Are You Enabling Your Child to Misbehave?

How can you enable your child to behave badly? Is that even possible? Normally we think of enabling in terms of more serious issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse. Actually, you can be an enabler in any relationship. Merriam Webster defines an enabler as, “One who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior”. That certainly describes more than a few parents I know. How do you know if your actions are enabling your child to misbehave? Ask yourself these five questions.

1. Do you put off enforcing consequences to avoid conflict? If so, your child may be playing you like a fiddle. (Hmm, if I raise a fuss about something, Mom won’t correct me next time.) That certainly sounds as if you might be enabling your child to misbehave, doesn’t it? The only way to be sure your child learns a lessen is to enforce consequences consistently, irregardless of their reaction to rules and restrictions.

2. Do you coddle your older child? The rules for toddler discipline are very different from the rules for tween discipline. You love your child. It’s easy to get all caught up in the nurturing side of parenting. Failing to provide guidance and correction (as your child matures) encourages bad behavior through inaction. Thus, your inaction becomes an enabling action.

3. Do you see negative behavior as a passing phase? How many times have you heard parents dismiss their child’s negative behavior as just a phase? “Oh, leave it alone, Bob, he’ll be alright, it’s just a phase.” By ignoring your child’s negative behavior or treating it like a passing phase you aren’t doing them any favors. You’re just turning that phase into a habit.

4. Do you do your child’s work for them? Oh boy, hubby will be home soon. Junior “forgot” to take out the trash again. Well, I’ll just take it out for him so he won’t get into trouble. Stop right there! You should never take care of your child’s responsibilities for them. By doing so you are enabling them to depend on others for a long time to come.

5. Does your child have a get out of jail free card? Are you in the habit of rescuing your child from the consequences of their actions? Is your middle name second chance? Life is no bowl of sunshine. There are consequences for everything we do. Letting kids take the fall for minor offenses often keeps them from committing the major ones. Don’t enable your child by avoiding conflict, coddling, taking on their responsibilities or giving them unlimited chances. Life is hard. Make sure they’re up for the challenge.

More from this contributor:

Common mistakes that undermine effective single parenting

Is your child abusive toward siblings?

Help for Abusive Parents: Five Calming Steps


Personal Experience