Twenty Things the Parents of Mentally Strong Kids Never Do

Written by Daniel Amen MD
Written by Charles Faye PhD
Published on March 26, 2024

If you love your child (and we’re sure you do) and want them to be successful, happy, and healthy, then it is imperative that you pay attention to your own behavior. After working with parents and their children for decades, we have come up with this list of the top 20 things the parents of mentally strong kids never do.

Ignore your child’s brain. When you don’t think about brain health, you set your child up for all sorts of potential problems at home, in school, and in relationships. Instead, you must love and care for their brain, which controls everything your child does—how they think, feel, act, and get along with other people. When their brain works right, they work right.

Disregard normal behavior. When you don’t understand normal childhood development, you are likely to expect more from your child, adolescent, or teen than they are ready to handle. This leads to friction, frustration, and a sense of failure. When you have a basic grasp of development, you are better able to notice when something is inside or outside of the scope of normal.

Be a lousy role model. If your motto is “Do as I say, not as I do,” you are setting yourself up for trouble. If you lie, cheat, are rude or disrespectful, eat an unhealthy diet, and never address your own health, your child is going to follow your example. So model how you want your child to be.

Forget what it is like to be a child or teen. If you can’t empathize with your child, you may alienate them, make them feel like they aren’t being understood, or send a message that their feelings aren’t valid. Remembering what it was like for you when you were your child’s age and all the challenges and struggles you had will give you much more empathy for your child.

Be overly permissive. Multiple studies have demonstrated that the children who grow up to have the most psychological problems had parents who never set appropriate boundaries.

Diminish the other parent. While it can be tempting, it is crucial that you not criticize, put down, or complain about your child’s other parent to your child. This not only undermines the effectiveness of the other parent, but it also decreases your child’s self-esteem. Your child is a product of both parents, and by saying negative things about the other parent, you are really saying negative things about your child as well.

Rarely spend quality time with them. Relationships require two things: time and a willingness to listen. If you don’t spend time with them or you have a poor relationship, they are likely to develop resentment and rebel against you. If you spend quality time and have a good relationship with your child (essential for bonding), they tend to choose and emulate your morals and values.

Be a poor listener. Being a bad listener sends the message that your child isn’t important enough to merit your attention. Learn how to actively listen. Don’t judge or criticize what they are saying, rather repeat back what you hear. Ultimately, your child can solve a lot of their own problems.

Call your children names. There is nothing helpful about labeling your child with a negative term. They will then internalize the label and live up to the negative names that you call them.

Only notice what they do wrong. Noticing all the little mistakes your child makes infuses them with a negative mind-set and self-view. This can carry over into adulthood and hold them back from reaching their potential. In addition, if the only time you notice them is when they are doing something wrong, you are teaching them that doing something bad is the best way to get any attention from you.

Give in to tantrums or other bad behaviors. By doing so, even once, you will teach them what you will tolerate. They will then learn the lesson that misbehaving works to get them what they want. They need to know that they are not able to manipulate you with their behavior.

Be reactive. When your parenting style is largely reactive, you can send mixed messages to your child. To avoid this, outline your goals for your child. For example, if you want to raise a child who is kind, competent, and makes a great contribution to society, then you must model that as well as reinforce behaviors that support those goals as opposed to simply reacting from moment to moment.

Fail to supervise them. Lack of supervision means children are left on their own to make important decisions even though their brains are not yet fully developed. This can result in poor decisions regarding alcohol, drugs, sex, and more that impact mental fortitude. In the meantime, you need to know where your children are and who they are with—and then check on them.

Never get to know your child’s friends. During adolescence, the most influential people in your teen’s life are the friends they spend the most time with—not you. That is why you want to know the values of the people they are hanging out with. Understand that trying to control your child’s friendships can backfire. If you are unhappy with what you discover, then get your child involved in activities with kids who have values that you appreciate. Try inviting their friends to your home so they can benefit from your family’s values and loving relationships.

Feed your child the standard American diet (SAD). The human brain uses 20 to 30 percent of the calories a person consumes. If you feed your child a fast-food diet, they’re going to have a fast-food mind, which is associated with ADHD, depression, and dementia later in life. Focus on feeding your child brain-healthy foods so they are able to have optimal brain development and function.

Keep kids up too late. Children need much more sleep than most parents realize for optimal brain development and function. A lack of sleep saps focus and energy; decreases academic and sports performance; increases bad moods, stress, and anxiousness; and leads to poor decision-making.

Tell kids how to think. If a child is unable to have freedom to explore different ways of thinking and seeing the world and instead feels micromanaged, they are much more likely to rebel and have a conflicted relationship with you. To avoid this, when it comes to your kids, adopt this philosophy: “Be curious, not furious.”

Tell your child they are smart. If you do this and they end up failing to learn something (which they likely will at some point in their lives), then they will tell themselves that they really aren’t smart and will become more likely to give up. Instead, point out how hard they work. That way, when something in their life is hard, they will persevere and work harder because their self-esteem comes from hard work, not smarts.

Ignore their mental health issues. Mental health issues, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more can have a devastating impact on your child’s life. These types of problems can rob them of their mental strength, happiness, self-esteem, motivation, and focus. As their parent, pay attention and take them for an evaluation if you have any concerns.

Ignore your own mental health issues. It can devastate a child if you are struggling with untreated symptoms of a brain-based issue, such as depression, anxiety, or addiction. In order to be the best parent you can be, you must take care of your own health—including mental health.

Adapted from Raising Mentally Strong Kids: How to Combine the Power of Neuroscience with Love and Logic to Grow Confident, Kind, Responsible, and Resilient Children and Young Adults by Daniel G. Amen, MD, and Charles Fay, PhD, releasing in March 2024.

 


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Daniel Amen MD

Daniel G. Amen, MD, has helped millions of people change their brains and lives. He is the founder of Amen Clinics with 11 locations across the United States, an 18-time national bestselling author, and the creator of online videos about the brain and mental health that have been viewed over 300 million times. He has written and produced 17 national public television specials about the brain that have aired more than 150,000 times across North America. Dr. Amen believes we can end mental illness by creating a revolution in brain health, and he regularly speaks to businesses, organizations, and churches about how to have a better brain and a better life.

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