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The Perfect Parent Trap

The Perfect Parent Trap
The Perfect Parent Trap

The Perfect Parent Doesn’t Exist

The role of parenthood is one that’s full of special and rewarding moments. It’s also full of many challenging ones. We want the best for our children, both in the present and the future, and this can lead us to place high expectations and intense pressures on ourselves and on them to “get it right”. But it’s important to understand that the perfect parent doesn’t exist; nor does the perfect child. In fact, the idea of “perfection” is something that is best kept away from parenting altogether!

The Perfect Parent Trap

Sometimes it feels though our child’s entire wellbeing rests on our interactions and decisions. There’s no shortage of information and opinions on parenting styles and approaches and this can lead to more confusion and feeling like we aren’t doing enough. Comparisons to others are common and we may look to others who seem like they can “do it all” and judge our own efforts without knowing the full picture. Just like with social media, sometimes you’re only seeing what someone wants you to see.

And while it’s true that parents play a key role in shaping the development and wellbeing of our children, this is only one piece of the broader puzzle for their future outcomes.

Turning a Mistake into a Perfect Learning Experience

There are no “perfect parents” and we all make mistakes and learn along the way.

Children can be more resilient than we think they’re capable of being.  They don’t always need us to have all the answers; think of those times where we as parents have felt unsure about something or felt as though we haven’t handled our own emotions in a helpful manner.

These moments can be great learning experiences for all parties. Rather than being perfect, you can model what it looks like to make a mistake or be uncertain, find a soloution or answer, process emotions through reflection, and take responsibility and offer apologies if the situation calls for it. These are learning experiences which will be much more valuable to your child in the long-term.

Learning and growing together as a family unit is a lifelong process that everyone contributes to. Your child will make mistakes as they grow, which is only natural, and it’s important that they don’t also end up feeling the pressure of perfection.

The Perfect Child Also Doesn’t Exist

While our children are perfect to us, expecting perfection from your child as they grow and learn can be unhelpful for both parent and child. Children face key milestones in their cognitive and emotional development that can make self-regulation and behavioural management very difficult for them. Just like their physical development, a child may not reach these milestones at the same time as their peers.

These are often the most challenging times as parents, as we can forget what it was like to be a child and not understand where their shortfalls and strengths may lie. 

Children often express “big feelings” in times where they don’t understand what they’re experiencing. They become frustrated with not knowing how to effectively communicate these feelings, or their needs. Helping children learn how to talk about these emotions and handle them in strong and effective ways is often a more effective approach than punishing a child for not knowing how to handle a new experience or emotion.

Simple Ways to Help Children Regulate Their Emotions

  • Help them label the feeling to build their emotional literacy skills i.e. “Are you feeling sad right now?”
  • Have them track the “body signals” that coincide with that emotion i.e. “What can you notice in your body right now when you are feeling sad?”
  • Have them rate the intensity of their emotion – the higher the intensity the harder it is to regulate.
  • Use “do” statements instead of “don’t” statements. Children thrive from direction. They may know they should stop yelling but don’t know what to do instead. Redirecting undesired behaviours to more effective methods of communication and self-regulation is more helpful than simply telling them to “stop”. For example, instead of “Don’t hit your sister.”, you could say “If you’re angry at your sister, come and find mum or dad instead of hitting.”
  • Praise efforts to self-regulate – this helps reinforce the desired behaviours so they know to repeat them in future.

Don’t Aim for Perfection, Aim for A Person

Remember the perfect parent doesn’t exist. Remember you are raising a human being, who will eventually become an adult who will make their own mistakes along the way.

In short, don’t expect perfection from yourself as a parent because raising a child isn’t about being perfect. 

It’s about understanding, adaptiveness, reflection, and receptiveness. Your child can learn these skills from you to help make their way through the imperfect situations they will undoubtedly find themselves in as they grow.

And importantly it’s about dad jokes. How do you organise a party in space? You “planet”.

BPsych (Hons), MPsych (Clin)

Josh Mattiske is a senior clinical psychologist at Choice Psychology, and one of our recommended psychologists in mental health and behavioural support for school-aged children and their families. He is experienced in supporting children with neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as working with adults who present with a variety of mental health needs such as depression & anxiety, grief & loss, self-harm, trauma, psychosis, addiction, sleep issues, and gender & sexual identity transitions.