7 Guaranteed Ways to Mess Up Your Kids

Parenting Mistakes

Raising children has always been a challenge. Parenting in the age of COVID has made everything harder. How can you know if you’re doing it right or getting it all wrong? Based on 30-plus years of child psychiatrists treating children and their parents at Amen Clinics and on the science-backed techniques from Love & Logic, here are 7 parenting mistakes that can ruin your children’s lives and make your life miserable.


Raising children has always been a challenge. Parenting in the age of COVID has made everything harder. How can you know if you’re doing it right or getting it all wrong? Click To Tweet

7 Parenting Mistakes That Can Ruin Your Children’s Lives

1. Notice what’s wrong.

When we get stressed or feel scared and depressed, we tend to zero in on the negative. Focusing on what your child is doing wrong is one of the worst things you can do to them. Kids crave attention, and if the only time you give them attention is when they’re doing something you don’t like, you’re basically training them to become a little monster.

The Fix: Notice what they’re doing right. Jim and Charles Fay of Love & Logic suggest writing down “I noticed that…” and then finding something positive about your kids that you can mention to them at least once a day. It could be, “I noticed that you like to draw” or, “I noticed that you shared with your sister.” Follow that up with eye contact, a smile, and a light touch.

2. React immediately any time your child makes you upset.

When your child has pushed your buttons and you’re feeling angry, frustrated, or highly emotional, it’s actually the wrong time to dole out consequences. In stressful times, you’re more likely to yell, scream, or make rash decisions. Modeling this behavior teaches your child to act out in similar ways.

The Fix: When your kid makes you crazy, take a deep breath and gather yourself. Let your child know that there will be consequences for their actions and that you’re going to think about what they will be. This way, when you do deliver those consequences, you’ll be in a calm and composed state.

3. Stay on top of their homework.

If you’re convinced it’s your job to ensure that your child’s homework is done, but if you do so, you’re sabotaging their development. When you hold all the anxiety for them, it derails their ability to develop independence and to take responsibility for their own lives.

The Fix: Let your children know that their homework is their responsibility, not yours. Inform them calmly that if they don’t do it, there will be consequences, such as their teacher being upset with them. This allows youngsters to hold the anxiety for their own homework and teaches them responsibility.

4. Be permissive.

You may think that letting your children be free to do as they please is a surefire way to make them love you. Wrong! Permissiveness is bad for developing brains. Children need routine and authority. The frontal lobes—which are involved in decision-making, judgment, and impulse control—aren’t fully developed until a person’s mid-20s.

The Fix: You need to act as your child’s frontal lobes until theirs develop by being firm and kind and creating structure.

5. Tell your child what to do.

Hey, parents, here’s a tip: you talk too much! So many moms and dads are constantly lecturing their kids and telling them what to think, what to say, and how to act. Sometimes more important than what you say to your young ones, however, is listening to what they have to say.

The Fix: As Charles Fay says, “If you don’t want a mess, say less!” At Amen Clinics, our child psychiatrists encourage parents to engage in active listening with your child. When they are speaking, don’t interrupt. Then repeat back what you heard to make sure you understood them correctly. This helps your child feel heard.

6. Skip self-care to cater to your kids.

During the pandemic, parenting has gotten so much harder. You may be tempted to avoid workouts, meditation, journaling, and other forms of self-care so you can focus all of your attention on your children’s needs. This is a big mistake because if you aren’t taking care of your own brain health and physical and psychological well-being, you won’t be at your best to care for them.

The Fix: Schedule time for yourself into your day. This will help you feel better, and it also models healthy behavior for your little ones. If they see you taking care of yourself, they will learn that self-care isn’t about being selfish.

7. Don’t worry about screen time.

If you use tablets, phones, or TVs as pseudo-babysitters, you’re in for trouble. Screen time has gotten out of control, and new research shows that using screens for long periods changes children’s brains in a negative way. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health performed brain scans of 4,500 children. Those who had daily screen time usage of more than 7 hours showed premature thinning of the cortex, the outermost brain layer responsible for processing information from the physical world. Other studies show that too much screen time is associated with an increased risk of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues.

