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The three phrases parents need to stop using around the kids, says a psychologist.

As parents, we all do it: make up stories about why things are going the way they are.

We may attribute our daughter’s ongoing disobedience to her ‘strong will’ or our partner’s reluctance to follow through with consequences when a child breaks the rules to the fact that ‘he’s the fun parent’ or the ‘good cop’. Tell yourself the story enough and it comes something else altogether. It becomes a belief.

After more years than I care to admit as a psychologist working with parents (who are almost always doing their best to raise happy well-adjusted kids), I have seen three commonly held beliefs that actually make parenting more difficult. Maybe you might recognise one or two of them…

“It’s just a phase.”

It’s true that there are enormous differences between children of different ages and personalities. But it’s also important parents recognise many behaviour problems are not inevitable and are not a necessary part of typical child development.

So, explaining away your two-year-old child’s tantrum as just a normal part of the “terrible twos” is missing the point. Yes, many two-year-olds throw tantrums, but not all do. And children who do throw tantrums don’t always grow out of it.

"As parents, we all make up stories about why things are the way they are. But telling yourself over and over again doesn't make it true." (Image: Getty)

I can recall one mother who insisted that her three-year-old’s constant aggressive behaviour towards other children at a local playgroup was just a phase and consequently nothing to worry about.

That assurance did little to appease other parents whose children were the victims of his aggression, as well as the playgroup director who asked her to remove her son from the group.

It was another two years before the mother realised her son’s misbehaviour was not going to suddenly go away and she had to seek professional help.

Dealing with the misbehaviour earlier would have made life much easier for both parent and child.

"It’s all my fault."

Some parents deal with misbehaviour by blaming themselves. I’ve met many guilt-ridden and worried parents over the years.

These parents blame themselves for almost everything the child does, and in some cases may even become severely depressed.

The truth is, some children are simply harder to raise than others. Those who have feeding problems, cry excessively as babies and have sleeping difficulties are hard for almost all parents to cope with.

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And as our children grow, while we play a large role in shaping their character, some things are out of our influence.

We can’t control what happens in a classroom or a playground, the friends our child will choose, the influence of the media, the family interactions of our spouse, or the unique personality of our child.

But self-blame is destructive. It can be so debilitating that you may not be able to make the routine changes that could help you better manage the problem. So, here’s some really good advice: go easy on yourself.

"He’s doing it deliberately just to annoy me."

Even if you don’t say it, chances are you’ve thought it.

But few children with behaviour problems are ever able to explain the reasons for their actions.

Most children simply don’t know why they misbehave.  And any young child would have trouble putting their reasons into words.

"Parents who blame themselves for almost everything the child does in some cases may become severely depressed." (Image: Getty)

There may be something subtle in the way your family communicates that’s sparking the problem, rather than your child deliberately trying to provoke you. It may be that there’s something that happens at a certain time of day that triggers the behaviour. Or your child could be just hungry, tired or bored.

But it’s highly unlikely it’s a plot to raise your hackles.

If you did recognise yourself as holding on to any of these beliefs, then that’s a great start. Sometimes even acknowledging the belief, then not reacting to it when it raises its ugly head, can make things run a little smoother at home. If not, maybe some good quality parenting strategies could help.

Professor Matt Sanders is the founder of Australia’s Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, which has helped more than 4 million children and their families in more than 25 countries. Find out more about Triple P near you.  

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