We all try to be the best parents we can be. But even the most well-intentioned among us doesn’t get it exactly right all of the time. So we asked our childhood development experts at SeedlingsGroup to share some of the most common (and innocent) ways parents can negatively affect their children’s behavior—without even realizing it.

1.    Clapping every time your baby achieves some small goal. Praise the process, not the outcome. Raising a child to be aware only of the value of a successful outcome is likely to extinguish natural achievement motivation and a joy of learning.

2.    Overusing “No!” to correct a baby’s behavior. We all tend to overuse the word “no,” causing it to lose its value. “No” should be reserved for dangerous situations, so that your child knows you really mean it. Instead, start telling your child what you would like her to do, instead of what you don’t. That’s how learning takes place.

3.    Entertaining competitive parenting thoughts. It happens to the best of us. You go on a play date with your 20-month-old and notice that his playmate knows his colors! On the way home, you buy every flashcard, cue card, color card you can find and begin a crash course in colors with your toddler. Nothing like flashcards or a stressed out parent to take away the joy of learning from a child. Kids learn best through play and real-world learning (e.g., finding different color leaves at the park). Don’t let your parenting anxieties get the best of you.

4.    Talking so much that babies can’t focus on words. We know that face-to-face interaction, speaking, reading, and labeling nurture our children’s language development. But that doesn’t mean that we have to narrate entire days. When it comes to language, remember the rule, “last word in, first word out.”  Children have to be able to hear the word, see how your lips move to form the word, and connect the word to the item (e.g., cup).

5.    Using products to speed up gross motor development. Some people swear by walkers or jumpers to speed up gross motor development. But in actuality, they don’t turn crawlers into walkers any faster than nature does. In fact, they build muscles not critical for walking, and can even be dangerous (if they tip over or topple down stairs).

6.    Using punishment to change bad behavior.  Even though you may feel like punishment works, it usually only curbs the behavior temporarily. As your child adapts to your punishment, unwanted behaviors tend to return faster.  The best way to get your child to do what you want is to reward desired behaviors with praise and positive attention, while ignoring minor misbehaviors. Always remember that attention promotes behavior (whatever behavior that may be!).    

7.     Not considering your baby’s unique temperament. Some babies immediately love to swing. Others may find swinging scary at first. If you force your child into a situation you assume should be fun or educational, without taking her temperament into consideration, you’ll end up exacerbating her fears and causing what eventually could be pleasurable to remain aversive.

8.    Finishing tasks for your child.
It can be frustrating to watch your child try to fit a piece into a puzzle or construct a tower out of blocks, to no avail. But if you demonstrate the correct way to do it, or do the task entirely, your child won’t learn to master frustration tolerance or be motivated to stick with a task in the future.

9.    Believing background noise is stimulating or beneficial. Even mild background noise at home (television, radio, children playing) can impair a baby’s ability to pick up language. Babies need to see the face of the person talking, and are easily distracted when the background noise is at the same sound level as the person speaking.  

10.    Giving attention to limit testing and minor misbehaviors (e.g., whining).
What we see as being manipulative is often just our children’s tendency toward misbehavior that we may have accidently reinforced (by giving it attention). Instead, the trick is to focus on what you want your child to do, rather than to waste all of your energy and angst on what you want your child to stop doing.  Start catching your child being good, and pay attention to that!

—Photograph by JellyBean Pictures