The Fix: According to Charles Fay at Love & Logic, “Let your kids know that you allow screen time… as long as it doesn’t hurt relationships in the family.” Set limits on screen time and stick to those limits.

If you need help raising healthy children or if your kids are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other issues, don’t wait. During these uncertain times, waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make problems and symptoms worsen over time.

Amen Clinics has partnered with Love & Logic to bring you the best science-backed tools to help. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for parents and children. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. I agree 100%. Many in my generation tried to be friends with their children, including me. Big mistake. If they get mad, they’ll get over it. Mama always said,” Oh you’re mad. Well, you have the rest of your life to get glad. Start working on it.” Also, our father died when we six kids were young, six weeks to twelve years. Mama’s mother stayed with us a lot after that & her mantra was, “don’t do anything to upset your mother. She has enough on her now.” That wasn’t a good idea at all. Children shouldn’t grow up having to protect their parents. I’m proof it’ll mess you up forever if you don’t figure it out & get whatever help works for you. My generation didn’t get a lot of info on sex either. Now it’s in kids’ faces daily.
    Every generation has a new & different set of issues to deal with, of course. Parents need to keep up with what their children are doing. I see a lot of what I call non-parenting these days. People are so busy with their gadgets (mostly cell phones) & don’t want to be bothered with an actual person standing there even if it’s their child.

    “Nothing new under the sun”? Some days I’m not so sure that is still true.

    Comment by Mrs. Alice Davis-Cahoon — March 1, 2021 @ 3:50 AM

  2. Awesome! Looking forward to more parenting posts.

    Comment by Melanie — March 1, 2021 @ 4:44 AM

  3. I have depression issues
    Could you help me?
    Thank you

    Comment by Adriana S. P. Medeiros — March 1, 2021 @ 5:01 AM

  4. As part of a court order my soon to be ex-wife needs to get a psychological evaluation. Do you do these kinds of things or recommend someone that does?

    Comment by Philip ammann — March 1, 2021 @ 5:07 AM

  5. Excellent

    Comment by D.J. Diebold — March 1, 2021 @ 5:19 AM

  6. Very instructive
    thank you

    Comment by Moraima Gomez — March 1, 2021 @ 7:03 AM

  7. Dr. Amen,
    I’m your fan and follower, I don’t know how many of your videos I’ve watched. Thank you so much for sharing all this information, I pray God continues blessing you and we have you for many years to come! I wish you have a clinic in Ontario, Canada where children can be seen. Our family is having huge struggle with our sons and screen time, mainly because of the pandemic as school has been online since last year. My oldest son 15 has been affected greatly by the lockdowns imposed by the Government and now we are doing our best to help fight severe anxiety and depression and past and recent trauma. He is seeing a therapist from the school once a week, but it is very challenging. Do you have any suggestion or anyone in Ontario you can recommend? I know about Emergo Recovery, but they only see 18+. I would be so grateful for any advice. Thank you kindly!

    Comment by Victoria Covert — March 1, 2021 @ 7:29 AM

  8. I think Charles Fay and the Love and Logic philosophy has the best parenting advice available today. That said, a parent can do absolutely everything in raising their children as correctly as humanly possible, and still, the kids can go totally astray, and the tendency in modern society is to immediately cast blame on the parents, even though we know full well that how kids turn out is 50% nature (genetic heredity,) over which parents have no control and cannot change, and 50% nurture (environment,) over much of which parents have very little control.
    Hence, if your children turn out well, you, as parent, may not deserve much of the credit. Conversely, if your kids turn into every parent’s worst nightmare, (with the exception of parental abuse or neglect, which is devastatingly damaging,) it probably isn’t your fault.
    Consider the COMT gene, which codes for the enzyme that controls how quickly (or slowly) dopamine clears from the pre-frontal cortex, among other things. Some variants and polymorphisms of this gene place children at risk of serious behavior problems in adolescence, including high-risk taking behavior, substance abuse, and sexual promiscuity. That’s just one example of an uncontrollable factor that could largely determine whether your child is a joy or a horror during those important teenage years, when poor judgment and lousy choices can have a lifelong negative impact.

