4 Bad Habits Every Parent Needs to Break

Show Your Emotions

2. You're a spin doctor, and life's all unicorns and rainbows.

Your fender bender will set you back $500 in repairs, and your best friend is moving to California. No wonder you feel like throwing a pity party. But when your 5-year-old asks what's wrong, you smile and say, "Nothing, honey! Everything's fine!"

HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR KIDS It's one thing to be positive, but it's a mistake to conceal your true emotions. Your child needs to learn that it's okay to feel sad, angry, or frustrated. And the truth is that no matter how much you think you're hiding, children come equipped with highly sensitive radar. "Kids pick up what's left unsaid," explains Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of The Power of Your Child's Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety Into Joy and Success. "If you don't share your emotions appropriately, you'll teach your kids to lie about their feelings," says Dr. Reznick. "Plus, your child could think that she's the reason you're upset and end up feeling bad about herself."

KICK THE HABIT It all starts with you being a little cranky -- or sad, or frustrated, or confused, or scared -- and letting that emotion show. "Children need a role modelfor talking about their feelings," says Dr. Haltzman. Put a label on your emotion, explain the reason for it in a way she'll understand, and relate it to something she's experienced. You might say, "I'm getting a new boss, and I don't know how we'll get along. Remember how you were nervous about meeting your new teacher? Well, that's how I feel now." Or, "I'm feeling sad about Grandma being sick. It's okay to be sad -- even mommies get sad sometimes. But I know the doctors are taking good care of her."

Give more details to 7- and 8-year-olds than to younger kids because they can understand more and separate other people's problems from their own, says Dr. Reznick. Let kids ask questions, so you can allay their concerns and they can hear the truth about what's happening, rather than fantasize about the worst.

3. You're always posing requests as questions.

You want your 4-year-old to tidy up, so you ask, "Can you put your toys away?" and follow with, "Now, okay?"

HOW IT AFFECTS YOUR KIDS When you give a direction as a question or tack "okay?" onto the end, your child hears a request -- and assumes that he has the option of not doing it. "You relinquish your authority and drag out the process of getting your child to do what you need him to do," says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., child psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent: Resolving Conflict and Building a Better Bond With Your Child. When your child ignores your "request," you'll repeat yourself and lose your patience. Then no one's happy.

KICK THE HABIT Clarity is key when you expect immediate follow-through. And it starts with putting a period at the end of your sentence: "Get dressed for the park, please." Or, "Turn off the TV, now." That's it. "If your child doesn't immediately listen, say the following one time only: 'Show Mommy how you can turn off the TV, or Mommy will help you,'" advises Dr. Walfish. "Wait for a silent count of two, then take the remote." Of course, giving clear directions still requires practice and persistence. But being clear will regain control and stop you from losing your temper; meanwhile, your child learns who's boss and how to follow directions.

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