With the pressures that come with being a parent, it’s easy to fall into common parenting traps. Parent traps are specific ways you act or speak with your child or partner, or even how you treat yourself that can get in the way of your parenting goals. We all fall into traps at least once in awhile, but being aware of the more common traps can help minimize their impact.

“Criticism” Trap

Toddlers and young children fill our lives with equal parts love and frustration. They constantly make messes, spill their snacks and drinks, and are capable of displaying epic upsets in the middle of the grocery store.

Parents who respond to messes, upsets, and challenging behavior with negative correction tend to fall into the “Criticism” Trap. Are there times when you are impatient and angry, and everything you say to your child is negative?

Yelling threats like “Do it now or you’ll be in trouble!” or shouting “Clean up your toys now!” can result in anger, frustration, and sadness for both you and your child. When negative correction is used too often, power struggles can arise and no one really wins with power struggles. Using preventative measures can go a long way in reducing the amount of negative interactions you have with your child:

  • Create routines and clear expectations: clean up toys before screen time, snacks only at the dining room table. . .
  • Remember to use logical consequences, such as toys go away for a certain amount of time if they aren’t cleaned up.
  • Take note of the positive: “Thanks for putting some of your trains away. Let’s pick up the rest of them together.”

The next time your toddler dumps their crackers on the floor, take a deep breath, think before you react, and find a calm way to communicate with them. “Crackers are for eating! Let’s clean them up now.”

“Leave Them Alone” Trap

Sometimes it can feel like you spend all day telling your toddler or young child what not to do: “Stop calling your brother a ‘weirdo’,” “Don’t color all over my cookbook,” “Don’t pet the cat using your foot!

When you’re constantly correcting behavior, it’s easy to overlook the times your child is behaving the way you’d like them to. The “Leave Them Alone” Trap can goes hand in hand with the “Criticism” Trap.” If all you react to is what your child is doing wrong, they can start to think the way to get your attention is by doing things you don’t like.

Make time during the day to praise your child:

  • I like the way you are gently petting the cat.
  • That was very kind of you to share your trains with your brother.”
  • Thank you for using your coloring sheets to draw pictures on.”

Encourage positive behavior by noticing when it happens. Chances are your child will repeat positive behaviors if you give them positive attention for it.

“For the Sake of the Children” Trap

Parenting your children, especially in the early years, can feel all-consuming. There’s nonstop cooking, cleaning, feeding—not to mention upsets, potty training, doctors appointments. . .

It’s no wonder that sometimes our adult relationships get placed on the backburner.

When we spend every minute of our day exerting energy and time solely on our children, we fall into the “For the Sake of the Children” Trap. In this trap, we fail to give time and energy to our partner, family, and friends—even ourselves—because we think we have to be 100% “on” and available to our children. But remember:

  • The whole family benefits when caregivers take care of themselves.
  • Self care—such as yoga class, coffee dates with friends—is not selfish. It is critical for your physical and emotional wellbeing.
  • Connecting with other parents is a great way to reduce isolation, and symptoms of depression.

Here are some ways to make sure you stay connected with the other grownups in your lives:

  • Plan a monthly date night with your spouse.
  • Attend “Baby & Me” classes to meet other parents, such as story and music times at the local libraries, Dancing Weasel Toy Store, Adventure! Children’s Museum.
  • Join a parenting support and education program, such as Parenting Now!
  • Reach out to neighbors, family and friends.

“Perfect Parent” Trap

In today’s world of perfectly posed Instagram pics and overwhelming Pinterest posts on nursery color schemes, party planning and freezer meals, it’s easy to fall into the “Perfect Parent” Trap where we think we will “perfectly” parent our “perfect” children 100% of the time—and never make a mistake.

The reality is that parenting is tough, and the sooner you accept that you will make mistakes, the more open you’ll be to learning from these experiences.  Learn to laugh when you can—you’ll forget your “parenting fails” quicker than you expect!

“Martyr” Trap

Along the same lines of the “For the Sake of the Children,” parents who feel like they must sacrifice their whole self in order to raise happy children, exhaust themselves quickly under the “Martyr” Trap. Taking time for yourself is crucial, as is caring for your physical and mental health. Even if childcare is lacking, there are little things you can do in your day that make a big difference:

  • Take a walk every day for the exercise and open air. Even when it’s cold outside, bundle everyone up and get moving!
  • Skip the processed snacks for high-protein snacks like cheese sticks or fresh fruit and veggies.
  • Join a parenting group to meet other parents and build your community.

Expand Your Parenting Knowledge

If “knowledge is power,” just recognizing what traps we fall into can go a long way in helping us to identify other ways to parent.

When a little more support is needed, there are local resources to help:

Parenting Now!: Offers a variety of parenting groups led by parenting educators, as well as feeding support groups and drop-in playtimes.

Relief Nursery: Wide variety of services for families, including mental health and counseling services, therapeutic early childhood program, and outreach and crisis intervention.

Triple P Online: Available through LaneKids for Trillium families, the Positive Parenting Program is an online learning program designed for parents of children up to 12-years old.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org

Triple P – Positive Parenting Program

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