Editor Note: Jlove is based in Pacifica, CA and is the co-founder of Mercury Coach. She helps parents who want to unlock their full potential and purpose by rewriting the fundamental beliefs that drive behavior so they can get unstuck, course correct, and play big without blowing up their lives. This article is one of three series of articles.
The Parenting Mistakes You Didn’t Know You Were Making: Common ways we undermine our kids’ success (Part 1)
What would you do in this situation?
Your child has been practicing the piano for a few months and has a recital coming up. Everyone will be there, parents, grandparents, friends, and peers. They are excited to perform and show off what they have learned, but they practice infrequently, and when they do, you notice that they make quite a few mistakes. How can you best support them?
Ok. Hold that thought while we pivot…You have needs. I have needs. Kids have needs. And guess what? They are the same needs.
Enter Self-Determination Theory. SDT studies the core needs essential to our psychological well-being, affecting motivation, confidence, and success. Over the last 50 years, hundreds of researchers have been studying these needs from all angles, and what they have found transcends culture, religion, and age and applies to every life context, such as school, work, sports, and relationships.
Ultimately, self-determination comes down to making choices and controlling your life. It all boils down to three fundamental things: mastery (‘competence’), connection (‘relatedness’), and autonomy.
I’ll go over this a bit more in a minute.
Image from: What is Self Determination Theory?
What’s important to understand is that ALL three of these needs are essential. When they are met, we (and our children) are automatically motivated to explore, learn, and create.
On the other hand, if any of these needs go unmet, our energies shift to doing whatever we can to meet that need, whether or not it seems rational or healthy. When a child cannot get any of these needs met, or worse, has to sacrifice one need to get the other, it can damage their innate motivation and self-confidence and directly affect their behavior and relationships.
Common ways adults undermine kids’ core needs
Unfortunately, many parenting and social norms actively undermine these needs, and having to trade one for the other is super common.
I will share a few common patterns that actively hurt our kids in this three-article series. But first, I want you to know that I have done just about all of these things at some point in my parenting journey. And even after I learned not to, I still did them because sometimes it felt impossible to stop.
You are in a hard-core judgment-free zone, my friend!
Figuring this stuff out is part of the supercharged personal growth trajectory that is parenting. Everything I’ve said about mastery directly applies to our parenting evolution. That you are here and reading this article already says much about you. You care enough to take the time to learn and grow. Acknowledge yourself for that and give yourself the appreciation and respect you deserve. AND, wherever you are on this journey, whatever mistakes you make along the way, there is always time to correct course, even when your kids are grown. On the other hand, if you haven’t made any of these mistakes, let me know so I can finally see what a perfect parent looks like.
Mastery is the experience of getting better at something and being good at something you worked hard at.
Sometimes, the process of building mastery is uncomfortable. It means trying something, messing up, and trying again. Your child figuring out how to walk is a great example of mastery. Remember that smile when they finally got it? The feeling of progress alone is motivating! Getting that experience of hard-earned mastery gives us confidence and the willingness to take on more. On the other hand, if we do not have it, it can lead to experiences of self-doubt, apathy, and fear of even trying. These all harm our motivation.
Here are some ways well-meaning parents get in the way of mastery.
Mastery Killer #1: Rescuing
Well-intentioned as you surely are, unless it’s life or death, resist the impulse to stop your kid from falling off the merry-go-round or slipping their lunch into their backpack after they’ve forgotten it for the millionth time. It may sound harsh because your kid could get hurt or go hungry. But this direct experience of cause and effect helps them learn the lessons for themselves and teaches them not to be afraid of making mistakes and how to navigate them when they happen.
Mastery Killer #2: Correcting.
Whenever we correct our kids without being asked, we message them that they are incapable and rob them of the opportunity to build mastery in themselves. This ranges from well-intentioned ‘teaching’ (“those two colors don’t go together honey”) to our fear-based reactions to ‘how they’ll turn out’ or ‘other people’s judgments’ (“Stop talking so loudly! People are looking”).
Unless your input is actively solicited (I can count the number of times that has happened on the one hand) or has a direct and important impact on you, just let your kids do it their way. How they dress, speak, etc., is up to them (Note: this one is also a Connection killer).
So now, let’s go back to that first example of your child and the recital. Based on your reading, how would you handle that situation?
Do any of these patterns look familiar? Do you recognize any of it in the way you were parented?
You may find some items on this list anywhere from surprising to challenging. If so, you are in good company. Which ones impacted you most and how? Let’s go deeper.
Put in the comments anything you would like to understand better, challenge, support, or need help applying to your current situation.