    Comment by Colleen — March 1, 2021 @ 8:09 AM

  9. These are ideal for older kids, but age 4 and under not so much.

    Comment by KJ — March 1, 2021 @ 8:46 AM

  10. A friend once gave me a wonderful piece of advise about listening to your children…WAIT…ask yourself “Why Am I Talking?” Thank you for more great advise.

    Comment by F.E. Young — March 1, 2021 @ 9:55 AM

  11. Hello Victoria, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with additional information. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 1, 2021 @ 11:03 AM

  12. Hello Adriana, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with additional information regarding appointments with one of our clinics. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 1, 2021 @ 11:04 AM

  13. Hello Philip, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with additional information regarding appointments with one of our clinics. We look forward to speaking with you.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — March 1, 2021 @ 11:12 AM

  14. Excellent article. Thank you. As someone who works with many parents , children and teens, I would only add that parents of children who are addicted to screen time, as so many are, it is vital that they are concerned about screen time for the affect on the developing brain mentioned i n the article. On Dr. Amen’s Brain Health Checklist more than one hour of video games is listed under the column for things that hurt the brain. A one hour limit it virtually impossible for children at this time in our culture for a variety of reasons. First, these games are designed to be addictive. They provide an endless stream of rewarding dopamine hits. They are exciting, stimulating and highly engaging in sharp contrast to the lessons provided in too many schools, particularly in virtual learning programs at schools with no experience in providing learning in this way. From what children tell me, their school work is dull, boring, uninteresting and unrewarding. Ergo, no dopamine hits.
    Second, screen time is how so many children are able to socialize. Their friends are there in the virtual world. This is particularly true now but was true even before COVID. Just like the hours children spend talking to friends on the phone in days gone by. They experience being cut off from their devices as being isolated from their friends. They tell me and their parents that their friends expect them to “be there.” To respond right a way. To participate. When they are don’t, they lose out and miss out on “what’s up.”
    Third, many of their friends’ parents are not concerned about screen time. This makes it all the more difficult for parents who are concerned and are trying to “set limits and stick to them.” The arguments, lying, sneaking and even stealing of parent’s phones are rampant. Parents need enhanced parenting skills and a lot of support to deal with this issue. They need to arrange a lot of other stimulating, engaging, rewarding , socializing activities. And that is not easy now. Many kids with screen time addictions in my practice were not so addicted when they were busy with school, sports and church activities. So it takes very creative parents, schools and organizations to step up with innovative ways to provide kids with replacements at this time.

    Comment by Sarah Edwards — March 1, 2021 @ 11:49 AM

  15. I wish and pray that someone in government and healthcare would realize that the Amen clinics are needed more and that insurance would cover the therapy. There is physical therapy for a broken leg or arm but nothing for the mind. It’s a sad shame on this country’s outlook on mental health. I have two sons that both need therapy. Sadly we can’t afford it and don’t have the time to take away from our jobs to drive the long distance to take them to Atlanta.

    Comment by Janet — March 1, 2021 @ 12:01 PM

  16. Amazing advice!

    Comment by Belinda — March 1, 2021 @ 3:11 PM

  17. Very hard to raise kids now days. It’s the kids way or highway. Screen time takes over their mind, body and soul.

    Comment by Eme — March 1, 2021 @ 6:56 PM

  18. To piggyback on Eme’s comment: social media & texting is cancer to our children’s mental health (especially if your child has ADHD challenges!) I feel helpless as a parent.

    Comment by Chassiah — March 1, 2021 @ 8:16 PM

  19. In other words- pay attention to your children, give them kind , loving support and guidance, but also provide fair, consistent discipline. Electronics, well I see numerous parents on their phones while with their children. Set a good example! I see such sadness in their little eyes! All they want is your attention and love. I believe this is where it starts. And as the kids develop and are surrounded by electronics, set firm boundaries, provide other outlets for their energy and social needs. I know peer pressure is a strong influence, and it isn’t easy being a good parent in today’s society. There is just too much going on, not enough focus on simple family activities , everyone is so busy! Just do your best, let your children know you love them, give them space to grow, but be aware. Not all children respond the same or need the same parenting style, use common sense . Allow individuality and independence – but PAY ATTENTION to your beautiful babies!

    Comment by Janice — April 22, 2022 @ 4:38 PM

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