Creative Child

4 Parental Behaviors to Avoid

by Rebecca Eanes


Horseman #2: Contempt

Contempt is criticism coming from a place of superiority. It comes out as name-calling, sneering, eye-rolling, sarcasm, hostile humor, and mockery. Interestingly, contempt not only predicted how relationships would go but it predicted how many infectious illnesses the listener would have in the coming year! I can only conclude from that information that talking down to a child tears down more than his self-esteem.

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Examples of Contempt:

“Stupid brat!” “Are you ignorant? Why would you do that?” “You wouldn’t even think of picking up your clothes, would you?” “Aw, look at the little baby crying again! Wah wah!”

The Fix:

The antidote for contempt is respect. Treat your child with the same respect you want her to treat you with.

Horseman #3: Defensiveness

Defensiveness is described as a reaction against feeling personally attacked; self-protection through righteous indignation or playing the victim. In the parent-child relationship, the parent may feel defensive when he realizes he was actually in the wrong or when a child points out the parent’s flaws (criticizes the parent). Basically, defensiveness says “the problem is not me, it’s you.” It’s avoiding taking responsibility by placing blame on the child.

Examples of Defensiveness:

“I wouldn’t have yelled if you’d have done what you were told!” “I shouldn’t have called you stupid, BUT you made me so angry.”

The Fix:

Accept responsibility for your part in the problem, and listen to how your child is feeling with an attempt to truly understand her position. “I shouldn’t have called you stupid. I’m sorry.” “I apologize for yelling. I lost my temper.”

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Horseman #4: Stonewalling

Stonewalling is withdrawing from the conversation before everyone feels the issue is settled. I can think of primarily 2 instances of parental stonewalling. One is a withdrawal of emotional presence when frustrated with the child. Giving a child the cold shoulder or the silent treatment is a form of stonewalling. The other is ending the conversation with a blatant disregard for the child’s position. “We’re not going to discuss this. My decision is final.”

Understandably, there are times when something is not up for discussion and the parent must put their foot down, but when this is the norm in the relationship, the child feels he has no voice and no one to appeal to. When children feel that their viewpoint doesn’t matter to us, they’ll eventually stop trying to communicate with us at all.

Examples of Stonewalling:

Ignoring your child in an attempt to manipulate behavior. “This is not up for discussion.” “It doesn’t matter what you think. My decision is made.” “I don’t want to hear it.”

The Fix:

If anger or frustration is causing you to put up an emotional wall, then the antidote is learning physiological self-soothing. Take a break from the conversation to calm down, then come back to it 20 minutes or so later. If you’re purposefully stonewalling in an attempt to manipulate a child’s behavior, consider if this is a behavior you’d want your child to use. Chances are you’d be pretty upset if given the silent treatment by your child until you changed your mind about letting her see that movie she wants to go to.

The one tip that will help you avoid all of the 4 horsemen is to create a culture of respect in your relationship with your child. It’s not only possible to respectfully correct and discipline a child, but it is key for a healthy relationship.

If you've found yourself falling back into these problematic parenting behaviors it's okay. Read my article, You Blew It! Now What? for more tips for turning these situations upside down.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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