If parenting becomes a mission to control children, then it is a red flag, warns Dr Aarti Bakshi.
It was the day of the PTM (parent-teacher meeting at school).
Ayush and Adi were siblings. Their parents expected a lot from both. Post the meetings, they realised their younger child Adi had not fared well.
The tirade began even before they reached home -- how disappointed they were, how Adi should learn something from his brother, how he had wasted their money, how careless he was and how he would not be allowed to interact with his friends or have TV privileges.
"You will be able to do nothing in life. At your age we did not have so many opportunities as you. You are ungrateful. We are ashamed of you," his parents screamed.
Adi could not control his tears. When he reached home, he rushed to his room and sobbed.
Is this how you would react, or have reacted, in a similar situation?
Some might feel the parents were right and lack of accountability spoils children. Others might feel a parent's choice of words, attitude and upbringing impacts the child's personality.
For the parents themselves, the issue is a challenging one.
We have courses that teach you how to become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. But no matter how many parenting books you read, it's only when you hold your newborn in your hands that you start learning -- and the lessons are lifelong -- how to be a parent.
There are no courses that teach parents the right way to behave or react in a given situation.
Parental love is important. It does not, or should not, change; it should be absolute. Their love is what helps a child build relationship skills and strong friendships.
Mutual trust, respect and a psychological safety net that the parent provides helps shape the parent-child relationship.
Which is why there are certain red flags every parent should try and avoid:
1. Criticism, humiliation, belittling words and tone
Your words matter but the right communication matters more.
The tone of your voice and your body language is as important as the words you choose.
Ensure your child knows that you love them, no matter what.
Children always want your approval.
When your child misbehaves or makes a mistake, you must reinforce that they aren’t bad; they simply made a bad decision.
Discipling a child is a slow process; consistency is key.
Decide your top two priorities in parenting and stick to it.
Let’s say you have rules about the amount of studies to be done in a day and about the time spent at play.
It would help both you and your child if you have a schedule. Let it include time for fun, for spending time with friends and doing nothing too.
2. Authoritative communication
Authoritative or one-way communication and not asking for your young child's opinion on decisions is another common mistake.
For example, try asking your child if s/he would like to choose between spending time with his/her cousins or watching a movie as a family.
They might choose to spend time with their cousins.
However, by giving them a choice, you have let them know they are important members of the family and their opinion counts.
If you choose how your child should live every moment of their life, then tantrums in childhood and revolts or backchats as they grow up is going to be their defense mechanism.
3. Don’t compare children
Every child is unique and develops at their own unique rate.
They all have special talents and traits. If your daughter has no rhythm on the dance floor, don’t worry. Do not compare her to your best friend’s child who's an excellent dancer.
Your daughter might be a total rockstar at basketball. Or she may enjoy games but be average at it.
Stop comparing. Instead, search for your child’s unique abilities.
4. Avoiding physical contact when angry or disappointed with your child
Physical contact between a parent and child helps the child develop physically, emotionally and mentally.
Physical affection is a way to communicate love and acceptance.
Give your child tons of hugs.
In fact, when my son is backchatting or speaking loudly, instead of getting upset, I tell him the hug dragon is going to get him. Then, instead of sulking or crying, he smiles and starts running around the house trying to escape the hug dragon.
Pillow fights are a great equaliser too, when children and parents can have soft knockouts as well as laughter and hugs as a by-product.
5. Not praising the effort but focussing on the outcome
If good marks, a trophy or medal on sports day is all that we want from our children, we are not allowing them to learn from their failures.
As a result, it is possible that they may eventually lose their confidence and question their self-worth.
This is especially important when it comes to helping children develop a growth mindset.
We want our children to know that, by working hard, anything is possible. It also helps them understand the importance of having a work-life balance in the future.
6. Highly controlling of your child’s actions
Parents should have 'firm but fair' expectations from a child’s behaviour.
If academic achievements, high grades, prestigious hobbies, sports and awards are more important to you than your child's progressive growth, you should rethink your goals.
If children are stressed by our expectations, then we as parents are robbing them of their childhood.
A terrible red flag is taking credit for a child’s progress publicly and/or reprimanding a child and being bitter in private because they have not achieved an unreasonable goal.
7. Unable to let go
Another mistake is when parents call their teenagers and adult offspring’s childish names or smother them by doing tasks they no longer need done -- like cooking or cleaning -- while mocking the child’s ability to survive without them.
If parenting becomes a mission to control children, then it is a red flag.
Responsible decision-making happens only when children are allowed to try tasks and skills on their own; to fail, learn, unlearn and relearn from their mistakes.
8. Only complaints, no compliments
If sarcastic remarks, stinging one-liners and comparisons are used while talking to a child, they internalise a long list of complaints.
Over time, these can be deeply damaging.
The child struggles to develop a positive self-image and may even doubt his/her own perception of reality.
At the same time, overzealous compliments soon stop seeming genuine. Over time, a child could also consider special treatments as his right.
Compliments and complaints as a mixed bag may be the way forward, yet positive learnings with an approachable adult is a must.
9. Balancing interactions
Life has its ups and downs. But an essential character of parenting is to be able to empathise and meet their child’s needs.
A thumb rule to ensure an ideal balance of interactions in a healthy relationship is five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction.
This way, both sides are loving and supportive, while voicing rational concerns.
If you are continually getting angry with your child, screaming at them for minor things or hitting the child, you are breaking established boundaries and fostering negative and confusing emotions in your child.
10. Who's responsible for a child's emotional needs?
When parents are hurt, angry, sad or isolated, the child is left to their own means.
The child is expected to support the parent’s emotional needs, regardless of the child's mental and physical age.
Pointing out the drawbacks of one parent to the child is a red flag, especially while you're going through a divorce.
A child then learns to suppress and invalidate his/her own needs.
If the parent is not able to comprehend why their child is upset or crying, they may withdraw themselves from the child, mocking them as 'too sensitive” or getting angry at the child for crying.
When parents accept children holistically and show love and affection to their children even when they make mistakes or fall short of expectations, it builds strong individuals who can love unconditionally.
In other words, parental love needs to come with no strings attached. Parents need to love their children for who they are, no matter what.
Some of these red flags in parenting can be avoided when parents are open to feedback and learning.
Never forget that parenting is a responsibility that comes with laughter, fun, togetherness and happiness.
Dr Aarti Bakshi is a psychologist, school counsellor and mother of three who feels blessed that each of her children share everything with her -- from crushes to love interests to heartbreaks to happy and sad moments.
She has written a series of social emotional journals, Learning Skills For LIFE, for students of Classes 1-5.