when you mess up (and we all have plenty of those moments)!

For more tools to help you become a better spouse and parent, check out my newest book “The 7 Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships” and you can also download our new Marriage App on iTunes by clicking here.

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