Parent traps are specific ways you act or speak with your child or partner, or even how you treat yourself. These traps get in the way of caring for your child, yourself and your relationships. They can add stress to your life.

We all fall into traps at least once in awhile. Being aware of the more common traps can help you avoid them or minimize their impact.

1. Criticism Trap

  • “Stop throwing cereal.”
  • “Pick up all your toys.”
  • “Do it now or you will be in trouble.”

Are there times when you are impatient and angry and everything you say to your child is a criticism? Do you end up yelling vague threats like “you’ll be in trouble?”

When you fall into the “criticism trap” you and your child can end up feeling angry, frustrated and sad. If it happens frequently, resentment and power struggles can develop. Before you fall into the “criticism trap,” try preventive measures like:

  •  Creating routines so expectations are clear – for your child and you.
  •  Remembering natural and logical consequences.
  •  Noticing the positive in what your child is doing  — She didn’t put away all her toys, but she put away some. Tell her, “Thanks for putting away your Legos. Let’s pick up the rest of the toys together.”

And when you find yourself in the middle of the “criticism trap,” remember to take a good deep breath and think about how you are reacting and how you can change your reaction.

2. “Leave Them Alone” Trap

Did your child:

  • Pet the cat gently?
  • Go to bed without fussing?
  • Hug their brother when he was crying?

Did you notice these things and give them positive feedback?

The “leave them alone” trap sometimes goes hand in hand with the “criticism trap.” If all you react to is what your child is doing wrong, he can start to think the way to get your attention is by misbehaving.

It’s easy to feel like you don’t want to interrupt your child’s “good” behavior because they are being quiet and occupied. That is just the time to give a compliment! Your child wants to know you are pleased with her. It is also a good opportunity to help your child feel proud of herself for behaving well.

So, encourage positive behavior by noticing when it happens! Does your child throw cereal almost every day, but one day he eats it without throwing any? Let him know – “I see you ate all your cereal without throwing any. You really understand that cereal is for eating.”

You’ll have a better chance your child will repeat positive behaviors if you give them attention for it.

3. “For the Sake of the Children” Trap

As parents, you spend lots of time and energy on your child. It’s easy to let your adult relationship take a back seat, but spending time on your relationship with your spouse or partner will help your family thrive and give you needed support for parenting.

Neglecting your adult relationship does not  help your child. Have a date night. Institute a daily check in to see how each of you is feeling. If there is lots of conflict and arguing, take time to try to work it out.

Some couples aren’t able to resolve their differences, but stay together “for the sake of the children.” Many studies show, however, that it is stressful for children to live in households with lots of discord and that staying together does not benefit the children.

4. “Perfect Parent” Trap

That perfect parent – self-sacrificing; calm, cool and collected; never makes a mistake; and is raising a well-behaved, problem-free child. Parenting isn’t anything like that for anyone.

Don’t expect perfection. Be gentle with yourself. Every parent does things that in hindsight they might have done differently. Every parent can be confused or frustrated and impatient with their child. There are skills you can learn to address those times, but no one can eliminate them completely.

Plus, not being perfect is an opportunity to show your child how to handle stress and learn from mistakes. Here are some examples of ways to do that:

  • Impatient with your child? Apologize. You are teaching your child a valuable life skill.
  • Forgot to buy milk at the supermarket? Let your child know see your frustration and how you’re going to deal with it. Involve them in the process:
    • “I’m frustrated I forgot to buy milk! We could walk to the corner store and get a small container to use tonight or have lemon water to drink. Would you like to walk to the store or drink lemon water?”

5. “Martyr” Trap

Related to the “perfect parent” trap is the “martyr” trap – “I may not be perfect, but at least I’m sacrificing my whole self for my child.”

Don’t sacrifice yourself. Self-care is a critical part of parenting. When you take care of your needs, you will be better able to take care of your child’s needs. You also are setting a good example of positive self-care.

Take your walk, eat breakfast, spend time with your spouse – you AND your child will benefit.

Trap Avoidance

We can all fall into traps – thinking we need to be perfect or a martyr, over criticizing, under noticing the “good stuff,” and not taking care of ourselves or our relationships. When we are aware of the traps, we can better avoid or minimize them.

Be gentle and generous with your child, yourself and your spouse or partner – no one is perfect, everyone needs support and caring, and all can learn from mistakes.

One way to care for yourself is to talk with other parents. Share this post on Facebook to see what other parents are doing and share your ideas and successes about dealing with common parent traps.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at


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