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Biggest Pre K Parenting Mistakes

No parent is perfect.  We all make mistakes from time to time . . . daily, actually.  We want to be watchful for mistakes and try to correct them so that we can parent better over time.  Here are some of the biggest and most common mistakes we make when parenting pre-k kids.

  1. Inconsistent rules and accountability.  Kids need consistency and accountability.  They need to be able to understand their world, what is expected of them in their society, and how their behaviors affect others.  If a given behavior is inappropriate some times and not others, we need to provide an explanation to help our kids understand the distinction.  For example, “It’s ok to walk barefoot in our yard.  Our home and yard are our own spaces, and we can choose what is acceptable in our own spaces.  However, when we visit the grocery store, we are in someone else’s space.  They have the right to choose what is acceptable in their space.  They have chosen that it’s not ok to go barefoot in their grocery store.  They have good reasons for their choice:  if you go barefoot on their floor, then others can too, and then you may get athlete’s foot and other stuff.  It’s considered unsanitary to go barefoot in the grocery store, and it’s not proper behavior in our society.  We need to respect the boundaries others set in their spaces, just like we expect others to respect the boundaries we set in our own spaces.”  If we do not explain why a given behavior is inappropriate some times and not others, rules and accountability will appear random and meaningless.  Confusion and insecurity will be the near-term result.  Fear and anxiety can also result, as kids do not know what behaviors may trigger parental disapproval.  Ultimately, our kids may come to distrust us and may develop rebellious behavior.
  2. Not balancing “kids will be kids” with appropriate behavioral expectations.  As parents, we don’t want to be task-masters.  We want to allow our kids to be kids, to have fun, to goof off, not to have to be on their best behavior at all times.  However, we also want to teach our kids appropriate behavioral expectations.  Those two goals can, at times, seem mutually exclusive.  In actuality, they are a balancing act, and it boils down to a matter of boundaries.  Referring back to the scenario in #1 above, our kids can have their “kids will be kids” moment by running barefoot in our own yard, and they should observe societal rules governing appropriate behavior by wearing shoes when entering the grocery store.  If we don’t allow our kids to have kids-will-be-kids moments, they will come to feel excessively controlled and restricted; they will rebel.  If we don’t teach our kids appropriate behavioral expectations, they will struggle to “fit in” to a society that they do not understand.  Neither outcome is desirable, so balancing “kids will be kids” with appropriate behavioral expectations is a parenting best practice.
  3. Setting expectations too high or too low.  We may look at our kids and think, “Our kids are awesome!  They can do anything they set their mind to doing!”  With that in mind, we may push them to achieve.  In the alternative, we may look at our kids and think, “Our kids are ‘just kids’.  They can’t or shouldn’t have to perform __________ task or achieve _______ goal.”   With that in mind, we create for them the perception that they are not capable or that they are entitled to under-performance.  By setting expectations appropriately (neither too high nor too low), we can help our kids explore and realize their capabilities and become responsible for performing fully within their capabilities.
  4. Not teaching skills that will be needed in subsequent years.  As we look at our pre-k kids, we may wonder if it is really useful for these little ones to know how to dine out appropriately.    While fine dining (as opposed to dining out in a fast food restaurant) may not be a common experience for the pre-k set, teaching our pre-k kids the skills needed for fine dining prepares them for the experience when it does happen.  As with many life skills, we need to begin teaching our kids long before the skills are most useful.  The knowledge that thus accumulates over time becomes first nature to our kids, and they develop a comfort with it.  Kids who are thrust into the rules of fine dining at the 11th hour will find the rules nerve-wracking, restricting, and uncomfortable.
  5. Focusing on near-term goals almost to the exclusion of long-term goals.  Parents are busy.  Sometimes, we don’t have the time or energy to get past today’s to-do list, much less contemplate how our actions will affect our kids 15 years down the road.  However, if we do not use long-term goals as our compass, we just may end up navigating to an unintended destination.  Near-term goals need to be attended to; these include getting the kids to eat nutritious meals, to bed on time, etc.   However, we cannot so focus on near-term goals that we fail to consider long-term goals, such as preparing our kids for, among other things, healthy adult relationships and professional success (by “professional”, we mean “in the occupation that suits the child involved, which may or may not be an occupation requiring an advanced college degree). 
  6. Inappropriate consequences for misbehavior.  Consequences for misbehavior need to be proportionate and appropriate.  This helps our kids understand the magnitude (or lack thereof) of their misbehavior.  For example, if we give our kids a time-out for minor misbehaviors, send them to their rooms for moderate misbehaviors (including repeated minor misbehaviors of a similar nature), and ground them for more major misbehaviors, our kids will come to understand that some behaviors are more problematic than others.  If we sporadically and randomly over-react to minor misbehaviors and under-react to major misbehaviors, our kids will become confused about the expectations being set for them.  See the consequences for this as explained in #1 above.  Additionally, there are some consequences that are always inappropriate in our culture.  For example, it is always inappropriate in our culture to strike a child.  It is always inappropriate to go on a tirade and yell at a child, publicly deride the child, or criticize the child’s character.  Regarding the latter point, what we are redirecting is the child’s behavior, not the child’s character.  Parents must validate their kids as lovable and valuable human beings who are imperfect, as all humans are. 
  7. Not leading by example.  Our kids learn from hearing us speak about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.  Our kids also learn by watching our behaviors.  If we say one thing and do another, our kids become confused about the differing standards of conduct.  See #1 above for the consequences in this situation.  If we tell our kids that pitching fits is unacceptable . . . that we expect them to remain calm and rational when they are upset . . . then we must model this desired behavior for them so that they can see how the desired behavior manifests and they can trust that we are being genuine with them (i.e., that we are who we imply that we are when we espouse a given set of behavioral expectations).

Because the errors above are common, almost all of us, as parents, will exhibit these errors from time to time.  After all, parents are human and are therefore imperfect.   We should strive to minimize our errors, both in terms of frequency and severity.  Our kids are depending on us to do our best for them.  They deserve no less.

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